What is a Balanced Meal?
We often hear that we need to eat a balanced meal because it is good for our health. Currently, there is a lot of nutrition advice with different ideas of “healthy eating”, so knowing how to prepare a balanced meal can be a challenge.
This post is an overview of what a balanced meal is, and how you can balance your meals.
Understanding a Balanced Meal
A balanced meal is a meal where all of the nutrients you need are present. And what nutrients do you need? The main ones are:
These give your body and your brain energy.
Protein is used to develop parts of your body like muscle, skin, and hair plus smaller things like enzymes that your body needs to function.
There are healthy and unhealthy fats. You need healthy fats to protect your organs, keep warm, and help transport vitamins throughout your body.
The easiest way to start balancing your meals is to have a source of carbohydrates, protein and fat in each meal.
Why Do I Need All Three Nutrients in My Meals?
Have you ever heard of protein poisoning? This happens when people eat too much protein but don’t have enough carbohydrates or fat in their diet. If someone eats this way for a long time, they become malnourished.
Your body cannot work properly if it does not have carbohydrates, proteins and fat. So, if these are important, why do people say we should avoid carbohydrates and fats?
It is common to think of sugar first when we think of carbohydrates. But sugars are just one type. Starch and fiber are carbohydrates too. When people say carbohydrates are unhealthy, they usually mean food with a lot of sugar.
Carbohydrates can be refined or whole. Refined means that the carbohydrates are processed and the processing removes their nutritional value. Bread is a good example of this. Wheat or grain bread has fiber, minerals and vitamins, but white bread does not. If we choose wheat bread, we are eating carbohydrates that give us nutrients that we need. White bread only gives us sugar. Sugar will give us energy for a short time, but when the energy is finished, we just want more sugar.
Fats can also be confusing. People think fat is bad because they associate it with body fat and health problems. Some fat is unhealthy and we should avoid it. However, if we don’t have enough fat in our diet, we might always feel cold, lose our hair or have other problems.
What Foods Have These Nutrients?
Carbohydrates: The most common sources people think of are pastas, rice and breads. Did you know that vegetables, fruits, and nuts also provide carbohydrates?
Protein: Protein can come from sources like chicken, red meats, eggs, fish and dairy. If you don’t eat these, you can also get protein from lentils, beans, tofu, and even green peas.
Fat: Healthy fats are in dairy products, meats, nuts, peanut butter, avocados and oil, like olive oil.
Some foods can be a source of multiple nutrients. Meat, for example, can have the protein and fat you need in a meal. To include your carbohydrates, add vegetables and you have a complete meal.
Tips for Balancing a Meal
If you need more balance in your diet, try the following tips:
1. Identify 4-5 sources of each nutrient and ask yourself if you will actually eat them. If
you don’t like nuts, peanut butter or avocado, you aren’t going to eat them. Instead,
find a food you do like.
It helps to keep in mind that some food is seasonal. For example, if avocados are the
only source of fat on your list, you will need to find a new source when avocado season
is over. Planning ahead can help you avoid this situation and save money.
2. Find sources that you can buy easily. Flax seed is one ingredient I see people talk
about often because it has a lot of nutrients, but I never buy it because it’s expensive. If
an ingredient is hard to find or it is too expensive to buy, it won’t help your diet.
After you list foods that you want to get your nutrients from, figure out which ones you
will be able to access consistently.
3. Consider small changes to your current meals. Ingredients like rice, beans, quinoa,
eggs, and cheese can be used in a lot of dishes, so you can add these to your current
meals for more balance.
Creating a balanced meal can be simple. By including a carb, protein, and fat into your meal, you’ve got balance. If you cannot do this for every meal, try to balance your eating throughout the day. Our bodies are resilient and can adapt. It is possible to exclude a nutrient group without noticing changes now, but this can harm our long-term health. Eating a balanced meal is one small step you can take to be and stay healthy.
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By: Ame Proietti