Sometimes I just don’t know what to eat to be healthy. As a personal trainer and nutritionist, what do you eat during the day? When you want to “splurge” what do you go for?
First of all, I think about food in terms of chemical composition. I know. That’s weird. It does mean I sometimes create unusual food combinations, but that keeps things interesting. My general meal plan is to eat a high fiber carbohydrate with a protein (animal or vegetable) and healthy fat, then add fruit for breakfast, fresh or cooked vegetable for lunch and dinner (usually fresh for lunch and cooked for dinner). (CLICK here to read Tara’s blog which has great ideas for healthy meals and snacks.)
A high fiber carbohydrate is unrefined and of plant origin. Unrefined carbohydrates are typically grains or minimally processed grain products. Some of my favorites are basmati/wild rice, barley, quinoa, steel-cut oats, sprouted whole grain bread. I don’t like to eat a lot of bread or pasta (though I do eat some) and I almost never eat crackers, chips, white sticky rice, or anything made with “white” flour.
As a general rule, the less pulverized the original grain is, the better it is for you. For example, dense bread with chewy whole grains in it would be better than “white” bread. It’s all about moderation though. If you really want it, eat it. Just don’t go crazy.
Some vegetables are starchy enough to be counted as a carbohydrate. Potatoes are probably the best example, but peas, carrots, corn, and squash are on the list too. Generally, I prefer purple or red new potatoes to fluffy, white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a personal favorite. Do include these foods in your diet, but don’t count them as your serving of vegetables, but rather as your carbohydrate.
Protein probably makes you think “chicken” or “beef”, but along with meat and poultry should include fish, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, eggs, and lean dairy. Plant protein like beans and nuts are super healthy because, like any unrefined plant food, they have fiber! I like to alternate vegetarian meals with non-vegetarian. I’m not a huge fan of dairy (excluding eggs). In my fridge, I always have parmesan, feta, and plain greek yogurt. I like to use these for flavor and to make spreads or toppings.
Healthy fats include olives, olive oil, avocadoes, nuts, nut butters, and seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin). Sometimes your healthy fat will already be a part of your food. For example, salmon has a generous amount of healthy fat and no more needs to be added when cooking. My favorite and most highly recommended cooking oil is extra virgin olive oil (with expeller-pressed canola oil as second, and butter third).
So, sometimes fat will be added in cooking and you hardly have to think about it. Sometimes, it’ll be a few olives in your salad, or a little guacamole as a side. Including healthy fats in your diet is one of the best food choices you can make. Often you can decide whether a food is healthy or not just based on what fat is in it. There are two fats I avoid that seem to save me from eating just about every unhealthy food out there: vegetable oils/blends and partially hydrogenated oils. You’ll find these in all fast foods and just about all prepackaged foods.
Snacks are like simpler, smaller meals: nuts, fresh fruit, almond butter on sprouted grain toast, hummus with fresh cut veggies, muesli, a hard-boiled egg, a thin bean burrito, a thin open-faced sandwich, pretty much whatever.
Now, for the good stuff, what are my splurge foods? Definitely, dark chocolate with nuts. Once in a while, I make chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (click here for Tara’s recipe). I love fruit or pumpkin pies, but more often I make apple blackberry rolled oat crisp, which I enjoy just as much but is a little better for me 🙂 Simple treats like cinnamon toast and herbal tea are always wonderful. Ah, yes, chocolate brownie ice cream is my favorite. Sometimes, pepperoni, pineapple, and jalapeno pizza is better than sweet stuff. I am picky that my junk foods have simple, recognizable ingredients and are either homemade or could have been. I find that I’m a (junk) food snob – Lol! If it’s not worth it, what’s the point!
Tara Kelsey holds a degree in biochemistry and nutrition. Along with Claudia Smith, she co-owns bfiton Block Street in downtown Fayetteville where she teaches nutrition and fitness. Tara is author of bfit, be full, a nutrition column on www.bfitfayetteville.com.