The Ultimate Healthy Meal
It seems that today, everyone is on the seemingly endless quest to eat healthier.
Among the numerous reports from the American Heart Association and other organizations that have explained, unequivocally, that America has an obesity problem, healthy living has simply become popular.
There are countless magazines, blogs, and social media postings that, combined, have inundated the internet with tips and tricks on how to stay healthy. But one thing that is never really mentioned in depth, is what healthy eating means.
Here, I am referring strictly to the nutritional content of food – regardless of organic or conventional, wild caught or farm raised, healthy eating is balanced eating.
This means fruits, vegetables, starches, and meat or fish. This question of healthy eating becomes more difficult to answer when you add certain identifiers into the mix, like vegan or vegetarian etc.
But on an average diet without any restrictions, a healthy meal should contain a source of protein, nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates.
The Food We Need & the Amounts We Should Have
One of the most vital food groups to a healthy diet is a fruit and veggie group. Here, you can use fresh or frozen, conventional or organic, or raw or cooked vegetables.
The best way to consume vegetables is fresh, raw, and organic.
However, if you have to substitute this out for some other type, that’s fine. The main thing to focus on is making sure to consume at least 5 full portions of fruits and vegetables a day, in order to get the full amount of vitamins, nutrients, and fiber that your body needs.
Believe it or not, another of the most important food groups is the starch – bread, pasta, potatoes, etc. etc.
Starches might get a lot of flak from time to time, as they are high in carbs, which gets a lot of heat. But in reality, carbs need to be an essential part of our diets – they provide energy in addition to high levels of fiber, vitamins, and nutrients.
Carbs get converted into glucose, glucose is used as fuel. Carbohydrate consumption is especially important if you’re an athlete of any caliber. You should try to make ⅓ of everything you consume come from some form of starch.
The next aspect of a balanced diet is the protein section. This can consist of meat (red, white, etc.), fish, beans, or eggs.
Protein is incredibly important, as it is the physical building block of our bodies. We need protein to grow. You should be getting around 2-3 full portions of natural protein every day.
The last section of your balanced plate is the dairy section (milk, cheese, etc.) Dairy is important for protein, yes, but mainly for calcium, which is imperative for healthy bones. You should shoot for 2-3 small servings of dairy daily.
Sugary foods (chocolate bars, cookies, etc.) are best if left to the ‘on occasion’ category, as added sugar is harmful to our bodies.
However, a little chunk of a dark chocolate bar every night is certainly not a bad thing. Just do your best to limit your consumption of foods with added sugar.
How Important Are These Nutrients?
Balance is so important in your diet because our bodies require a relatively large quantity and variety of nutrients – by eating a balanced diet, we can pull from a variety of sources, getting pure, natural nutrients, which are absorbed best by our bodies.
Vitamin A is a vital nutrient in keeping your immune system strong and functioning. Vitamin B is important in energy processing.
Vitamin D is imperative for bone health and Vitamin C is imperative for cellular health. Eating a daily supply of vegetables will ensure that you are getting the amount of and variety of vitamins you need.
Carbs are vital in keeping energy levels up. Like I mentioned earlier, carbohydrates get converted into glucose, which is then distributed to your muscles – if it is not used immediately, it gets stored for later use.
Having enough glucose for energy is of utmost importance. Additionally, carbs have high levels of iron, which is incredibly important in ensuring that your red blood cells are carrying oxygen throughout your body.
Protein is the building block of life – our skin, hair, nails, and muscles are all reliant on protein to repair, regenerate, and grow.
This concept of a balanced plate may seem like a massive undertaking – how can one person possibly eat that sheer quantity and variety of foods every day?
It is doable, it just requires portion control and some creative cooking. Try to use your starch as the base of your meals – grilled chicken over linguini with a side of oven-roasted zucchini, onions, and tomatoes is a delicious way to get that balanced plate.
And, in terms of those lusted-after sugary foods, just try to keep them at a minimum. A Reese’s once a week won’t kill you. But three a day is just not good – the excess glucose gets converted into fat stores. Plus there are a lot of other chemicals in those kinds of process candies.
Your best bet, if you have a sweet tooth, is to find recipes that combine fruit and unsweetened dark chocolate. Honey is also a great replacement for sugar or stevia – a little honey goes a long way in a smoothie, mug of tea, or a cup of coffee.
And, while you’re in the midst of this balanced eating, don’t forget to drink. Try to drink water throughout the day. If you can get to a total of around 6-8 glasses of water in one day, you’re doing great.
Healthy eating can be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as you know what makes up a healthy, balanced diet, it suddenly becomes easy to eat the right food, and in the right amounts.
I’m a personal trainer based in Denver (Matrix Gym) and a true fitness nerd. If I’m not training clients or working out at my home gym, I’m probably skiing, cycling or hiking with my dog Rufus.