When most people think about the types of foods that make up a balanced diet, they tend to think of the classic food pyramid, or the more recently updated MyPlate, which is the food guide created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to replace the pyramid in 2011. According to the USDA, your meals should be composed of 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits, and 20 percent protein, accompanied by a small portion of dairy such as a glass of milk or yogurt.
However, if you’re trying to lose weight and eat cleaner, there may be an easier way to get the nutrients you need without having to make your plate as diverse as the USDA recommends. The optimal meal should be composed of phytonutrients, healthy fats, and protein. Not only can these foods help you reach your weight-loss goals, but they can help you work toward achieving an overall healthier you with fewer health problems.
Phytonutrients are otherwise known as plant compounds, and are found in fruits, vegetables, and greens. The more phytonutrients you consume, the more effective you’ll be at reducing inflammation, regulating your blood sugar, improving immune system function, and much more. Try to eat fruits and vegetables in raw form as much as possible to benefit from the nutrients these foods offer in the form of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. When you do cook phytonutrients, either steam or lightly sautée them; most other cooking methods will kill off the nutrients in these superfoods.
Healthy fats are unsaturated fats, such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Healthy fats will provide your body with the lasting energy it needs throughout the day, and are ideal to consume before and after workouts. Examples of healthy fats are olive oil, salmon, nuts, and avocado. Add healthy fats to your meals whenever possible, and start cooking all meals using olive oil instead of margarine or butter.
Typically, many Americans view red meat as the best source of protein, but there are multiple forms of protein that are far healthier for your body, such as fish, chicken, beans, and quinoa. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissue, and to make hormones, enzymes, and other important natural chemicals. Protein is an important part of your diet, but will benefit your health only if you choose healthy sources of protein. Try to eliminate red meats and beef from your diet, and try sticking to alternate sources of protein that won’t readily contribute to weight gain or heart disease.