I have already talked about what pushed me to start this blog. But before I proceed any further we should consider what constitutes a healthy meal, or in layman’s terms: what we should be putting on our plates.
I know, I know. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. The fact is that new research comes out constantly and the definition of “healthy” is forever changing. In the 1980s butter was seen as the enemy and margarine was seen as the healthier replacement. Nowadays, no nutritionist worth their salt will advise you to ditch the butter for the margarine. They might promote coconut oil instead, but butter is now, once again, allowed on our table, albeit in small quantities, whereas margarine is a definite no no.
However, one thing that we can all agree on is that fresh fruit and vegetables (perhaps not in that order) should be part of your everyday foods. Whether you should be aiming of the 5 a day (promoted by the WHO) or 7 a day (currently promoted in the UK) servings depends on who you listen to. Most countries in the Western world have their own version of what is considered a balanced, healthy meal and governments and/or health institutions in these countries are all promoting their own version of the Healthy Eating guide or Eatwell Plate.
But what is the Eatwell Plate?
To borrow the definition provided by Wikipedia:
“The Eatwell Plate is a pictorial summary of the main food groups and their recommended proportions for a healthy diet. It is the method for illustrating dietary advice by the Department of Health, issued officially by the government of the United Kingdom.”
This concept is similar to the recommended daily allowance (RDA) which appears on the labels of vitamin and mineral supplements.
As you might imagine, different countries have different names for the Eatwell Plate. In the USA it is referred to as “My Plate” , in Australia they have “the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating” also portrayed as a picture of a plate, in Canada they call it the “Food Guide”… you get the point. Even countries such as Japan and Brazil have their own, state promoted, dietary guidelines and relative illustrative image.
What foods are included in the Eatwell Plate?
Whilst there are regional and cultural differences, most of them propose similar ratios of proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, and these are the foods they all have in common:
- Healthy proteins (see examples below)
- Fresh vegetables (preferably including a variety of green leafy vegetables)
- Fresh fruit (whole fruits, not juices)
- Whole grains (no white rice, bread or pasta!)
- Healthy oils and fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, omega 3s)
- Nuts and seeds
- Water or tea
- Little or no processed foods (especially cold processed meats)
- Limited amounts of sugar (including juices!)
The new Canadian guidelines
The biggest recent change to the recommended healthy plate by a government has been in Canada which announced earlier this year that they have excluded milk and dairy products from their Eatwell plate (keep watching this space for updates), although the new updated version has yet to be released in full. They also appear to have modified the ratios of the different food groups and have increased the percentage of vegetables.
While we wait for the update to be available (expected for the beginning of 2018), to date, my personal favourite is the illustration of the Eatwell plate provided by Harvard University. The image illustrates what share of your plate should be what. According to the Harvard Health Publications webpage, it was specifically designed to: “address deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s MyPlate.”.
What’s on my plate?
Following from recent guidelines on what constitutes healthy nutrition, as well as my own metabolism, my plate currently is composed of half to two thirds vegetables (mostly green leafy vegetables, lightly cooked: kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce radish, cucumber…), 2 to 3 tablespoons of grains (organic and wholewheat: oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, millet, spelt…), a portion of protein (it should be the size of the palm, minus the fingers) from fresh beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, rabbit, or salmon, tuna, Nile perch, tilapia, sole. Other protein alternatives are a fresh free range egg or a small portion of hard matured cheese. (Vegetarians might replace these with legumes, but I don’t do well on them).
The condiments of choice are herbs, spices, olive oil , freshly squeezed lemon juice or vinegar (the latter in salads). This will be accompanied by one glass or two maximum of room temperature water, or a cup of warm tea. Dessert is usually a piece of fruit (an apple, orange, a small cup of berries, a pear, a peach or an apricot or plum).
If this isn’t enough to keep me going between meals, my snacks will consist of a handful of nuts or seeds (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds). All of which will be roasted and without added salt. Good alternatives to this might be some roasted chickpeas, kale chips, coconut or almond milk drinks, turmeric lattes, or simply a nice hot steaming cup of tea, with or without a splash of sugar-free coconut milk.
Now you know what you should be putting on your plate, what’s your next meal going to be?
Image Source: Harvard Medical School, Harvard Health Publications at www.health.harvard.edu