A balanced diet starts with a balanced plate: top nutrition tips for every meal

PLate to show balanced diet 1/4 protein, 1/4 carbs and 1/2 vegetables

As we often say, life is all about balance.  And this completely resonates when talking about nutrition and having a balanced diet.  But what exactly does this mean, and how can it be achieved?

It is all about macronutrients, how each benefits the body, and, therefore, how to combine these to create well-balanced plates at every meal.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her nutrition tips and what a balanced plate of food looks like.

 

Macronutrients

There are three key macronutrients: protein, fats, and carbohydrates. In addition, fibre is often referred to as a macronutrient, such is its importance in the diet and overall health. Water is of course essential for life, and we should be drinking around 1.5 – 2 litres of water daily, depending on activity levels.

Protein

Protein fulfils a wide range of functions and it’s an integral part of our body’s make up.  Protein forms much of the skeletal frame, primarily as collagen but also in muscle. Protein is also needed to produce immune cells, hormones, brain neurotransmitters, enzymes, and many biochemical reactions. It can also be used as an energy source.  There are 20 amino acids that help form the thousands of different proteins in the body.

A range of foods containing protein

Essentially, protein is sourced from both animals and vegetables. Animal sources include meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, whilst vegetable sources from plants, include legumes, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.  Many plant sources do not contain the full complement of amino acids; hence a wide range of foods need to be eaten, but it is possible to obtain sufficient protein from plants alone.

Such is protein’s importance to our health; we should eat it every day and ideally at every mealtime in some form or another.

Fats

Nothing in life is simple and the different types of fats can be confusing. We need some fat in the diet but ideally not too much saturated fat.  Ideally the diet should contain around 20-30% fat with no more than 10% coming from the saturated kind found primarily in red meat and high fat dairy produce like cheese and butter. However, fat is essential for the body to utilise our fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E and Vitamin K. It is also essential for insulating the body and is used as an energy source.

shutterstock_376614814 omega 3 fats Mar16

We often see the word ‘polyunsaturated’ on foods. Care is needed with these because once heated polyunsaturated fats are turned into trans fats which can be damaging for the heart and arteries.  Eating too much margarine is certainly not a good idea.  However, essential omega-3 and 6 fats are super-healthy and must be eaten regularly in the diet.  To this end, oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends.

Carbohydrates

This macronutrient includes many foods such as fruits and vegetables as well as grains.  These are used to produce starchy foods such as bread and pasta.  It’s important to favour complex carbs found in whole grains over the refined variety which contain little fibre and nutrients.  Refined grains are frequently used to produce white bread, pasta, cakes, and pastries. Non-refined carbohydrates are found in whole grain rice, wholemeal bread and pasta and other grain-based food such as buckwheat.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbohydrates provide the body’s preferred energy source, glucose, since the body can produce this easily from foods.  Glucose is also loved by the brain, and it uses a whopping 30% of what goes into the body.

Fibre is a carbohydrate and is high in fruits, vegetables, and non-refined grains; another great reason for them featuring highly in the daily diet.

What does a balanced plate look like?

Much depends on individual lifestyle and activity levels.  If you do a very physical job, you will need more carbohydrates.  However, a balanced plate of food should contain all macronutrients in varying amounts.

Brown rice with salmon fillet amd vegetables

As an example, a typical dinner plate might contain a medium-sized piece of wild salmon, a small amount of carbohydrate (say a clenched fist size) and two or three different portions of vegetables. This could be a few sprigs of broccoli, a handful of peas and a carrot, sliced and cooked. This plate therefore provides all macronutrients, including fibre, plus some of those important essential omega-3 fats.

Poached egg on brown toast

When it comes to breakfast, eggs are a great option, providing you with protein and fat, with a slice of wholemeal toast. Add a side of mixed berries to provide additional healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

It will not always be easy to get the perfect balance with every meal, but over the day, it can be achieved with a little planning.  Importantly, enjoy the food on your plate; food is one of life’s biggest pleasures!

 

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock

 

Back to basics: everyday nutrition tips

shutterstock_335465993 nutrition words Mar21

The whole topic of nutrition has been highly glamorised in recent years, partly down to social media.  Whilst this is great in many ways because good nutrition is the cornerstone of wellness, it has left many people confused about what is right and what is wrong.

When it comes to a balanced diet there are a few simple rules which we can all follow to ensure we are getting the optimum nutrition we need.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, takes us back to the basics of daily nutrition.

What are macros?

As the name suggests, they are big, and in this case refer to the groups of food that we eat most of.  Essentially, there are three macronutrients: proteins,  carbohydrates and fats. Some people also talk about fibre as being another macro such is its important in overall health, although technically fibre is a carbohydrate.

Protein – essential building blocks for life

All macros form an essential part of the daily diet, so any restrictive diet is going to lead to nutrient deficiencies somewhere along the line.  Protein is literally the building block of life. It is essential for every bone and muscle in the body, as well as producing hormones, neurotransmitters and supporting the immune system.

A range of foods containing protein

There are nine essential amino acids that must be eaten in the diet (there are other amino acids that are essential, but these can be produced in the body). These nine amino acids are found primarily in animal produce including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy and plant sources quinoa, buckwheat, and soybeans.  If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet you should combine grains and pulses to get sufficient amino acids, although this does not need to be in the same meal.

Carbohydrates – energy and nutrient providers

Carbohydrates, including fibre, provide an essential energy source for our muscles and brain.  Indeed, the brain requires around 30% of all carbohydrate the body intakes. Carbs are not all created equally in that slow releasing ones (essentially whole foods and fruits and vegetables) provide sustainable energy throughout the day. Conversely, fast release carbs primarily found in processed and refined foods give an energy boost then an energy crash due to their adverse effect on blood sugar.

Foods,Highest,In,Carbohydrates.,Healthy,Diet,Eating,Concept.

Carbs are often maligned but this food group contains some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet and are loaded with antioxidants, so the body is missing out if they are not being consumed.

Fat – protecting and sustaining

Another maligned food group is fat.  However, fat provides the second energy source for the body, and it is essential for absorbing our fat-soluble vitamins vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.

A range of foods containing healthy Omega-3 fats

There is often confusion around good and ‘bad’ fats.  Essentially, good fats are the omegas 3 and 6 which must be eaten in the diet as the body cannot make them.  The omega 3s are crucial for hormones, joints, the heart, brain and eyes. Oily fish and nuts and seeds are your friends in this respect.

shutterstock_196052645 avocadoes Oct15

Monounsaturated fat found in avocados and olive oil is great for the heart and should be included in the diet.  However, try to avoid the damaged fats; the trans fats found in margarines and refined foods.  The body cannot deal with these and trans fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, so try to be aware of not overeating the foods that contain them.

Fruits and vegetables – overflowing with goodness

As nutritionists we talk endlessly about getting sufficient fruits and vegetables into the diet.  Why? Because quite simply they are loaded with nutrients, especially the trace minerals that are so often deficient in the typical western diet.  It is all about colour and variety and not over thinking it.  Try to have plenty of colour on your plate at every mealtime.

A range of fruits and vegetables

There’s also confusion as to whether juicing is good or bad.  Juices are a great way of getting more nutrients into the body.  You might lose the fibre content, but juices are still loaded with nutrients.  Try to include more vegetables than fruits in your juices or blends to keep fructose (a fruit sugar) content to a minimum.

Water – pure and simple

We talk about the body being around 80% water.  Of course, this is not pure water because it is made up of solutes and everything within cellular tissue.  However, the body still needs plenty of plain water to keep it sufficiently hydrated.  It will quickly complain if dehydrated and you’ll feel low in energy, suffer brain fog, plus constipation may be problematic.

A close up of a woman holding a glass of water to represent staying hydrated

Our water needs vary depending on activity levels.  However, as a general rule, if you are having around 1 ½ – 2 litres of water daily you will be doing ok, plus fruits and vegetables can count towards this target since they’re high in water.

The body’s needs are relatively simple so there is no need to overcomplicate diets; just try and stick to the basics for well-balanced nutrition.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock

 

Five ways to improve your fitness through nutrition

Woman in work out gear pausing to drink a bottle of water

We’re all in a slightly strange world right now and everyone has been affected in some way or another.  However, by keeping physically fit, you’re more likely to be able to cope better with what life throws your way.

It’s amazing how much we can influence fitness levels just by making a few dietary tweaks along the way.

This National Fitness Day clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for improving your fitness through nutrition.

Protein

Many people associate carbohydrate foods with fitness and endurance.  Whilst carbohydrates are clearly very important (they are one of our key macro nutrients), protein is key.

Woman lunging on a beach with the outline of her bones shown as if x-rayed to represent strong bones

Protein is essential for repair and for building bones and muscles, as well as hormone and immune function.  All these factors are key when improving fitness levels and overall wellness.  Eating too little protein can cause the body to ‘break down’ rather than build stronger, leaner muscle mass.  Indeed, the more muscle you have, the more metabolically active the body is, and the more calories are burned at rest.  That doesn’t mean by eating lots of protein, you’re going to look like pop-eye!  You’ll simply be building a strong base.

A range of high protein foods

So how much protein do we need?  Clearly it depends on exertion levels and those undertaking serious body building sports will need much more.  However, for overall great health, ensure you’re eating some protein at every meal.  Eggs are great for breakfast; chicken, turkey, fish, soya produce, beans, meat, dairy and nuts are all good sources of protein for lunch and dinner. A bowl of white pasta with a tomato-based sauce is not going to cut it from a protein perspective, so try to plan your meals around protein.

Ditch the junk

Refined foods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries and ready meals are all sources of carbohydrates, but they don’t provide any nutritional benefits, just empty calories.  In fact, these foods upset blood sugar balance and deplete rather than enhance energy levels.

A woman kicking away donuts to represent cutting out junk food

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and too many caffeinated drinks also have the same effect.  There is research to suggest that exercising after having a strong coffee does help improve fat burning which is great.  However, if you’re a caffeine junkie, consuming lots of coffee throughout the day, then you’ll get that ‘tired but wired’ feeling, and anxiety levels will increase; certainly not what’s needed especially at the moment.  Be mindful of how much you’re consuming overall.  The odd treat is fine but not every day.

Nutrients for sleep

Rest and peaceful sleep are essential for improving fitness levels and for wellness generally.  The body repairs, detoxifies and absorbs nutrients whilst we’re asleep so it’s important to ensure yours is as good as it can be.

Close up of woman sleeping

A good bedtime routine is essential.  Turning off all electronic devices around two hours before bedtime is also important as blue light affects the brain and will keep you awake.

A basket of almonds and a glass of almond milk

Additionally, foods containing the amino acid tryptophan helps produce melatonin, our sleep hormone; great foods to eat are oats, bananas, soya produce, eggs, chicken, turkey, nuts and dairy.  The ‘old-wives tale’ recommends a warm, milk drink before bedtime and this rings true.  Half a cup of either milk or soya milk with a few almonds about an hour before bedtime is one of the most effective and easiest ways of getting a good night’s sleep.

Hydration

All athletes know that being properly hydrated can make all the difference when it comes to performance.  Whilst we’re not all about to run a marathon, it’s important to keep well hydrated throughout the day.  Your body will retain water making you look puffier if you’re not drinking enough.

CLose up of a woman holdnig a glass of water

 

Herbal and fruit teas can count towards the target of 1 ½ – 2 litres daily but there is no substitute for plain water for keeping everything running smoothly and energy levels in good shape.

Energy-dense foods

Whilst protein is essential for fitness, eating energy-rich foods are also needed for keeping everything in good balance.  For healthy carbohydrates think whole grains in the form of oats, quinoa, wholegrain rice, wholemeal bread, beans, as well as green leafy veg and energy-dense vegetables such as sweet potatoes.

A bowl of sweet potato wedges

It is, however, important to be mindful of portion sizes; we all know when our plate is overly filled.  As with everything, it’s all about balance!

So, follow the above 5 steps in order to improve your fitness levels through good nutrition and overall wellbeing.

Stay well.

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition, health and wellness advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit our sister site Herbfacts

All images: Shutterstock