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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lifestyle: Learning to Balance Your Meals

I've often said that eating an anti-anxiety diet, or any sort of healthy, whole foods diet is a matter of lifestyle change. There's no quick fix and there's no miracle method...it's a fundamental change of lifestyle and a difference not only in what you eat, but in the way you approach food, eating, and nutrition in general. But picking and choosing from a laundry list of foods isn't exactly useful, because your meals have to put together in a way that achieves balance.

I was reminded of this while reading this article, which links those who eat out at fine restaurants on a regular basis with a higher danger of obesity. The doctors in the article have said that eating at fine restaurants all week long is no more healthy than eating fast food, and that, essentially, eating out means eating unhealthily. Of course, there are ways to eat out healthfully, but that's another article. "Foodie" culture has created an appreciation for the gourmet, but you can't forget that a dessert made with whole grains and fresh fruit is still a dessert, that all natural local cheeses are still cheeses, and that vegetables cooked with oil or butter still contain a serving of fats.

There's a way to enjoy these kinds of foods, however, and that's by incorporating them into balanced meals, using them as the finishing touch instead of the star. Also, there's nothing wrong with enjoying moderate portions of high-calorie or high-fat foods on a special occasion, just so long as it's more once-or-twice-a-month and not once-or-twice-a-week.

But how do you make gourmet foods without the gourmet calories?
 I think that a major component in this type of cooking is letting the foods shine for themselves. Center your meal around healthy foods cooked in healthy ways - roasted lean meats, steamed, roasted, or sauteed veggies, good portions of filling whole grains - and then add in your high calorie, high fat elements as more of a garnish. A dash of cheese or creamy sauce wont kill you, just use it very sparingly. Also, use the natural properties of healthy foods to your advantage. Beans, when blended in a blender or food processor, have a delightfully creamy texture. Curries can be made with coconut milk, eliminating dairy entirely. Use Truvia instead of sugar when possible, use honey and agave nectar in your baking and recipes.

Another important component of this type of cooking and eating is knowing the full spectrum of your possibilities. Most people see "protein" and think immediately of meat. This isn't the case, and in fact, meat should be used very sparingly in your diet, no more than four or five ounces in a day. Protein should come from beans, nuts, yogurt...and in smaller portions, meat, eggs, milk, and soy. Similarly, if your meals tend to be rich in whole grains and proteins but not vegetables or fruits, you're eating is still imbalanced. Incorporate a serving of vegetables or fruit into every meal, and use them liberally for snacks as well. Vegetables and fruits are low in calories, and they provide nutrients that other food groups lack.

Many people say that they dislike "health food", but eating healthy is as diverse as the population of the planet itself. If you understand the components of balanced eating, you can fill in the necessary food groups with just about anything you like! And if your meals are centered around lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables...feel free to add in a little fat.

Slow down, plan your meals, eat well, and enjoy!

The Calm Cook

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