There is such an enormous amount of information out there about how to eat healthy and what nutrition you actually need that it is, well, overwhelming. There have been plenty of times that I thought I was eating pretty healthy, at least according to FDA guidelines, only to come to the realization that I wasn’t.
Instead of over-complicating the process, stick to an easy-to-follow formula for combining foods so that you can effortlessly choose what to eat without stressing over complicated menu plans. Here is what you need to feel satisfied with a meal and for that meal to stick with you until it is time to eat again:
2 Sources of Protein + 1 Healthy Fat + Fiber
There are a lot of food that offer both protein and healthy fat, or both healthy fat and fiber. Use your discretion when deciding if you need to add an additional source of healthy fat when your two protein sources provide a considerable amount of healthy fat. It is, at best, a starting point.
The following is by no means an exhaustive list of options for protein, fat and fiber. It is a listing of foods that you should be including more often than not. The only exception is that if you do not like a particular food, don’t force yourself to eat it. Healthy eating habits should be something that you can stick with long-term, so you should only eat food that you enjoy.
Double up on your protein.
Protein fuels the fat-burning process while simultaneously satisfying hunger for longer periods of time, overall lowering the number of calories that you are likely to consume. Before I started making a conscious effort to increase my protein intake, I often felt like I was hungry shortly after finishing a meal and I could either deny myself more food and be miserable, or continue to eat and blow my diet.
Eat one serving of raw, natural nuts per day. Almonds are the most nutritionally dense of the nut varieties, but if you prefer, other nuts provide similar benefits
Almonds are an excellent option for quick, portable protein that compliments meals and snacks well. Almonds provide all three major nutritional categories covering protein, fiber, and healthy fats in one food.
- Helps regulate blood sugar levels
- High in micro-nutrients and antioxidants
- High in protein, helps to satisfy hunger and promotes lower calorie intake
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Promotes a healthy metabolism, bones, skin, hair, and nails
- Provides prebiotics for gastrointestinal health
Pick two sources of protein for every meal. It will help you feel more satisfied and promote higher calorie burning as your body works harder to digest it.
Fatty Fish like tuna, salmon, or halibut provide essential Omega-3 fatty acids which cannot be produced in the body so finding ways to incorporate them into your diet is essential. 1 3 oz serving has 22g of protein.
Chicken Breast is a lean meat that provides comparably high levels of protein and healthy fat with low calories. 1 3oz serving has 18g of protein and 15g of fat.
Cheese is a considerable protein source and typically served complimentary to another protein source so it is an easy to way boost your protein servings per meal. One slice of cheese or one serving of cottage cheese provides 5-9g of protein per serving, depending on type.
Grass-fed Lean Beef is actually a good source of Omega-3’s, offering two to six times the amount of Omega-3’s per serving than grain-fed beef. We have been lead to believe that red meats are bad because they contain high levels of saturated fats, but grass-fed beef is actually comparable to lean chicken breast in terms of fat content. 1 3oz serving of grass-fed lean beef provides 31g protein.
Pork loin, another meat option high in protein while still being overall healthy. Pork is in rich in B12 and Omega-3’s, and has far more good fat than unhealthy fat. During the late ’80’s pork was blacklisted for fat content reasons, but it is important to note that the difference between healthy fat and unhealthy fats were not well understood at that time. 1 5oz chop provides 41g of protein.
Eggs, the real-kind, liquid egg products do not count. And, preferably, if you can get your hands on them, free-range farm eggs. Free-range chickens provide the most nutritionally-dense eggs. The grass in their diet boosts Omega-3 content by up to three times that off eggs laid by caged chickens. 1 large egg provides 6g of protein.
Greek Yogurt is preferred over traditional varieties due to its lower carbohydrate and sugar content and more concentrated protein content. Greek yogurt provides important prebiotics for digestive health, and a significant source of calcium, B12 and iodine. 1 serving of greek yogurt provides 12-15g of protein, varies by brand.
Complement with Healthy Fats
The good news is that most healthy protein sources also offer a considerable serving of healthy fat. In addition to those fats, I make an effort to add in another source of healthy fat for my overall diet.
Healthy fats are unrefined fats from animals and select plants and tropical oils. These may have saturated fats, but they are not the same as processed saturated fats.
Coconut Oil which is overall less common in western diets, actually offers a powerhouse of natural benefits and should be considered an option. Especially if access to quality, extra-virgin olive oil is out of your budget.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the saturated fats in coconut oil, but what you should know is that the naysayers are comparing apples to oranges. The saturated fats in coconut oil are natural and have been shown to improve good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. They are often incorrectly compared to engineered saturated fats in processed foods which are just simply not the same.
Avocados contain around 70% fat, and its the same fat that is found in olive oil and has been long-praised for its diverse nutritional benefits. Avocados are also super high potassium, offering 40% more per serving than a banana. Avocados are a good source of healthy fat and fiber.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil seems to be one of the few foods that is universally accepted as healthy, despite all of the controversial opinions surrounding most information on nutrition. The quality of your olive oil is important, as more processed varieties will likely be diluted with other less-healthy oils, negating the healthy benefits associated with olive oil. Olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins E and K, and healthy fat.
Finish off with Fiber to Aid in Digestion and Feel Full
Fruits and Vegetables are generally considered to be the ultimate healthy food. Nearly all varieties are packed full of micro-nutrients and antioxidants while containing decent amounts of necessary dietary fiber. Fruits and vegetables also tend to have a high water content which helps in satiety.
With the exception of maybe potatoes, and then only to be careful in how they are prepared, there is really not a wrong answer when picking fruits and vegetables. But, here are a few of my favorites.
Bananas are officially recognized by the FDA as being beneficial to lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart attacks and strokes. Bananas are high in potassium and low in sodium, and they offer a significant source of vitamin B6, as well as tryptophan which signals the brain to release feel-good hormones.
While bananas, as with any fruit, has a comparably high sugar content, it is a natural, plant-based sugar and does not have the same effect on blood sugar levels as refined sugar and sugar products. Despite the sugar content in bananas, they have been correlated to improving blood sugar levels and preventing type II diabetes.
Apples are filled with soluble fiber which aids in digestion and prevents icky things like hemorrhoids. Apples also have a high pectin-content which helps moderate insulin-release, stabilizing blood-sugar levels. Apples are high in dietary fiber and water content without adding unhealthy fats or sodium.
Blueberries are mostly regarded as one of the world’s healthiest foods, and for good reason. Blueberries are small, yet are densely packed with a super-concentrated amount of phytonutrients. It is these nutrients which provide the numerous benefits associated with eating blueberries regularly such as improved memory and motor skills, reduced risk of alzheimer’s and dementia and improved heart health. Additional benefits include:
- Protects the retina against harmful UV damage
- Protects against toxic heavy metals
- Has a favorable impact on blood sugar levels
- Aids digestion
- Improves nervous system function
- Relief from inflammatory conditions
- Significant source of Vitamins A & C (i.e. healthy skin, hair and nails)
Spinach is another of the so-called super-food variety. As far as leafy greens go, it is the most pleasant tasting, especially if you choose baby spinach. I personally love baby spinach and romaine salads. Spinach is super loaded with a wide range of micro-nutrients, antioxidants, and is an excellent source of fiber and Omega-3’s.