You know that hangry feeling (hungry + angry)? You are ravenous, and you eat the first thing you can find. Usually chips or sweets or something to give you energy quickly! There’s no time to make a full, balanced meal when you’re starving.
In order to stay full, satisfied, craving-free, clear-headed, and healthy, you need to keep your blood sugars under control and get off what I like to call the blood sugar roller coaster. Even if you don’t have diabetes, paying attention to blood sugar is still important!
For those who don’t know, diabetes is not a pleasant disease, as portrayed by these not so happy Coke-a-cola polar bears. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 20 have pre-diabetes, and 1 in 2 Americans over the age of 65!
What are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are found in starchy foods (bread, potato, pasta, peas, corn, beans, etc.), fruit and juice, milk products, and processed foods and sweets (crackers, baked goods, soda, honey, sugar, etc.).
They can be labeled as refined, complex, whole grain, or my favorite marketing tool – “no added sugar,” but they ALL turn into sugar, or glucose, in the blood. The glucose is transported to liver for processing and enters the blood. It is either sent to cells (especially muscle & brain cells) for fuel or stored as glycogen or fat.
Carbohydrates are not bad, and many carbohydrate-rich foods offer a number of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. They are great energy, especially for athletes, and carbohydrates can help feed our ever-important gut flora. However, the typical American diet is very high in refined carbohydrates, and this may lead to blood sugar spikes and drops, leaving you hungry, cranky, poor concentration, and food cravings for more carbs or sugar.
Say you eat a packet of apple cinnamon oatmeal made with skim milk, topped with a sliced banana, and served with a glass of orange juice for breakfast. Sounds pretty healthy, right? Many people would think so, but there’s not much fiber or protein to help stabilize your blood sugar. The entire meal is mainly carbohydrates, and I’d bet this person would be starving by mid-morning and start craving the donuts in the break room.
The good news is balancing carbs with protein, some fat, and/or fiber helps your body slowly release the sugar into your blood. You will feel satisfied, satiated, and your brain will be working optimally.
When clients hear this, it’s like a light goes off in their head. “That’s why I can’t focus and am starving two hours after my cereal!” You got it!
Building Balanced Meals
1.) Eat the right portion of carbohydrates.
You don’t have to give up carbs and go on the Atkins diet, but most people do not need a high-carbohydrate diet either. A moderate carb diet is usually a good option for most people. A fist-size portion of carbohydrate-rich foods at meals is typically enough. Switch up your breakfast and snacks, which tend to be lots of refined carbohydrates. You know bagels? Those are equal to about 5 slices of bread!
To get the most bang for your buck, choose a carb with some fiber and tons of nutrients. A medium sweet potato is the perfect example; it gives you some fiber, beta-carotene, and tons more nutrients than a scoop of pasta would. For breakfast, skip the juice and grab a whole piece of fruit . For lunch or dinner, you could try sweet potato or winter squash with your meal. Try something new besides a giant plate of pasta or rice.
2.) Always include protein.
Protein keeps you satisfied and full! Depending on your size, choose about 3-6 oz of protein for your meals and 1-3 oz for any snacks. Choose meat, poultry, fish, eggs, greek yogurt, kefir, nuts, or other sources. Greek yogurt or nuts are good snack ideas for protein. Vegetarian protein foods can count as well, but you may need to decrease your carbohydrate portion because beans and lentils have carbs as well.
3.) Throw in some veggies for fiber.
Now for the fun part, throw some non-starchy veggies on half your plate for color, nutrients, and fun, Yes, veggies are fun in my book! Really, you can eat as much as your stomach can handle of the non-starchy veggies, like your leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts), carrots, peppers, etc. The fiber will fill you up, add bulk to your meal, and slow the release of glucose into your blood.
Just use this easy formula for a balanced meal: 1/2 plate veggies + 1/4 plate protein + 1/4 nutrient-dense carbs.
Some examples are:
- Spinach salad topped with 3-4 oz salmon, a variety of colorful veggies (peppers, carrots, onions), olive oil dressing, and an orange on the side.
- Eggs, kale and mushrooms, and a small sweet potato with coconut oil.
- Grilled chicken, brussel sprouts, a side salad, and roasted butternut squash.
- A banana and a handful of nuts (snack idea).
Try these tips out to plan out your meals, and notice how your energy levels or food cravings are throughout the day. You may find your meals are satisfying, nutrient-dense, energizing, colorful, and fun!