There are many reasons a person may struggle to make healthy meals for him or herself. Lack of cooking skills, motivations for unhealthy eating, and even confusion about what constitutes healthy food can all play a role. The truth is that formulating healthy meals that work for your body is quite simple, and in this post, I will break down the ‘big rocks’ of healthy eating at main meals.
1. Maximize protein: protein (particularly animal protein) has become the butt of a lot of fear-mongering. Media hype and interest groups have done an excellent job of making manipulated data look like a smoking gun. The truth is that animal protein is not only safe for consumption, but it is essential for peak health. That isn’t to say that you can’t live a healthy life on a plant-based diet, but in my opinion, you will suffer at some point without the ease and richness of animal foods. In any event, I’m not here to argue that point. Protein is the most satiating, nutrient-dense, weight loss and performance-friendly foods you can consume. When you skip or skimp on protein, you are much more likely to overeat starches, sugars, and fats. It’s not that there isn’t a place in your diet for the nutrients mentioned above, but they are easy to overconsume and more consequential for fat gain when compared to protein. There are even some studies that show when we overconsume protein, we have a difficult time converting the excess to body fat. If fat loss is at the top of your list, you should be eating at least a fist-sized portion of protein, preferably from animal sources at each meal. It would be best if you also aimed to eat your protein first.
2. Get your low starch carbohydrates: Low starch carbs can be classified as vegetables that grow above the ground and (occasionally) berries from the fruit family. Contrast these foods with stuff like root vegetables and high sugar fruits like bananas. It’s not that the latter food groups are unhealthy, but if fat loss is what we are after, it would be wise to eat the most nutrient-dense plant foods. That means low starch and sugar with a reasonable amount of fiber and a high amount of nutrient density. I want to caveat that I don’t believe fiber is essential or all that helpful. But if you are reducing sugar and starch matter in plants, something has to be leftover. That’s where fiber comes in. Low starch carbs do the same job as protein in terms of appetite control, but the satiety factor has a shorter half-life- so LSC’s will keep you full in the short term, but you require protein (and some fat) to keep your appetite down in the long-term. Aim to get 1-2 fists of low starch carbs at each meal and eat them after your protein serving. If you have digestive issues, it is best to thoroughly cook your vegetables and feed on the lower end of the serving size index.
3. Manage your starches and fats: starch and fat both have a place in a healthy diet, but these are nutrients that you should manage when trying to burn fat. When I say starches, I am referring to whole food forms like root vegetables, some fruits, and occasionally something like rice or even pasta. I believe that grains are going to do you more harm than good, but if you can keep in under control, the occasional indulgence isn’t going to hurt you. When I am talking about fats, I am referring to plant matter and extrinsic fats: the fats we add to our food or fat that comes from plant sources (as opposed to naturally occurring lipids in our protein sources). Think olive oil, butter, ghee, avocado, fatty nuts, etc. Fat should be kept consistent and moderate throughout your meals. One to two thumb-sized servings of extrinsic fat is what you are going to want. Starches should align with your level of exercise. The more intensely active you are, the more starch you can have. The more sedentary you are, the less starch you should have. A palm-sized serving of high starch carbohydrates is fine for most people to have once per day. If you want more than that it should be earned with a reasonably intense bout of exercise.
If you do these three things, you will be making the most of your meals. So remember to always:
1. Get your protein
2. Get most of your carbs from Low Starch sources
3. Moderate your starch and healthy fat intake
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