Achieving a healthy eating plan through balanced meals 1

Eating balanced meals is important to any eating plan.  Meals that are balanced are ones that incorporate multiple food groups.  A roast beef sandwich with lots of tomatoes and lettuce is a balanced meal.  A plain bagel by itself is not.

Balance is important for many reasons.  The greater the number of food groups in each meal, the greater variety of nutrients provided in that meal.  Our bodies need vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber, carbohydrates and yes, even a little bit of fat, for daily functioning.  No one food group can provide all of these.  Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fiber, meat, dairy, and plant-based proteins provide protein and fat, grains provide complex carbohydrates (as opposed to sugar, which is a simple carbohydrate).  In terms of a meal, protein helps us feel full, fat keeps us feeling full for a long time, and fiber provides bulk, which also helps us feel full.  In contrast, refined sugars just run through our system, so that we feel hungry again after a short period of time.  This is why plain white bread, eaten alone, doesn’t sustain us for a long time.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, however (or better yet, a peanut butter and apple sandwich), sticks to our stomachs longer because it has protein, fat and fiber added to the complex carbohydrates in bread.

Furthermore, eating a balanced meal means eating a combination of foods that are calorically dense (i.e. many calories in a few mouthfuls, like protein and fat) and calorically light (i.e. few calories in many mouthfuls, like fruits and vegetables).  Particularly for those who favor calorically dense foods, a mixture of the two will lighten up the overall meal without changing how much food is consumed or how full we feel afterwards.  Increasing the number of food groups at each meal also provides greater variety and possible combinations of foods.  This variety means meals are more enjoyable and less prone to become boring or stale; boredom from eating the same foods over and over again is one of the main causes of overeating, as the pleasure switches from the food itself to the process of eating.

If none of the suggestions in my previous post sounded appealing, a balanced meal approach is another way to improve your current eating plan.  Do an initial assessment of each meal and notice which are balanced and which are not.  Do you get at least 2 food groups in every meal?  That’s a good place to start.  Or do you consistently get 3 in some meals but not in others?  Another good place to start.  Finally, if you definitely, most assuredly, absolutely always get at least 3 food groups in every meal, what about the variety at these meals?  Is there a good mixture of protein sources each week, or fruits and vegetables?

For those wrestling with these questions, my next post will cover specific ways to increase balance at both meals and snacks.

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