Coach’s Corner: Balanced Eating – A mini lesson in biochemistry and nutrition

food words

Hey Team!

It has come to my attention that there is a lot of talk about the importance of having a balanced diet. But what does that mean and how do we do it?

First things first, a definition.

Balanced eating = each meal or snack that you eat during the day has a combination of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Ideally each meal or snack that you eat should contain one food item from each category. (We’ll get into  why it’s important to eat a balanced diet at the end.)

Notice that I’ve bolded: lean, complex, and healthy. It’s important to note that these are qualifying words and understanding their importance is critical. It is also important to mention that balanced eating is not just a fad, it should be something that becomes part of your lifestyle. Here we go!

LEAN PROTEIN

chicken

As we’ll discover, not all foods are created equal. In regards to protein, some are really fatty and others are, well, lean. Lean protein comes in the form of white meat typically – chicken and turkey. (We’ll go over what protein is and why it’s important in a minute). There are some fish that are great sources of lean protein like tilapia. Red meat is the tricky one. As you probably know, you can get your beef in a lot of different ways. (Ribeye, filet migon, t-bone, ground, porterhouse, etc). Not all cuts of beef are lean. Stick with cuts that are 80% to 93% lean. The label should indicate the percentage. When I buy ground beef, I always make sure it’s from a local farm (within the state), that it’s grass-fed, and that it’s at least 93% fat free. Let’s dissect this even further.

  • What is protein? Protein is an essential nutrient that is comprised of amino acids (we won’t go into what amino acids are today, we’ll save that for another post. If you’re dying to know, Google it.) and is the second most abundant substance in your body right after water. Protein is in everything. It’s in your skin, your muscles, your hair, your nails, your eyes, your bones, your blood, and your organs. Protein is extremely important because it’s used to build, maintain, and repair bodily tissues. When someone consumes more protein than their body needs, the excess is converted to energy for immediate use or stored in fat, which can only be accessed once energy from carbs and fat have been used up.
  • Why buy local? Without getting into a large discussion about environmental and political issues, the long story short is that it takes a lot of resources and energy (namely fuel to process and transport) to produce beef. The less distance the beef had to travel, the fresher it’s going to be and the less carbon dioxide that’s being emitted into the atmosphere from flying or driving the beef thousands of miles. More importantly, you’ll be supporting a local farmer instead of some corporate giant like Jenny-O or Hormel. It’s a win-win situation – you get healthy,great quality meat and the farmer gets to feed his family and make a living. 
  • Why grass-fed? There is a lot of debate about the benefits or lack there of, of eating grass-fed beef. If you think about foods that a cow was meant to eat, you would probably say grass. Right? Well, to get more bang for their buck, some farmers feed their cattle a corn based diet. They can “beef up” (no pun intended) their cattle with more food, for less money. Fatter cattle equals more meat they can sell, which means more money. Corn is not a natural food source for cows, obviously! When was the last time you saw a cow grazing in a corn field…
  • Why 80-93% fat free? This should be a no brainer… The less fat there is, the leaner the meat. Pretty simple. You’re not missing out on any other nutrients by going the lean route. You’ll get your dosage of healthy fats from other foods, which we’ll talk about later in this post.

COMPLEX CARBS

complex carbs

There are two types of carbs. Simple and complex.

  • Simple carbs. Carbohydrates consists of sugars. Simple carbs have a chemical structure of 1 to 2 sugars, and no more. Simple carbs are typically refined sugars that have little to no nutritional value (hence why we should limit our consumption of them). Because of their simple structure, the body digests them very quickly, which typically spikes blood sugar. (Betcha didn’t think you were going to get a chemistry lesson today did ya!) Common examples of simple carbs are: table sugar, products with white flour, soda, processed foods (anything that comes in a box, and/or has a shelf life of 2 years, or that needs to be microwaved), and anything that has artificial sweeteners in it.
  • Complex carbs. The good carbs. Complex carbs are similar to simple carbs in that they consist of sugar molecules, but instead of one or two molecules, they have at least 3 or more molecules that string together in a chain. Because of their complexity, they take longer for the body to digest, and do not spike blood sugar levels the way simple carbs do. Complex carbs are typically high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which make them an essential component to having a balanced diet. Not only are they packed with nutrients, they act as body fuel and play a critical role in helping your body produce energy. Common examples of complex carbs are: quinoa, spinach, wild rice, steel cut oats, apricots, oranges, lentils, green beans, garbonzo beans, black beans, low fat yogurt. (You can look online for more examples).

HEALTHY FATS

cados

I should preface this section by saying that there is a lot of debate about the role that fats play into diet. But as I mentioned at the start of this post, not all foods are created equal – the same goes for fats. Let’s start with some definitions.

What is fat? Fats are essentially nutrients that give your body energy to function, move, and survive. Did you know that fat is necessary for our bodies to process and absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K? There are 2 types of natural fats, saturated and unsaturated, and then there’s trans fat which has been processed by hydrogenation (we’ll explain this in a little bit).

Different Types of Fat:

  • Saturated fat. These are fats that are solid at room temperature (think “saturated is solid”). You can find most saturated fats in animal foods like milk, cheese, butter, and meat. Poultry and fish have lower amounts of of saturated fats than red meat. It can also be found in tropical oils, like coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter. Saturated fats are sometimes known for raising cholesterol but there’s a lot of debate about the truth of this claim.
  • Unsaturated fat. These are fats that are liquid at room temperature, and typically come in the form of oils from plants (olive oil, grapeseed oil) Some schools of nutritional thought, think that eating unsaturated fats lower your cholesterol but again, but based on contesting research this claim is debatable. To complicate things more, there are 2 types of unsaturated fats. MONOUNSATURATED and POLYUNSATURATED fats.
  1. Monounsaturated fats (MUSF): this is the type of unsaturated fat that researchers believe to lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol, and help keep your “good” HDL cholesterol high. MUSF’s are found in vegetable oils like canola, olive, and peanut oil. And also found in foods like avocados.
  2. Polyunsaturated fats (PUSF): this type of unsaturated fat is typically found in other vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and corn oils. This is also the form of unsaturated fat that is found in seafood. Some researchers claim that eating PUSF’s in the place of saturated fats may lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol. Brace yourself… there are two types of PUSF’s: Omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3’s are found in foods like salmon, herring, sardines, trout, and flaxseed. A healthy daily dose is about 250 mg. Omega 6’s are typically found in liquid vegetable oils like safflower oil. (If your interested in learning more, definitely do some more research).
  • Trans Fat. These are fats that have been chemically processed and changed by something call hydrogenation. This is a process that increases the shelf life of the fat, which results in a harder fat at room temperature. This is what makes potatoe chips really crunchy and crispy, and pre-made pie crust extra flaky. This is the type of fat that will raise cholesterol and can typically be found if highly processed foods, chips, crackers, cookies, margarine, and foods made with shortening. 

So what kinds of fats should we be eating? We should definitely stay as far away from trans fat as much as possible! This is the worst type of fat and should be avoided at all costs.

There are different schools of thought on how much of unsaturated and saturated fats you should have. Some researchers say that saturated fats are good for you and that you shouldn’t cut them from your diet (bacon, animal fats, butter, coconut oil, etc), other researchers say that you should avoid them. Definitely do some more research on your own time to help make an informed decision.

Here are some books to check out:

Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It by Gary Taubes
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
Food Rules by Michael Pollen
Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Okay, so now that we’ve had our mini bio-chemistry lesson lets get back to how all this information plays into having a balanced diet!

As you can probably guess, our bodies need these three basic types of nutrients (protein for muscles, carbs for energy, fat  to help lower cholesterol and absorb certain vitamins) in order to function properly. In general, the average human’s diet should be comprised of 30% lean protein, 40% complex carbs, and 30% healthy fats. With that said, these numbers can vary depending on things like disease, how active you are, age, gender, etc. These percentages are just averages to give people a baseline. Someone like a bodybuilder for example, needs a much higher percentage of protein than someone who’s a recreational gym goer. A marathoner will need a much higher percentage of complex carbs, than some who just runs a few miles a week, because their muscles need access to higher amounts of readily available energy to sustain long runs. Now on to the good part – why we should eat balanced diets.

WHY EAT A BALANCED DIET?

food bag

Before you read further I want you to grab a piece of paper and jot down 3 reasons why you think you should eat a balanced diet based on what you just learned about lean proteins, complex carbs, and healthy fats… Once you have your 3 reasons, you can continue reading…..

No cheating…

As you may have guessed, some of the benefits of balanced eating are:

  • Feeling full for longer (complex carbs take longer to digest, protein sticks with you)
  • Sustained (maybe even increased) energy (steady blood sugar/insulin levels)
  • Access to complete nutrients, which can help eliminate cravings.
  • Adequate fuel for your muscles to repair, maintain, and build themselves (protein not only helps build muscle but helps repair them after you’ve been working out)

The list is endless, but these should be enough to convince you to check out your current way of eating and compare it to the guidelines above.

EXAMPLES

Here are some samples of balanced meals from http://2lgn.com/home. This is a great website more more resources, tips, and nutritional guidance.

Breakfast:
Protein – 2 sliced hard boiled eggs
Carb: fresh spinach, bell peppers, onions
Healthy Fat: Saute the above ingredients in either extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil

Lunch:
Protein: 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt (Fage or Chobani are good brands) /
Carb: 1/2 banana, 4 strawberries
Healthy Fat: Sliced almonds (roasted, only a handful)

Dinner:
Protein: Chicken, beef or fish (no bigger than the size of your palm)
Green leafy veggies (kale, spinach, or brussel sprouts), carrots, asparagus, or berries
Healthy Fat: Local made butter melted on top (no more than a tablespoon)

Snack:
Protein: 1 scoop of protein powder (whey, hemp, pea, plant based – it doesn’t matter, whatever you like)
Carb: 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries
Healthy Fat: 1 cup of coconut milk
Blend together in a blender.

 

I hope this post was helpful and informational, but definitely do your own research.

 

Stay tuned for more posts!

 

– Coach Colleen