A Healthy Eating Plate


I’m sure you have heard it said over and over again in the media, by doctors, and grown-ups –you need to eat fruits and vegetables. *Cue eye-roll.* Maybe you have wondered though why so many people say and preach this? What is the real meaning behind this misunderstood statement? Well, let’s go over a few things. When you first wake up in the morning, your body is in a fasted state, as you have been asleep for hours and have not drank or eaten anything. This is a crucial time to fuel your body with nutrients in order to replenish our body’s supply of glucose. Glucose is an important molecule in which our body needs to function properly and deliver energy to our cells. Therefore, when you eat breakfast in the morning, your body uses glucose the most efficiently as our metabolism is high and then breaks down to boost energy levels and alertness. Now I may be preaching to you broadly just about eating breakfast, but I would also like to emphasize the importance of eating a balanced breakfast. Having a balanced breakfast and all other meals is something we all should prioritize. I am going to highlight some key reasons why your meals, including breakfast should be balanced and healthy and give you some tips/ideas!

What does a balanced meal look like?:

A balanced meal consists of four components; these would be protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vegetables! Imagine your plates like this: it should be about a split of half carbohydrates, 1/4 protein, 1/4 fats and a big handful of greens (at least). What are these terms you may ask or why are these all important for my body? Protein is an essential building block for all human beings, as a great deal of our body is made up of muscle tissue and protein supports this muscle tissue. Sugars, starch, and fibers are all forms of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the molecules in which our body uses to break down into glucose and these are important to fuel our brains and aid us in digestion. Fat is short for fatty acids and these are needed to an extent in every human’s diet. The cell membrane and walls in our body are made up of fats like phospholipids, therefore we must consume them to maintain our cells. We also need fat in order for our bodies to be able to absorb vitamins efficiently.

What are examples of these components and how do I actually use them to make a meal?

Protein: Eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, beef, tofu, tempeh, cheese, and yogurt                                                                                  

Carbohydrates: Rice, potatoes, oats, bananas, grains, quinoa, beans, legumes, squash, and cereals 

Fats: Avocado, nuts, natural seed oils, nut butter, milk, cheese, and yogurt                                                

 Balanced Breakfast Ideas: 1. Eggs with avocado on a bagel 2. Oats with nuts and seeds or nut butter with fruits and protein powder or a side of eggs 3. Bacon and eggs with toast or potatoes 4. Yogurt parfait with granola and fruit                                                                                                                                      

Balanced Lunch Ideas: 1. Chicken salad with dressing, avocado and quinoa or rice 2. Stir fry with mixed vegetables, sesame seeds, rice, and chicken (if plant-based sub tofu or tempeh) 3. Classic buddha bowl with your choice of protein lettuce, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, avocado, or cashew, and roasted sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans or rice 4. Simple sandwich with turkey, cheese, lettuce, and, tomato on bread  (all are similar to dinner)                                                                                                                                                

Balanced Snack Ideas: 1. Fat balls made with 1/2 c nut butter of choice, 1tbs flax, 1/2 c ground oats or flour 1/3 c almond milk 2 tbs chocolate chips 2. Multigrain crackers or chips with guacamole 3. Apples or bananas and peanut butter 4. Celery, carrots, and or cucumber with hummus 5. Greek yogurt with blueberries or honey 6. Toast with nut butter and banana or avocado with tuna 7. Two hard boiled eggs with berries or an orange 8. Popcorn (has a good balance of fats and carbs) 9. Celery with nut butter and raisins or blueberries 10. Dark chocolate and almonds or other nuts

What’s the fuss? Why is it important to eat in such combinations?:

Eating healthy, balanced meals supports our heart health, brain health and focus, memory, mood, energy –shall I continue? While balanced meals boast a great deal of positive benefits, there is more to it. There is lots of science that goes into the body’s mechanics. The body requires food for fuel in order to support our internal needs, like cell respiration, breathing converting energy, and so on. Besides internal execution, the body is supporting all other activities we do in our daily lives, which require food as well. Have you ever had to wait a really long time until your next meal because you were waiting at a restaurant or just got really busy? During these times, did you reach for something very quick and easy to ease your hunger as fast as possible, say like with chips or anything you could find in the pantry/cupboard? Well, if your answer to this is yes, let me tell you why. As our body digests the food we have eaten and begins to get hungry once again, energy levels start to drop as well as our glucose levels. When this happens in our body, our blood sugar is low and we begin to experience hunger, as our body is needing to refuel. At this point and beyond, our brain begins to send signals to the body to eat and if we do not eat until a little while longer the brain begins to tell us to find the quickest source of energy so that the body can re-regulate and maintain homeostasis as it wants to. That quick source of energy usually equates to simple sugar (i.e., carbohydrates) because this is the quickest source of energy in which our body can break down. Sounds great right? I ate those chips or cookies and now I am all good until my next meal –wrong. The body looks for these high calorie, low nutrient dense foods for quick fuel, but when we give it just this, something else happens. The quick digesting of carbohydrates consumed alone without say a source of protein or fat to balance it, causes blood sugar to spike. When blood sugar spikes, it means that it has gone up too quickly and, therefore, is going to crash. This usually means that we will be hungry very soon after whatever we just ate. Whereas, if you ate say crackers with the hummus and veggies, your blood sugar will remain more stable and the mix of carbs, fats, and proteins will act to balance one another and keep us feeling satiated for longer, rather than crashing.

There is so much more than just eating fruits and vegetables that goes into consuming a balanced and healthy diet. Just know that, although sometimes it sounds annoying, it is really important to eat foods that give us nutrients. Even if you cannot see the effects going on outside of your body, the inside of your body and your entire internal state will thank you the next time you eat that broccoli on your plate!