By: Kristi Goode
A balanced diet is one that fulfills all a person’s nutritional needs. Balancing your plate with the right combination of macronutrients will not only help stabilize your blood sugar but will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Humans need a certain amount of calories and nutrients to stay healthy.
It's also common knowledge that nutrition is the primary driver when it comes to weight maintenance and can be the missing puzzle piece for those not seeing progress. Food is fuel for your brain and body, so a little extra time and planning is worth it! Many sabotage their "best" intentions with the convenience of less nutritious foods. Do you start over every Monday because you went “off track” over the weekend? So how can you make sure you are getting a variety of macronutrients and micronutrients to fuel your body?
First, what is a macronutrient?
Macronutrients are the protein, fat, and carbohydrates that make up the calories in your food. Including all 3 macronutrients will ensure a well-balanced plate. Protein is important for satiation and protecting your muscles while we need fat for our hormones, and carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source.
Building your plate should always start with a protein source. Next, look for non-starchy vegetables to fill half of your plate. Then, a healthy fat source. Lastly don’t forget about nutrient dense carbohydrates! When you include vegetables/carbohydrates you’re also including fiber. And fiber is a very important part of a balanced plate. Also, think about variety and a colorful plate!
Protein, fat, and fiber are all effective blood sugar regulators. Each of these slows the uptake of sugar into the bloodstream and lowers the insulin response. These are also the nutrients that keep you full for several hours. And because each one serves a distinct purpose, it's critical to include them in every meal.
Protein is the most satiating nutrient, meaning you will feel more satisfied and stay fuller, longer. That’s why it’s important to include protein with every meal. There is also a large amount of evidence showing that protein is the most important nutrient when it comes to weight loss. Protein also supports muscle metabolism meaning it is essential to building and repairing muscle. It also facilitates growth, production, and cell renewal within the body. Protein can be found in animal sources such as chicken, eggs, beef, seafood, yogurt, cottage cheese, and fish just to name a few. Each gram of protein provides 4 calories per gram.
Fats follow right behind protein when it comes to satiety – they keep you full. Healthy fats decrease the blood sugar response, and this is important in relation to your metabolism. Fats are essential to the body and play a large role in hormonal health, as fats act as chemical messengers within the body. The best sources of fat come from whole food sources. Nuts, seeds, coconut, chia seeds, nut butter, avocado and cacao (dark chocolate)! Most also contain fiber, too! Each gram of fat provides 9 calories per gram, making it the most calorically dense out of the 3 macronutrients. Other healthy fats include butter, cheese, coconut oil, coconut milk, cold pressed oils, and organic heavy cream. Fats such as fish, nuts, and seeds are also part of the protein group, too. While avocados and olives are a great source of fat they can also be found in the vegetable and fruit group.
Carbohydrates are our bodies preferred energy source. Carbs are stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and the liver. During activity, our body pulls the glycogen from our muscles for energy. Therefore, it’s crucial that our glycogen levels are full so we can perform at optimal levels.
Carbs are sugars such as fructose and glucose (naturally found in fruits and veggies) and lactose (dairy). They are also starches such as rice, potatoes, whole grains, breads, and cereals. Upon ingestion of carbs, insulin is released within the body. To avoid high peaks in blood sugar, it’s best to choose more complex carbs such as sweet potatoes, kidney beans, quinoa, and oats. Not to mention, whole grains can provide a good source of fiber and can be of benefit by providing a good environment for healthy bacteria to grow. Examples include oats, corn, barley, quinoa, rye, and whole wheat. The USDA recommends half your grains should be whole grains such as oats, corn, barley, quinoa, rye, and whole wheat. Each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram
Non starchy vegetables, also considered carbs, are nutrient-dense and low-calorie. They’re a rich source of fiber and loaded with vitamins & minerals. Studies show people who eat a diet high in vegetables have fewer rates of chronic diseases. It’s important to eat a variety of vegetables because depending upon their color, contain different nutrients. You can enjoy fruit and veggies all year long by eating them fresh, frozen, canned, dried, juiced, and blended in your smoothies and shakes. You can also increase the variety of veggies by cooking them in a variety of ways. Roasted, sautéed, steamed, baked, or raw can all taste so different and help you to find a way you enjoy a certain vegetable.
Fiber also fills you up and is a carbohydrate. It doesn’t spike blood sugar like most forms of carbohydrates, it actually slows down the uptake of sugar into the blood. Fiber sources are non-starchy veggies & starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, fruit, lentils, and beans. Fiber is also a crucial contributor to healthy gut bacteria, which is key for a healthy immune system and overall good health. Fiber intake should be at least 25g/day.
At this point you should understand the importance of each macronutrient and how it functions in your body. Building your plate and eating from a variety of food groups, but also a variety of food within those food groups is optimal because ach food group provides important and vital macro and micronutrients that are essential for growth, development, and body function.