BUILDING A BALANCED PLATE
In the book I cover the basics of nutrition in detail so you’ll have a solid foundation of knowledge to start building your own healthy diet. One way of ensuring that you’re meeting your nutrition goals is by getting your ‘macros’ on target. Macros, or macronutrients, include carbohydrates, fats and proteins, all of which are necessary in our diets. I give you a lot of information to take on board, so – to summarise for this special – let’s pull it together and talk through, step-by-step, how to make a balanced meal.
STEP 1 A PALM- SIZE OF PROTEIN
I like to base my meals around protein. I love protein-rich foods such as chicken and eggs, and also whey protein as a powder, not just for the nutritional benefits but because they keep me fuller longer. If I’m having one serving of protein for my three main meals a day, plus additional protein in my snacks, then I know I’ve roughly hit my goals for the day. How do I know I’m on target? I eyeball it using the size of my palm as an approximate measure for each serving of protein.
We need to be aiming for, at the very least, 0.75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. For those of us who are physically active and interested in building and maintaining muscle tissue, this should be increased to 1.2g-1.7g of protein per kilogram. So for your average 70kg person, roughly 100g of protein is the perfect target. (For example, one small chicken breast has roughly 30g of protein and one egg roughly 6g.) Personally, I aim around the higher intake or a tad more. So what’s my typical protein day like? Here’s an approximate example:
BREAKFAST 2 eggs, 40g feta cheese (provides 20g protein) LUNCH Chicken breast (provides 30g protein) DINNER Salmon fillet (provides 25g protein) SNACK Small tub of Greek yoghurt and a handful of nuts (provides 20g protein) SAMPLE DAILY TOTAL 95g protein So, as a female of my size and weight, I’m consuming roughly 1.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, which is ideal for my activity levels and goals to maintain and build muscle mass. A man twice my body weight would need two palm-sized servings of protein to meet macronutrient levels.
Even for the less active among us I would still recommend maximising your protein. We should all be aiming for the higher marker of 1.2g-1.7g per kg. But you don’t need to go above that. Super- exceeding your protein intake will not make your muscles grow any bigger or faster.
There are many apps and simple nutrition counters out there that can help you calculate the protein content of individual foods. Pack labels will contain a nutrient breakdown too. See page 34 for more guidelines and my macronutrient-savvy shopping list.
STEP 2 CHOOSE TWO CUPPED HANDS OF NON- STARCHY, FIBROUS VEGETABLES
Non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, carrots, mushrooms and celery, are packed full of nutrients and fibre. They are also lower in calories than starchy vegetables such as potatoes and squash, so you can benefit from their goodness by packing out your meals with them when trying to maintain or lose weight. Add a variety of colours, textures and nutrients to your plate with a mixture of vegetables such as bell peppers, kale, beetroot and courgette.
I always choose at least two or three different types of non-starchy vegetables. A rule I like to go by is one leafy green, such as kale, spinach or rocket leaves, and two different coloured vegetables, such as aubergine and courgette. You should add two handfuls, or fill half of your plate, with these nutrient- dense foods.
STEP 3 A CLENCHED FIST OF COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES
Although starchy foods such as potatoes and rice are higher in calories and carbs per serving compared to non-starchy vegetables, they are still rich in important vitamins and minerals. Starchy veg is also a great source of dietary fibre, which helps stave off hunger by keeping you feeling fuller for longer, making you less likely to graze on snacks. Many of us still have ‘carbophobia’ when it comes to starchy carbs. But not all carbohydrates are created equal and choosing the right kind makes all the difference. Wholesome starchy carbs, which are unrefined and unprocessed, such as a whole sweet potato with the skin on or brown rice (which hasn’t been stripped of its nutritious coat), are nutritionally dense and provide us with slow-release energy. The opposite is true of their generally white, refined or processed counterparts.
NOTE I’ve purposely excluded sweets, chocolate, honey and syrups such as agave from my building blocks. These foods are non- essential to our diet (though may be essential for the soul – turn to page 31!), so eat them sparingly. STEP 4 ACCESSORISE WITH FATS A decade ago, low-fat diets were considered the way to go in order to lose weight and prevent heart disease. However, there has been a 180- degree turnaround in recent years and we now appreciate how essential it is to consume dietary fats for our overall health and wellbeing. But – as with everything – too much of a good thing is never a good thing. Fat, regardless of how healthy it is, still has calories (double the calories per gram of carbohydrates or protein). I like to use fats to accessorise my meals: a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, half a smashed avocado, a sprinkle of seeds or a teaspoon of almond butter offers me the nutritional benefits of fat and enhances the flavour of my food, but doesn’t add an excessive number of calories to the meal.