Back to Basics: What Does “Balance” Mean Anyway?

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Eating food is a basic necessity of life, so why can it seem so complicated at times?

Sometimes, life is more complicated when we have lots of choices. And when it comes to food we certainly have many choices, some better than others. The less healthy options are often more accessible and seem to fit in more easily with our busy schedules. Health claims cause us to constantly question which foods we should eat and diet fads have us counting calories, taking diet supplements, and even eliminating entire food groups.

But how can we get back to the basics of simply eating nourishing food? I think it boils down to two main ideas:

  • The quality (and not just the quantity) of the foods you choose to eat,
  • Eating balanced meals and snacks every three hours or so throughout your day.

Let’s start with the quality piece. By quality of food, I mean choosing to eat more whole foods. This means real foods that are as close to their natural state and the least processed as possible. Most whole foods can be found along the perimeter of the grocery store, while the more processed foods are usually found in the center aisles.

Check out the ingredient labels on your favorite packaged foods. If the list of ingredients is long and includes unrecognizable words, is it real food? There are certain packaged foods that are great staples to keep in your pantry, such as canned beans, organic low-sodium broth, canned chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, whole grain pasta, and frozen fruit and vegetables. Your hunger and fullness can be your guide when you are eating more whole foods.

Let’s move on to the balanced meal and snack piece. A balanced meal or snack includes carbohydrates, protein, and fat. All three of these macronutrients are energy sources for your body, but they are broken down in different ways and at different speeds. So combining them within the same meal will give you some quick energy along with sustained energy. You’ll feel satisfied longer. Your blood sugar level will stay steady, which can help improve your overall energy and mood, reduce cravings, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Does this mean a bacon cheeseburger counts as a balanced meal? Not quite! This is where quality comes into play again.

  • Skip the sugar and white flour. Carbohydrates should be higher in fiber so they will break down more slowly.
  • Focus on fresh vegetables and fruit (all colors of the rainbow), whole grains, and legumes.
  • Avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon have healthy fats that can help reduce inflammation, keep cholesterol levels in check, and boost brain health. A little bit of healthy fat in a meal can go a long way to help you feeling satisfied.
  • Excellent protein sources can come from both plants and animals, and include lentils, dried beans and peas, organic eggs, and organic low-fat yogurt. Look for grass-fed meats, organic poultry, and wild-caught seafood.

So how do we practically make this happen in an actual day? Think outside of the box and try some of these ideas:

  • For breakfast, a bowl of pinto beans (and brown rice topped with lots of your favorite salsa) and a few slices of avocado.
  • A mid-morning snack could be a few whole grain crackers topped with almond butter.
  • For lunch, eat a bowl of lentil soup plus a green salad dressed with olive oil and vinegar and sprinkled with toasted almonds.
  • A balanced mid-afternoon snack of a crunchy apple with a few small slices of organic cheese will keep you satisfied until…
  • …Your dinner of baked wild salmon quinoa pilaf, and steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

Don’t worry if those suggestions are far away from your current way of eating. Start with a small step. Perhaps add some veggies to a meal or snack. It often works best to start with the meal that happens during the least stressful part of your day. Or if you tend to skip meals, focus on eating more often and add in small snacks between meals. Each small step adds up quickly until you find that the good food you’re eating is adding up to a nourishing and energizing day of food choices.

Erin Hugus, MS, CN is a new contributor to the Zing Blog. Erin has a Master’s degree in Nutrition and is a fellow graduate of Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.