Healthy Eating: A Matter of Balance
Balanced eating means taking in the amount of nutrients your body needs for optimal functioning, when your body needs it, and no more. Simple to understand, hard to do! Every person requires different levels of nutrient intake, and your age, activity level, whether you're a man or woman, and your current weight all play a role in what your plate should look like. One thing is for sure, though: It shouldn't look like one big bagel.
Not to pick on bagels, but in general, they're unbalanced -nutritionists would call this "calorie dense / nutrient light," meaning that within your average medium-sized cinnamon-raisin bagel with butter, most of the 300-plus calories come from one nutrient: carbs. Exchange that bagel for something like a slice of whole-grain bread with cheese and tomato and you get a more balanced profile of nutrients and a lot more vitamins and minerals - key to a nutrient-dense food. And nutrient density is what you want.
Unbalanced nutrition (in either direction) causes your body to work harder. Eating a diet that's devoid of vitamins and minerals makes your body prioritize its activity - for example, without enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones to make sure your muscles have enough. Conversely, eating more than your body needs means extra energy goes toward processing nutrients, storing them and dealing with the long-term effects of extra weight (joint pain and inflammatory chemical changes, for example). The key is to get the right amounts of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in the right balance so your body can function. Here are five easy ways to ensure balanced, healthy eating:
- Pay attention to what you eat. It may be boring, but writing down what you eat is the best way to actually see what your daily diet looks like. And you may be surprised by what it shows. Once it's there in black and white, you can see what you're doing right and what you might want to change.
- Make sure every grain you eat is a whole grain. Grain products like bagels can ramp up your calories without providing much bang for the buck. Be adventurous! Try a new grain like quinoa, or replace the white flour in a muffin recipe with whole wheat or even a mix of oat, whole wheat and bran.
- Eat a fruit and vegetable with every meal. Yes, even breakfast. And no, most jelly doesn't count. Cold cucumbers with an egg sandwich or a reheated spinach omelet can help you meet your daily need for the vital nutrition found in fruits and vegetables.
- Look at labels. If any one of the "daily values" for fat, protein, or carbohydrates is off the charts, put that item back.
- Buy fresh and local as much as possible. Stay on the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh food lives. And if your grocery store doesn't stock local growers, talk to the produce manager and ask your friends to make comments, too. You could also join a community supported agriculture co-op, or make a point to visit your local farmers market.