This is My No. 1 Advice for Eating a Balanced Meal—Every Time You Eat
Follow these simple guidelines on how to put foods together to create a balanced meal—a.k.a. my Optimal Plate Method—and you’ll feel more nourished and energized!
Nutrition is never one size fits all due to biochemical individuality. However, I’ve found there are a handful of core nutrition principles that work well for nearly every person—and these universal guidelines can help you feed your cells with high quality information, decrease inflammation, feel more satisfied after every meal, and transform your health for the better. They’ll also help you improve your relationship with food by inspiring you to focus on how you’re nourishing your body.
The best part? These core principles are super straightforward:
Core Nutrition Principles
1-Choose quality, whole foods and ingredients
2-Get an optimal balance of energy (a mix of non-starchy veggies, healthy fats, protein, and complex carbs)
3-Create a variety of colors on your plate
If you remember these three things every time you eat, they’ll become second nature—and you’ll start to look at food as a way to create health rather than something you actively try to restrict.
What I really love about my Optimal Plate Method is that you can follow it no matter where you are—whether you’re at home making dinner for your family, out at a restaurant, or even at a holiday gathering where all of your favorite foods are on the buffet table. Go ahead and enjoy the mashed potatoes and an occasional glass of wine! Just try to fill the rest of your plate with salad greens and a palm-sized portion of protein, which will go a long way to helping you stabilize your blood sugar, improve satiety and sustain your energy.
The secret is learning how to feed your cells with high quality energy and balanced nutrients, and the best way to do that is to optimize your plate. Here’s how:
1. Choose Quality Whole Foods & Ingredients
The processed food industry has shown us that the quality of the food we eat matters a lot. Read your ingredients to ensure that you know what is going into your body! When you eat foods that you are sensitive to or that are loaded with added sugar, saturated fats, artificial sweeteners, food additives, and neoformed contaminants, it leads to a complete breakdown of the body. Symptoms that manifest as a result of not being fed what the body was designed to be fed include insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, inflammation, anxiety, gut dysbiosis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, lack of satiety, sugar cravings, and more.
Whole, fresh foods naturally contain more vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and dietary fiber than processed foods. And here’s why knowing how your food was grown (Was it sprayed with herbicides and pesticides? It is non-gmo and organic?) is so important: The health of your food contributes to the level of health you can achieve in your body. When you choose organic, non-GMO, local (when possible) foods, they deliver higher levels of antioxidants, better fatty acid profiles, lower levels of toxic metabolites, and compounds that are beneficial to the gut microbiome.
2. Create an Optimal Balance of Energy
The focus here is on eating well-balanced meals that taste great and offer tons of nutritional benefits, which helps you feel satisfied after you eat. It will also help you avoid slumps in energy and lower inflammation associated with blood sugar fluctuations. The right mix means getting non-starchy vegetables (that feed your healthy gut microbes), protein (which helps support lean body mass and neurotransmitter production) and healthy fats (for less inflammation and more satiety) every time you eat. You can also add in your favorite whole and intact complex/starchy carbohydrates for more color and fiber, if you choose!
Here is the General Framework:
· Half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables
· A few thumbnails of healthy fats (1-2 tbsp)
· 3-6 oz high-quality protein
· 1 serving fiber-rich starchy carbohydrates (optional)
Step 1: Fill half of your plate with non-starchy veggies.
These are foods like arugula, kale, lettuces, and other greens; crucifers, like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts; green beans; zucchini; eggplant; cucumber; and tomatoes. Essentially, you can fill half your plate with any vegetable that’s low in carbohydrates and starch. The goal is to get 2+ cups per meal for a total of 5-6 cups of non-starchy vegetables per day.
Step 2: Add a few thumbnails of healthy fats.
Think oils (extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil are my faves), nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocado.
Step 3: Choose a high-quality protein to fill another (roughly) quarter of your plate.
Most people need about 3-6 ounces of protein per meal. Depending on your activity, gender and health goals, you may need more. If you’re a meat-eater, opt for a palm-size portion of organic chicken or turkey, grass-fed beef or bison, pasture-raised eggs, or fish (anchovies, sardines, black cod, herring, trout, wild Alaskan salmon, and oysters are some of my faves). For vegetarians, opt for organic tofu, tempeh, lupini beans, or lentils. Also, keep in mind organic dairy (like greek yogurt) can fit here too, if your body tolerates dairy.
Step 4: Add one serving of complex carbohydrates.
This step is optional. If you choose to not include complex carbs into a meal, you can always add more non-starchy vegetables or more fat. The amount of carbohydrates that a person can handle in their diet is highly personalized to their own needs and personal blood sugar response to higher glycemic foods.
Many people benefit from incorporating some whole-food intact carbohydrates into their diet, such as starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, squash, and rutabaga. Grains (like rice, quinoa, teff, amaranth and oats) also fit into this category, as do beans and chickpeas (including bean-based pasta!). Here’s where you’ll also put fruits, such as apples, berries, kiwi, cherries, oranges, and pomegranate seeds. When you eat whole, intact carbohydrates like a sweet potato instead of white bread, you slow the blood sugar response and promote a more anti-inflammatory response.
3. Include a Wide Variety of Colors
When I talk to my patients about how to optimize their nutrition, something that’s always at the top of my mind is making sure they eat a variety of foods. Ideally, I want people to eat the rainbow, which provides the body with a variety of phytochemicals! Phytochemicals are plant-based chemicals that are derived from different pigments of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods that are made by nature. The more color that you include in your plate, the more phytonutrients and the more you’ll lower inflammation in your body. That’s because eating a range of colors means you’re getting a variety of phytochemicals, plant-based chemicals that come from the different pigments of fruits, veggies, and other foods found in nature that have been shown to lower inflammation in the body.
Switching up what you eat every day is also extremely beneficial for your microbiome—the trillions of bacteria living in your gut that control everything from your weight and hormone balance to your energy levels, food cravings, and even your mood. In fact, researchers at the University of California San Diego found that consuming 30 different plant foods a week (yep, you read that right, 30!) is the greatest predictor of microbiome diversity.
3 Tips to Optimize Your Plate Every Time You Eat
Once you know this general gist of how to structure your meals, you can personalize your approach no matter where you are. The best part is that you don’t have to swear off an occasional treat once the holidays roll around, and you can go out to eat and still enjoy a meal while also fueling your health. Follow my Optimal Plate Method and your body will get all the nutrition it needs—and the happy result will be that you feel energized and less inflamed.
Think of these tips as my insider secrets that’ll make it even easier to optimize your plate every time you eat:
Tip No. 1: Visualize How you Want to Feel After you Eat
This is a tip that I read in a book, Real Magic, written by Dr. Wayne Dyer when I was a teenager. I have used it on myself in the last 15 years and regularly recommend it for clients. This is about leveraging the power of visualization!
The goal is to call on past experiences to provide insight as to how you would feel if you ate a certain food that you are deciding on. For instance: you are at a restaurant, deciding between ordering pizza and beer or a salad with baked potato and chicken with water. You would first envision how you would feel 2, 4 and 12 hours after choosing the pizza. Then do the same exercise with the salad. Ask yourself how will this food make me feel? Will I have energy? Am I likely to get a stomach ache and bloating? Am I going to feel stiff and inflamed? Visualize how each of the foods will make you feel and then envision how you want to feel after the meal. Then choose the meal that best aligns with how you want to feel. Pausing for 20 seconds to run through this exercise in your head will give you the power to pay attention to your body and make a very conscious decision.
Tip No 2: Choose to Eat for your Health
When you start to look at food as an avenue to create health, it is no longer something you actively try to restrict. It becomes a primary vehicle to create health in every cell of your body. Eating to improve your health and nourish your cells involves a very different mindset than eating for the sole purpose of losing weight, which can sometimes happen at the expense of your health.
Rather than thinking solely about using nutrition as a way to lose weight, zoom out to see how many other factors food can influence. The way that you feed your body influences your bowel movements, your mood, your mental clarity, your resilience to difficult situations, your immune system, your quality of sleep at night, and your ability to move without pain. If we as a society chose to invest in using food and nutrition as the first line of defense in order to create health, it would significantly decrease our overdepenced on pharmaceutical drugs and the diet industry.
Tip No. 3: Do Not Expect Perfection
There are going to be times when you ditch my Optimal Plate Method in favor of making those homemade brownies or when you eat a full bowl of pasta. Eating optimally does not mean eating perfectly. My advice is to choose higher quality ingredients for the brownies and pasta. Make brownies with almond flour instead of white flour, use avocado oil over canola oil and decrease the sugar or use monk fruit. Instead of eating a bowl of highly refined pasta that sends your blood sugar and inflammation through the roof, choose lentil pasta with a side salad. There are so many companies out there now that make it possible to indulge in your favorite childhood foods but in a more nutritious way that won’t fuel inflammation.
When you encounter situations where you choose to eat less optimally, it’s imperative that you rebound as quickly as possible. Avoid what I call The What the Hell Effect. This effect happens when people eat less optimal foods like a piece of pie and then feel bad about themselves so they choose to then eat pizza for their next meal and a Big Mac for the meal after that. They say: “Well I already ate the pie so, what the hell, I might as well just eat this pizza and Big Mac in order to get the most out of being off track.” The faster that you stand back up, the more consistent you will become with your dietary changes long-term.