An Easy Way to Make Healthy Food Choices

 

 

 

This week, the main topic for our group sessions was balanced eating and how to easily make healthy meals and snacks without it being complicated or restricted.

These days it isn’t easy to make healthy food choices, and one of the problems is the confusion about what is and is not healthy to eat. You can make yourself crazy trying to figure out the latest research or trying to sort out everything you’ve learned about good nutrition. A number of people who applied for this contest told me that they weren’t sure how to pick healthy foods and some admitted they weren’t sure they had ever had a healthy diet, largely because of all the dieting they had done. And that makes sense, most diets aren’t healthy and all the noise about good foods and bad foods are often contradictory.

The good news is, healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you know the basics about nutrition and how to easily balance foods, it is actually very simple and gives you a lot of freedom in your choices. I call this Balanced Eating, and it is a way to make meals and snacks that are nutritionally balanced, satisfying and provide a low glycemic impact.

Why low gylcemic impact matters. Carbohydrates are rated on a glycemic index by how fast they break down and raise blood sugar levels, and those with a high glycemic index (often called fast carbs or simple carbohydrates) break down the fastest, causing rapid and high spikes in blood sugars. To stabilize blood sugars and insulin levels, you want to eat foods that take longer to digest and have a lower glycemic impact, and these are complex carbohydrates (or slow carbs), which are then balanced with protein and fat. When this combination represents the bulk of your meal or snack, then a little bit of simple carbs won’t throw off the balance or raise that glycemic response.

So here is Balanced Eating in a nutshell, as I explained it to the group:

  • Eat more frequently throughout the day every few hours or whenever you get hungry, evenly spreading out your meals and snacks.
  • At each meal or snack, create a balance of complex carbohydrates, lean protein and unsaturated fat. And if you want foods with simple carbohydrates and saturated fats, add them in small quantities.
  • There is no good or bad food. Many simple carbs for example are healthy, such as fruit or carrots.
    So instead of labeling a specific food, determine what category it falls into and balance accordingly.
  • Aim for about 50% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 25% fat. Carbohydrates are what primarily fuels our metabolism, so we need them. We also need fat to keep our cells healthy, be our secondary source of fuel, and absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. And protein builds and repairs tissues, amongst other things.

The hardest thing to learn is what category does a food fall into. Is it a carbohydrate, and if so what type. Is it a protein, and if so is it lean or fatty. Or is it a fat, and is it unsaturated or saturated. Sometimes it is hard to tell, and you have to look at labels. I gave the group the following chart to help them more easily determine that. I put foods into categories that represented their primary nutrient, like milk as a simple carbohydrate. If you look at the label on your milk, you will see that it is mostly a carbohydrate and that most of that is a milk sugar. And the rest is protein and some fat.

The other thing that is challenging is knowing what are the right combinations. There is no right way to do this. Instead pick a meal you typically eat, and see how balanced it is now and what would make it more balanced and have a lower glycemic impact.

For example, if you tend to have cereal, milk, juice and fruit for breakfast, you will notice this is very high in carbohydrates and high in simple carbs. When you start the day with a surge of carbs and blood sugars, you will often start a cycle of craving carbs the rest of the day. In this breakfast, there is a little bit of protein and probably a bit of fat in the cereal. To better balance this, choose a whole grain cereal with low sugars (like oatmeal) that you like, pick a milk with a bit higher fat content or add some nuts, pick either the fruit or the juice, and perhaps add a piece of lean sausage. Now it is higher in complex carbs, lean protein and fat.

The best way to begin eating healthier is to make minimal changes to the way you eat now. Start by changing one meal at a time or one type of meal during the week, and just as important is to choose what you enjoy eating and tweaking it so it is healthier and just as – or even more – satisfying. This isn’t about going on a diet, it is about making modifications to what you are already doing or your current recipes so you enjoy it more, it is fully satisfying and it carries you for a few hours. In time this will become easier and more intuitive.

Each person in the group picked one of their meals and experimented with ways to make it more balanced and healthier. They told us what was in the meal or snack, and then they told us what those items were in terms of complex or simple carbohydrates, saturated or unsaturated fat, or lean or fatty protein. In this way, they could learn how to think in terms of balancing key nutrients (proteins, carbs, fats) and know when they had a healthy meal or snack or not very easily. They all got this down very quickly and many of them noticed how much better they felt and how much more satisfying it was when they had a balanced meal or snack that was primarily complex carbohydrates, lean protein and unsaturated fat.

Try it yourself. You will be amazed how easy it really can be and how much better you will feel.

Read What the Group Members Experienced This Week
Find out what the participants experienced with Balanced Eating and how they are doing in making other healthy changes. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.

To participate on your own or in a group, check out the contest website for details and tools at the contest website.

Have a healthy and active week,
Alice

  • Bobbi

    This week was all about “balanced eating” and concentrating on making choices that balanced the food chart. This is a challenging lesson for me as I struggle with what category each food actually fall’s into. I decided to add the categories to my food journal to help me remember and it has been very helpful so far.

    I had this thing in my head that I should not be eating after lunch until dinner time. I tend to eat dinner around 8:00 but after learning I needed to add a healthy balanced snack I found that eating wheat crackers and peanut butter later in the day helped with keeping the hunger down – I was amazed that it actually gave me energy to finish up my day at work and then get home to cook our dinner… all without sneaking a handful of whatever I was preparing. I know it sounds small, but what a lovely surprise for me to learn.

  • Pand-e

    This week’s Balanced Eating information provided another helpful layer of Healthy Choice wisdom.

    In five weeks, Alice has incrementally raised my awareness about how eating habits, food choices and exercise beliefs have influenced me.

    I’ve learned to adjust my “fitness goal setting” by making them more realistic. I’m enjoying “successes” and have reduced judgments about myself by focusing on what went well. Those negative feelings have made me give up on my goals in the past.

    I’ve adopted the simple method of focusing on my “hunger” and “satisfaction” as it pertains to knowing when to eat and when to stop eating. Times of stress have taken a different course. I’ve thought, “Am I hungry?” I’ve stopped eating when full. Prior to this Program, I often ate mindlessly when upset. More often, I’ve postponed eating until I can focus on it and enjoy it.

    I’ve incorporated this week’s balanced eating approach into the mix. Grocery shopping, food choices and combination for meals have taken a decided change for the better. Knowing about the benefits of “balance” has resulted in increased protein with most meals. Many of us thought we had heard wrong when
    Alice suggested that fruit not be eaten alone. The suggestion was made to add nuts. I’ve enjoyed this and found I’m satisfied for longer before I feel hungry again.

    So far, I’m very pleased with the simplicity of Alice’s Healthy Living suggestions. They have been surprisingly portable and easy to add into my life.

    Can’t wait for the next meeting!

  • Maureen

    Balanced eating isn’t the only challenge. Balancing life and all its complications is sometimes just as challenging. Losing power, being unable to cook, and not having healthy and appealing options in the house made making nutritious choices even more difficult this week. In the past it might have been a little easier to get through this because I wasn’t mindful of trying to eat in balance; now I can’t even pretend it doesn’t matter.

    Still, I was delighted to learn that my favorite breakfast is not only easy to prepare (and tasty!), it’s pretty well balanced. No wonder I feel satisfied and even energetic in the morning. Now instead of focusing on what I can or cannot have, I’m looking at how I can improve other meals and snacks to bring more energy to the rest of my day. That feels like a much more productive way to spend my time.


Alice Greene
Healthy Lifestyle Success Coach

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