I talk about balance with clients a lot. I’m sure you’ve heard mention that eating a “balanced diet” is a good thing, but do you know what eating balanced really looks like?
When I talk about balanced eating what I mean is some good quality protein, some complex carbs, and some fat and fiber. We have a tendency to want to make one or another part of this equation the hero or villain, but it’s actually all of these components working together that provides the most benefit, pleasure, and satisfaction. Eating real, whole foods with a balance of nutrients has many health benefits including helping us feel fuller and more satisfied longer, as well as helping to better control blood sugars, appetite, and cravings.
When we don’t eat balanced, say we grab a pack of crackers or a candy or protein bar here or a bag of chips there, those foods don’t last long and leave us feeling hungry not too much later. It is when we combine foods to create balance that we can get the most out of our food and not be left constantly wanting more.
Balance is also important to help us get the most out of workouts or increase our performance during sports activities. My tennis partner eats a regular pre-match breakfast of a boiled egg before we play. Usually about a set in she is feeling hungry and in need of something to boost her energy.
I told her I was going to prescribe her a few good balanced breakfasts that would give her the energy she needs to make it through the match without feeling hungry. She is already getting good quality protein in her egg, but if she combined it with some complex carbohydrates and good fats, eg. some oatmeal with blueberries (both complex carbs) and a few walnuts (good fats and fiber), that would be a better balanced breakfast and would likely give her the energy she needs.
Lately I have been really going back to basics with people I meet with and trying to emphasize this concept of balance. The image of the Canadian Healthy Plate is a great guide for how to incorporate balance.
It may seem simple or elementary, but many of our plates look nothing like this. It doesn’t mean that every time we eat it has to be colorful or have all these components, but the more you can incorporate balance, you will begin to feel the difference in your satisfaction level and the impact it has on your overall eating.
As you plan meals, try to take into consideration the different components of a satisfying and balanced meal – some carbs, some protein and fat, and a fruit and/or vegetable.
This idea of balance can be used with snacks too. Your best snack choice is based on a balance of real, whole foods. So, instead of just an apple or banana (both complex carbs), combine either with a tablespoon or two of peanut butter (protein and good fats). Or instead of just a handful of baby carrots or a handful of Triscuits (complex carb), combine them with a 4 oz. container of low-fat cottage cheese (protein). Think: complex carb + protein = a satisfying snack.
Make it your goal just to become more aware of what your meals and snacks look like. Are they balanced? If not, what are they most often missing? Do you include fruits and vegetables often throughout the day? What is one small way you could change your plate to incorporate better balance?