Somewhere in the past decade, it became a truism that the best way to eat is to graze: to eat six small meals, or 3 meals and 3 snacks, every day. I understand the appeal: It is license to eat constantly, although human nature being what it is, often those “small” meals and snacks aren’t so small after all.
But that isn’t even the biggest problem with grazing. The problem is the science, or lack of it. Food is information. Every time you eat, you give your body instructions about how to operate. We want to instruct our bodies to burn fat, rev our metabolism, and build and retain lean muscle. Here’s the problem: when there is sugar in the bloodstream, the body holds onto stored fat, instead of burning it for energy. And each and every time you eat, you raise blood sugar. Eat every 2-3 hours and your body never has to burn fat! Think you’re fooling your body with 100 calorie snack packs? Those are some of the worst offenders. Calories are not the point; the quality of the food is much more important (see my previous column on calories).
So how, then, should we eat?
Have 3 balanced meals every day, each consisting of protein, carbs and fat, always together.
- Good lean protein sources are chicken, turkey, fish, eggs or beef.
- If possible, get your protein from healthy animals, meaning they eat species-appropriate food, and are not factory farmed. Pasture raised beef and lamb, free range chickens and their eggs, and wild caught fish are much healthier nutritionally than the same factory farmed animals. Here in the Hudson Valley we are fortunate to have more and more sources for healthy farmed animals.
- Protein portions can range from 3 ounces for a smaller person to 6-8 ounces for a larger man with substantial muscle; few people need more. Learn what a real serving size looks like.
- Carbs are either starchy or non-starchy. They are essential to keep our brain functioning throughout the day, but quality counts!
- Limit starchy carbs to small portions, ideally from real rather than processed food. Real carbs include sweet potatoes, cooked carrots or peas, beans or legumes, or lower glycemic index fruits such as berries. Grains are also starchy carbs, although these cause problems for so many people that I recommend they be kept to a minimum. (See my article on this here.) By choosing “real foods” for your starchy carbs foods, you are getting good fiber, too.
- Non-starchy carbs are greens and most other veggies; load your plate with these! Examples include spinach, kale, lettuce, zucchini, collards, raw carrots, cabbage, lettuces, radish, spaghetti squash, raw tomatoes, etc. Try to get a range of colors each day, and at least 5 half-cup servings.
- Healthy fats feed the brain, and are necessary for every cell in our body. They are important for skin and hair, help signal satiety (so we don’t overeat), and support a healthy nervous system. Research consistently shows that people who include healthy fat eat less overall, lose more weight, and keep it off.
- Food sources include avocado, coconut milk, nuts and seeds. Seeds are nutritional powerhouses. My favorites are chia, pumpkin, and sunflower.
- Use extra virgin olive oil and walnut oil for salads, and coconut oil and grapeseed oil for cooking.
- If you still have a fear of fats, and worry they will make you fat (they won’t!) please read my article here.
When you’ve got the balance right you won’t be hungry for 4-6 hours, you will lose fat, and you’ll be on your way to a healthy fat-burning metabolism, for life.
If you need help working out the portions and proportions that work for you, and figuring out meals and menus, please make an appointment, so I can customize a successful eating plan uniquely for you!