Ever notice how you feel when you skip a meal or consume too much sugar? Are you grumpy, irritable or unable to focus? How about the splitting headache that comes from missing your first cup of morning Joe? If you can relate to these examples, you’re not alone! Poor nutrition can drastically affect the way we feel. Many of us give very little thought to the food we put in our mouths. Meals often consist of whatever is most readily available at the time. Unfortunately, the food we choose is often processed and lacking in the essential nutrients needed to fuel our bodies and brains.
In spite of our busy and complicated schedules, there is a way to eat that will leave you feeling satisfied, alert and clear headed. Consuming three healthy, well-balanced meals and two small snacks each day can provide the physical and mental fuel you need to stay alert and feel well. Simply put, good food can have a significant impact on your mood!
What does it really mean to eat a “healthy” meal?
Healthy refers to foods that are high in nutritional value. Each of us needs macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats), plenty of water and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Healthy refers to “whole” as opposed to “processed” foods.
What is the difference? It’s helpful to think about where the food came from. Did it come from the farm? Whole foods that are closest to their natural state contain the highest nutritional value. For example, a strawberry right from the farm is considered a carbohydrate and contains vitamins, minerals and fiber. A strawberry toaster pastry, while also a carbohydrate, is full of unhealthy sugar and lacks most of the good nutrients of the strawberry itself. The strawberry is a “whole” food but the toaster pastry has been modified and is considered “processed.”
Eating “whole” foods is actually less expensive than consuming processed items. A diet rich in fruits, veggies, meat, eggs, dairy and whole grains is far less expensive than one that includes items in a box or a bag. Think about it- the whole food doesn’t have all of the fillers in the middle. A fresh chicken breast is cheaper than frozen processed chicken fingers. Oh, and by the way, chickens do not have fingers!
What is the importance of a “well-balanced” meal?
Well-balanced meals will help to sustain energy. This means that we can avoid the “crashes” that come from consuming items like simple carbohydrates (white bread, cake, cookies and candy) and caffeine. Limiting or even avoiding sugar and caffeine can have a dramatic effect on your mood. It seems counter-intuitive, but the truth is that any initial energy derived from these foods will quickly go away and leave you feeling tired and sluggish.
A balanced meal should contain:
- Carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains)
- Healthy Fat(nuts, avocado, olive oil)
It’s important to understand that every meal (including snacks) should be balanced in this way to keep blood sugar levels consistent. Eating a balanced diet will keep you feeling energized and help to avoid “crashing.”
A good way to gauge whether or not you’re eating a well balanced meal is to pay close attention to how you feel an hour or two after a meal. If you feel groggy or hungry you may need to increase the amount of protein and lighten up on the carbohydrates. The feedback is almost immediate, so pay close attention. Adjust the balance until you find the right combination of healthy proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Healthy, well-balanced eating is far from easy. It takes commitment and may require some time to figure out what works best for your body. With some practice you’ll soon learn to get off of the emotional roller coaster of unhealthy fueling and wake up to a happier, healthier you! Bon Appetite!
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