If you're new to my nutritional lesson posts, then here's a quick explanation. I'm enrolled in an intensive program that is teaching me the nuts and bolts of nutrition and fitness. Every week is a new lesson, and I take notes from those lessons. I post my notes here on my blog, mostly so I can find them again to review later. If, in the meantime, you find information that is helpful to you on your journey ...more the better. Enjoy!
An adult stomach can hold a volume of about 1 liter. Once you hit that mark, your stomach is full, no matter what you are eating or how hungry you feel. Your stomach can only hold so much. When it comes to stomach capacity, filling up on potato chips or filling up on steamed broccoli is all the same; however, there is a big difference between stomach capacity and nutrition!
We’ve talked about caloric density, and the fact that many unhealthy foods are calorically dense. In contrast, a good measure of healthy foods is their nutrient density. Nutrients go beyond just providing energy to the body. They are the vitamins and minerals necessary for growth, repair, and health maintenance. To say a food is nutritious means that it packs a lot of nutrients into each calorie.
Research suggests that eating a lower-calorie, nutrient-dense diet full of foods like fruits and vegetables is likely the most effective and healthiest way to lose weight and keep it off long-term.
Fiber is a tissue in plants that provides structure, shape, and texture. It’s found naturally in the skin and flesh of fruits and vegetables, and is also abundant in beans, legumes, nuts, and grains. As you know, fiber will slow down sugar absorption and contribute to fullness. Research shows it can also lower bad cholesterol. Not bad for simple plant tissue!
When it comes to fiber, there’s a big difference between processed foods and unprocessed foods. In grains, for example, most of the fiber is in the outer layers (the bran and the germ), which are removed during the refining process. White rice and white flour are simply brown rice and whole wheat that have been stripped of that outer casing.
An analysis of several major studies showed that people who ate an extra two servings of whole grains a day decreased their risk of having type 2 diabetes by 21%.
Unrefined foods that still have all their original fiber are sometimes called whole foods, since nothing has been taken away. Additionally, whole foods are generally not processed to add salt, fat, or sugar. Whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are the main examples of whole foods. They still have all their original fiber and the health benefits that come along with it. Experts agree that most men should have between 30 and 38 grams of fiber per day, and most women should have between 21 and 25 grams. The single best way to get this fiber is to skip processing and include plenty of whole foods in your meals and snacks every day.
The Healthy Plate Method: Picture an empty dinner plate, about 9 inches across. Then, visualize a line dividing your plate in half. Last, divide one of those halves in half again. You now have three plate sections. The largest is for fruits and vegetables, and the two smaller sections are for whole grains and healthy protein.Skip potatoes and French fries for the veggie half of your plate, though. Potatoes are very high in starch, a carbohydrate that your body doesn't have to process, so it converts almost immediately to sugar during digestion. To lose weight and keep your blood sugar levels from spiking, eat starchy foods only occasionally.
On the other side of your Healthy Plate, you’ll find lean protein and whole grains. Beans, tofu, lentils, and lean poultry or fish are excellent choices for the protein quarter. All protein should be cooked with lower-fat methods like broiling, stir-frying, steaming, or baking – never deep-fry.
High-fiber whole grains are the best choice for the final quarter of your plate. You can choose whole wheat bread, whole grain tortillas, brown rice, and whole grain pasta, or get adventurous with grains like quinoa, couscous, or millet. Just make sure the first ingredient on any packaged item you choose is 100% whole grain.
Balance is an important eating habit, but a balanced meal alone won’t cause you to lose weight. You also have to be aware of your portion sizes to make sure you are not overeating. To improve your chances of eating a healthy amount of food, always start eating when you are hungry (not starving) and stop eating when you are satisfied (not stuffed).
Next time you serve your plate, start by taking smaller portions than usual, and give yourself twenty minutes to feel full before going back for more. If you use smaller dishes, you’ll be more likely to serve yourself smaller portions. And if you’re still not satisfied at the end of a meal, choose extra servings of high-volume, low-calorie foods to fill you up.
While planning healthy portions, though, remember one more thing. It might sound strange, but an important part of losing weight is ensuring you get enough food. Eat three balanced meals a day, and add healthy snacks to keep you satisfied in-between. This will boost your metabolism and keep you from getting so hungry that you lose control over unhealthy temptations.
Becoming healthier doesn’t mean following a deprivation diet! Instead, focus on consuming high-quality foods that you’ll enjoy for the long term.
Statistics show that only 5% of people who lose weight by dieting are able to keep it off after a few years. Diets don't work, but long-term, healthy lifestyle choices do.
Diets fail for a number of reasons, but the biggest may be that restrictive eating is not sustainable over time. Classic diets that rely on deprivation lead to yo-yo weight loss and negative side effects. These diets can overly limit calorie intake, leaving you hungry and uncomfortable. Such restriction actually slows down your metabolism, making it harder for you to lose weight. Highly restricted diets are actually quite unhealthy, because they lack variety and don’t include enough foods to provide proper nutrition. And enjoying food becomes impossible when everything is off-limits. Classic restrictive diets are doomed to fail, because they rely on extreme, temporary changes without teaching the long-lasting skills needed to make healthy choices for life.
If you want healthy changes to last, you need to build habits you can live with. No one can live with daily food misery.
To be successful, eat a varied balance of healthy, delicious foods that provide the nutrition you need while allowing you to feel satisfied and happy with your choices. If you want something, eat it sensibly. Choose the healthiest possible response to your cravings instead of denying them, and consider not just what you eat, but how much. The bottom line is to balance enjoyment and health with each food choice so you can sustain healthy habits for life.
It’s time to develop a plan for a full day of healthy eating. Planning ahead is key to making great choices, so let’s practice. What could you change about tomorrow's meal plan to live out your new healthier eating skills for an entire day?
Pull out a sheet of paper or open a computer document now, and write down what you would eat and drink during your ideal food day, from breakfast through dinner. Remember to think about nutrition, balance, portions, and enjoyment.
Breakfast: For a healthy start, a breakfast pastry, bagel, or muffin is no longer an option. Do you prefer savory food in the morning? Try a hard-boiled egg with salsa and avocado slices, a scramble with veggies and tofu, or a breakfast burrito with black beans, lettuce, and tomato in a whole grain tortilla. Make it balanced with a serving of fruit. If you prefer cereal, try oatmeal with banana slices and cinnamon. You'll be surprised how sweet the banana tastes if you cook it in. If you don't like bananas, add raisins or applesauce instead. Balance the grains with a half-cup of protein-rich plain yogurt.
Lunch: Lunch can be tricky because it often takes place at work or on the go, and can include eating out with friends or colleagues. But that doesn't mean you can't find healthy options. Rather than eating a hamburger or fish and chips, think about soups and salads. Choose broth-based and vegetarian soups, like minestrone, black bean, lentil, mixed vegetable, or bean chili. If you go for a salad, top it with ingredients that you really like, so you don’t get tired of it before you finish. A great complement to a salad is a small sandwich. Try cucumber, lettuce and tomato on rye bread with Dijon mustard, or hummus on whole-wheat pita with grated carrots and sprouts. Or, make a wrap with mashed black beans, bell pepper, tomato slices, and lettuce in a whole-wheat tortilla. If you like meat in your sandwich, pick lean turkey breast and skip salami and other high-fat, high-sodium meats.
Dinner: Many people tend to eat big dinners and go to bed stuffed, but it’s much healthier to eat a smaller dinner, go to bed satisfied, and wake up hungry. Dinner can start with a tall glass of water and a healthy soup or salad, similar to lunch. Add a serving of whole grain pasta with fresh tomato sauce, broccoli, and spinach, and 3 ounces of baked salmon. Whole-wheat tortillas with beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and salsa make delicious soft tacos. Or, try a chicken and vegetable stir-fry over brown rice.
Snacks: When you find yourself hungry and looking for junk food to snack on, it is a good defensive strategy to have healthy options immediately available. Veggie sticks dipped in hummus, air-popped popcorn, a handful of almonds, and easy-to-eat fruit like apples and oranges are all good options. And when you’re really in dire straits, a square of dark chocolate is a decent way to take the edge off your sugar cravings.
The color of your food is a great mark of the nutrients it contains. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables come in a host of colors – dark green, yellow, red, orange, and even blue-violet. These naturally occurring colors indicate the presence of particular vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that your body needs.Grapefruit, kiwifruit, oranges, berries, melons, and green apples are particularly good fruit choices for people with prediabetes, because they are lower in sugar than other fruits.
To eat more whole foods every day, start by planning the fruits-and-veggies half of your Healthy Plate. You want this side of your plate to be very colorful. Choose dark green, leafy veggies like spinach and mixed lettuces, then add bell peppers, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms, and tomato. The goal of colorful eating is variety. The more color you have on your plate, the wider the range of nutrients you will consume.
Also, surround yourself with colorful whole foods at home and at work. Put baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables on display so you can easily reach for these delicious options when you are hungry. Fresh foods aren’t the only source of colorful nutrition. Keep airtight jars filled with split peas, lentils, black beans, or other beans you like on the shelves in your pantry. Surrounding yourself with beautiful, healthy whole foods is a great reminder that your new path to health doesn’t include depriving yourself of the joys of food.
You’ve just read a lot about how to make healthy food choices. Try not to get overwhelmed - just take it in stride, and keep making steady, small changes that fit your life and your personal strategy for health.Keep up the low-calorie, high-fiber choices, and feel confident that when you eat this way, you get great nutrition to support all your body’s functions. Add balance and portion control to your toolbox by following the Healthy Plate Method at mealtimes. Remember to keep your own happiness in mind as you make changes, by making sure you change in ways you can live with for the long term. Finally, when you just need an easy answer, choose something colorful!