Purpose: Learn the basics of nutrition and healthy eating, and discover the Brook Healthy Plate method for building healthy meals with ease.
Time to read: 14 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Balanced diets rich in fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains have been found to help with:
So what makes up a balanced diet? Let’s go over the important nutrients you’ll need to know about in order to create meals that are both balanced and delicious.
Protein helps you feel full, and provides the building blocks for your body. Your body depends on protein to build and support every single cell in your body including your bones, muscles, skin, and even your brain cells.
So where can you get protein? Most of us recognize that animal products contain protein, such as meat, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt. But you can also get protein from plant-based foods like pinto beans, black beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, nuts, seeds, and soy-based products like tofu.
Protein foods are not always 100% protein. Many animal proteins like cheese, sausages, and bacon contain high amounts of fats, so lean proteins should be chosen when possible.
Carbs are the nutrients that give us energy. By selecting the right types of carbs we can ensure we get long-lasting, healthy energy as opposed to a quick sugar rush that causes an energy crash and cravings.
What foods contain carbs? Everything from fruits, potatoes, oats, and beans (beans also contain protein!) to muffins, candy, cake, and ice cream. The first four examples contain “complex” carbs, and the last four examples contain “simple” carbs. It’s best to aim to consume complex carbs over simple carbs whenever possible.
An easy way to decide if a carb food is simple or complex is to ask yourself how close it is to its natural, whole state. By “whole” we mean unchanged. For example an apple is more complex than applesauce, and applesauce is more complex than apple juice.
The more processed a food is, the less healthful it becomes. Processing foods strips away nutrients and fiber, making it more and more “simple.” The nutrients and fiber are important for good health, but stripping them away makes the food taste more sweet.
While sugar and other simple carbs taste great, it has a dark side. Research shows eating too much sugar increases the risk for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It can also lead to weight gain, cravings, low energy, and even low mood. It’s a vicious cycle – the more sugar you eat the more you want.
But fear not, you don’t have to give up your favorite treats forever to be healthy. All foods fit into a balanced diet, and your Health Coach on Brook can show you how. Plus, eating more complex carbs and more foods in their whole states does not have to be boring. There are lots of other ways to make food taste amazing. And remember – your taste buds change after only 10 – 30 days, so eating more complex carbs consistently for a month will have you craving that apple instead of the simple sugars.
Tips for boosting complex carb and fiber intake:
Make sure you increase your complex carb intake slowly over a week or two, and drink plenty of water to avoid digestive issues.
Fat can help food taste good, and people often find it makes them feel more satisfied. You’ve probably been told that fat is bad for you, but that’s not necessarily true! Fats are essential for the body, you cannot live without them. They get made into hormones, protect our organs, keep our skin and hair looking healthy and vibrant, help us stay warm, and more. Fats are a very dense source of calories, but we’ll show you how to handle that below.
Fats that are considered especially good for you are called “unsaturated fats,” which are found in olive oil, avocados, and most nuts and nut butters, like peanut butter and almond butter.
You’ve probably heard of omega 3 fatty acids and how important they are. Omega 3’s are found in fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, walnuts, and seeds like chia, hemp, and flax. Eating more of these healthy fats can help lower your risk of heart disease.
Ok now let’s talk about the less healthy fats.
Saturated fat has been considered less healthy by nutrition scientists for many years, though the health industry can be a little split sometimes. But the best science we have to date tells us we should reduce our saturated fat intake, which includes foods like red meat, butter, bacon, ice cream, baked goods, and animal fats like lard.
One fat that the science is crystal clear on is trans fats. It’s been shown to increase risk for heart disease and stroke. Trans fats are also known as “partially hydrogenated oils” on the ingredient list of food labels, and are found in many baked goods and packaged foods like muffins, cookies, donuts, frozen pizza, and crackers. Luckily, most food companies are beginning to replace trans fats in their packaged foods due to a recent ban by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but trans fats may still be used by some restaurants and can also show up naturally in deep fried foods. Cooking meals at home and eating more foods in their whole or “natural” state can help you avoid trans fats.
“Micro” means tiny. Vitamins and minerals are tiny nutrients found in food.
Vitamins are essential nutrients your body needs to work properly. They help with vision and keep your blood, skin, and hair healthy.
Minerals help you build strong bones and teeth and allow the food you eat to be converted into energy so you can function.
Both vitamins and minerals are found in healthy, whole foods. Eating a variety of different foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and lean meats helps make sure you are getting enough. If you’re worried you aren’t getting enough micronutrients, talk to your doctor.
Let’s not forget about water. Water is essential for life because our bodies are made up of mostly water!
Water makes our kidneys function properly to eliminate all of the waste from our bodies. Water helps prevent kidney stones and dehydration, and helps our digestion stay regular.
A quick rule of thumb for calculating how much water you need each day is half your body weight in ounces. So for example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you need around 100 fluid ounces of water each day. It’s important to point out that this is just a general guideline, and individual water needs will vary depending on medical conditions, medication use, where you live, and more.
Your first cup of caffeinated beverage such as coffee or black tea counts towards your water intake. Herbal teas also count as water.
Now let’s talk about building a healthy meal. We created the Brook Healthy Plate to make building balanced lunches and dinners a breeze.
Let’s do a quick review: choose items that are closer to their natural, whole state, low in added sugar, refined grains, and trans fats, and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
This means you’ll want to eat high calorie and high sugar foods in moderation. We believe that no foods are off limits, we simply focus on increasing the portion and frequency of foods that promote good health, and being mindful of the portion and frequency of foods that aren’t as healthy but bring us joy. Don’t worry, there’s still room for all your favorite foods.
Feature low-carb veggies as the main component, taking up at least half of your plate. What are low-carb veggies? Veggies that don’t contain a lot of carbohydrates like broccoli, zucchini, lettuces, tomatoes, and so many more. Can’t stomach a half a plate of steamed cauliflower? That’s ok – get creative! Play with spices, seasonings, and cooking methods, and don’t be afraid to use more than one low-carb veggie per meal.
Filling ¼ of your plate with high protein foods ensures you get enough protein, but not too much at the expense of other nutrients. Protein helps with satiety, blood sugar regulation, and maintaining muscle, but our bodies can only use so much at a time, and the rest goes to waste. On average, Americans get about twice the amount of protein they need. Choose lean meats or plant-based proteins like beans or tofu when possible to get the most nutrients.
Carbs should fill no more than ¼ of the plate. Choose carbs that contain fiber as often as you are able to help with digestion, satiety, blood sugar regulation, and so much more. Examples include brown rice, sweet potato or baked potato (with the skin!), butternut squash, steamed corn, peas, oats, and so much more.
Certain fats are absolutely essential for good health. Don’t fear them! Add a small amount of healthy fat to each meal. Examples include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, extra virgin olive oil, full-fat fermented dairy (like real yogurt), coconut, and more. Read more here.
Unsweetened or calorie-free drinks are best. Try water, sparkling water, unsweetened tea, etc. We have a blog post about reducing sugary drinks here.
Use a 8 to 10 inch plate, and don’t heap the food. This creates automatic portion control when following the Brook Healthy Plate method.
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.