First of all, I would like to emphasize that I am not (yet) a nutritionist. Everything I share with you in this post are tips that have helped me personally to intuitively eat healthier and more balanced in my everyday life. The following content is not an expert opinion, but just my personal take on it. Also, it is important for me to say that I am not a proponent of bans or strict diets. However, I personally want to eat as healthy and balanced as possible in everyday life, without sacrificing taste and enjoyment. And that’s exactly what I find these tips shared below very helpful for.
My How-to-Balance-Diet-Guide on JBR
Heyhey, welcome to a new feature here on JBR! My plan is to show you some little knowledge nuggets and actionable tips related to a healthy and balanced diet inside this balanced diet 101 series. As you may have read in my Coffee Date post, I want to become a nutritionist soon. And during that year of the education in the nutritionist, I plan to occasionally share some things I’ve learned there and consider to be helpful for everyone. And even though the training hasn’t even started yet, I already would like to start with the first post of this series, which hopefully will help you to kickstart your New Year’s resolutions in case they are related to a more balanced and healthy diet.
For this purpose, I have brought you a very simple and actionable tip which helped me to establish some healthy eating habits in my everyday life. This idea of a balanced plate, which I want to talk about in today’s post, is based on the good old idea of the food pyramid. Therefore, I want to start there and quickly explain what the food pyramid is all about.
The Food Pyramid
When I was at school there were these posters with food pyramids in almost every classroom. It basically was a graphic of a triangle with different floors. These floors were reserved to specific nutrient groups. And the idea behind this concept was, that it should be a symbol for a balanced diet. However, this idea of a food pyramid from the year 1992 has a number of weaknesses. At the top of the list is the lack of quantity information. Although these food pyramids were usually provided with portion information, the information on how big such a serving should be was missing. Nowhere was mentioned whether a serving of rice was equivalent to 100, 200 or even 300 grams.
Another problem with this food pyramid as the lack of food specification. Meat was meat, dairy products were dairy products, and carbohydrates were carbohydrates. However, in terms of calories and nutritional value, we can’t equate a low-fat greek yogurt with heavy cream, a rib-eye steak with chicken fillet, or white flour with whole grains. But that’s exactly what the food pyramid has done.
And even though these concepts have been adapted countless times and brought up to date with different, more or less scientific findings, the problem of portion sizes has never been resolved….
How to Establish Healthy Eating Habits with the Plate Method
Since the concept of the food pyramid isn’t that helpful, we may need another tool. After all, those graphics are extremely helpful in presenting complex concepts in a simple and rememberable way. And this is where the plate method comes into play.
If you’re now wondering what the hell a plate method is supposed to mean, don’t worry, the concept is dead simple. Just imagine a round plate that you mentally divide into two parts. Fill one half with vegetables and/or fruit. Then divide the other half into two parts, so that they each represent a quarter of the plate. Now fill one quarter with long-chain carbohydrates and starchy vegetables and the other with protein sources. In addition to that, imagine a small circle in the middle of your plate and fill it with healthy fat sources. The result will be a perfectly balanced meal.
Which foods belong to which parts of the plate?
If you’re already well versed in the various macronutrients, you probably know where to put which kinds of food. But if not, I want to give you a quick overview of the different components.
- Vegetables and fruits: I think it is relatively clear which foods you can find in this category. However, I should be aware that starchy vegetables like squashes or sweet potatoes are comparatively rich in carbohydrates and therefore already belong to the group of carbohydrates.
- Carbohydrates: On the quarter of carbohydrates, you should primarily pack potatoes, rice, and grains. Especially when it comes to grain products, you should use whole grain products instead of white flour products as much as possible.
- Proteins: Healthy protein sources are mainly white meat, low-fat red meat, seafood, fish, tofu, and eggs.
- Fats: Healthy sources of fat, on the other hand, primarily include vegetable oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, and kernels.
In addition to these foods that can be clearly categorized, there are also a few that are a mix of two of these groups.
- Lentils, beans, peas. or dairy products are both carbohydrates and valuable sources of protein.
- Oily fish like salmon, dairy products like cheese, nuts and nut butters are great sources of protein as well as good sources of fat. However, they are also higher in calories.
With foods from such mixed groups, you should just keep in mind that they are not only a high-quality source of protein, but also provide quite a bit of carbohydrates or fats. Accordingly, this segment on the plate should be a bit smaller as well since it’s also included in the protein sector.
Why this concept will help you to create healthy eating habits.
Of course, this concept should only serve as a rough orientation in your everyday life. Obviously, you do not have to slavishly stick to these segments and quantity divisions. But with this technique in mind, you will be able to intuitively create a variety of balanced meals and therefore include healthy eating habits just after a short period of time. The advantages of this approach compared to the concept of the food pyramid are obvious. Not only are distinctions made between the foods of a nutrient group, of which we should eat more or less. But there is also a clear guideline as to the proportions and portion sizes in which each nutrient group should end up on our plate.
My everyday tip for a balanced diet
And in case you’re still wondering how the hell you’re supposed to implement this concept as a healthy eating habit when it comes to stews, soups, pasta dishes, one-pots, casseroles and so on, where all the different composts are thrown into one pot, pan or casserole dish, I want to give you one last tip.
Before you start cooking, place all the ingredients on your work surface and compare their proportions using the plate method. Are about fifty percent of the ingredients vegetables and/or fruit, a quarter high quality carbohydrates, and a quarter protein? And what about fats? Do you need oil for cooking, are your protein sources also fat sources or do you need some toppings like nuts, avocados, or some oil?
I do this check in my mind every time I make a meal. Sometimes I intentionally decide to not follow these guidelines. But most of the time I consider what other vegetables might go well with this dish, if there is a whole grain alternative to my carbs, and if my meal has enough protein.
And to be honest, I would consider this “check” as one of my most valuable healthy eating habits.
I really hope that this short introduction to the plate method gave you some insights and valuable tips on how to implement such healthy eating habits into your everyday life. Starting next week, a new recipe series will be launched based on these concepts. The bowl series will focus on the implementation of the plate method to help you to implement those healthy eating habits even better. (However, the vast majority of my recipes already follow this concept – so feel free to browse through my archives ????)
If you have any questions, suggestions, or tips of your own on this topic, feel free to drop them in the comments down below. Or send me a massage via email or Instagram (@julesbalancedrecipes).
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