What a balanced meal plan actually looks like
We often hear the phrases ‘follow a healthy balanced diet’, ‘eat a balanced diet’, ‘go for balanced meals’, but what does all of this really mean and is it applicable to all?
With so much diet advice out there and, in particular, what could be considered poor diet advice, it’s really confusing to know what to believe anymore.
As a result, we’re here to get to the bottom of this for you!
According to the NHS, a balanced diet involves the following:
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
- Base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
Why is consuming a balanced diet important?
Nutrition plays a central role in optimal health, immunity, performance and overall well-being.
Our diet can be broken down simply into being made up of macronutrients and micronutrients. All of these components have crucial roles within the body, which is why consuming a balanced diet is important.
Macronutrients: they are the components in our diet required in relatively large quantities (hence the name macro), to keep the body functioning optimally. They include protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Typically, any diet that cuts out a whole food group or macronutrient is not something we would recommend. It can be extremely restrictive and unsustainable for many and so consuming a balanced diet is considered important.
Micronutrients: By providing your body with a balance of the above mentioned, nutrient dense macronutrients you will be working towards giving your body the micronutrient nourishment it requires. Micronutrients are only required by the body in small amounts and are comprised of essential vitamins and minerals e.g vitamin A, C and D, iron and zinc. They play vital roles in the functioning of our body’s systems, and deficiencies can lead to detrimental effects on our health.
What is the role and importance of each of the 3 main macronutrients:
Protein: Proteins are primarily functional and structural components within each cell of the body as so are required for growth and repair, as well as the maintenance of optimal health.
Protein is made up of essential and non-essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles. Essential amino acids are those which cannot be synthesised by the body and therefore must be obtained from food. In their absence, it would be impossible to build, repair or maintain muscle mass.
Eating good quality, lean sources of protein, for example, chicken, turkey, white fish, salmon and eggs or perhaps plant-based alternatives such as beans, lentils and chickpeas is a great starting point for a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, needed for brain and organ function, as well as physical activity. They also play a role in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organs.
Without carbohydrates, your body struggles to function properly and you often end up feeling run-down and fatigued.
Carbohydrates consumed are metabolised into glucose. Those which are metabolised quickly, releasing glucose into the bloodstream rapidly, causing a quick rise in blood sugar levels, are known as simple carbohydrates. They are found in processed and refined sugars such as table sugar and syrups.
On the other hand, carbohydrates that are digested at a slower rate, have less of an immediate effect on blood sugar levels and provide us with a prolonged, steady energy release are known as complex carbohydrates. They include quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato and whole-grain bread.
Our bodies perform at their best when blood sugar levels are kept relatively constant and so it’s important to understand the effect that different carbohydrates can have.
Fat: Dietary fat is needed as an energy source, to provide the body with essential fatty acids (dietary fats that are vital for growth and cell functions but cannot be synthesised by the body), to allow for optimal functioning of nerves and the brain, assist in the production of hormones and are essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.
There are 3 types of dietary fat – Saturated, Mono-unsaturated and Polyunsaturated.
Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plants (nuts seeds, avocado, olive oil), and saturated fats are found mostly in animal sources (dairy, eggs, meat), but most foods will contain both.
What does a balanced diet look like with FFF?
At FFF our balanced meal preference has the following macronutrient split (percentage proportions of protein, carbohydrates and fat):
- 25% protein
- 35% carbohydrates
- 40% fat
Why is the FFF balanced plan set up in this way?
Our balanced meal preference is designed in this manner, based on the most up to date scientific research, as well as trial and error with our clients over the past 7 years.
We do so as 25% of total calories is often a good starting amount of protein for many individuals – although it can need tweaking depending on individual requirements and preferences. Further, it also enables us to provide a good mixture of meat, fish and plant-based meals, to add in great variety and diversity within our plans.
What sort of (really tasty) meals do we offer on our balanced set up?
A few of my favourites from the current menu are:
- Chicken bolognese with green beans, roasted broccoli, orzo and kale pesto.
- Braised lamb with mushrooms, ratatouille, roasted new potatoes and salsa verde.
- Paprika Spiced Salmon with green beans, peas, slaw, sweet potato chips and herby yoghurt.
- Roasted Cauliflower and Babaganoush with peas and mangetout, roasted butternut squash, pearl barley, salsa verde and pomegranate.
To conclude, a balanced meal plan is a plan which avoids the complete removal or drastic reduction of any food group or macronutrient. It includes portions of each of the 3 macronutrients in proportional quantities.
It is important to consider your requirements on an individual basis, rather than making comparisons to others or follow plans which are not bespoke to you. The size of your meals as a whole and the individual components will vary from others, depending on your overall dietary requirements, which are dictated by factors such as age, gender, exercise frequency, daily activity and your goal.
Opting for a balanced meal plan is often a fantastic starting point when joining the service. Over time, we can tweak your plan on a more granular basis, depending on your progress, how you are responding to your meals and if anything changes in terms of activity for example.
An FFF recipe for a balanced meal
Chilli and garlic prawns
Makes 2 portions
- 300g raw prawns, peeled and deveined
- 150g white rice
- 3 bok choi, washed with leaves sliced lengthways
- 150g sugar snaps,
- 1/2 red chilli, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
- 1 lime
- Heat a large frying pan over a high heat then add the sesame oil
- Meanwhile cook the rice according to packet instructions, as timings may vary
- Add the prawns to the pan, then stir in chilli powder, sesame seeds, greens, a squeeze of lime, fresh chilli and soy
- Continue cooking until the prawns are cooked through and the bok choi has started to wilt
- Serve over rice, with a wedge of lime on the side
If all of this sounds a little overwhelming and you don’t know where to start, book a call with one of our all-knowing nutritionists to discuss your goal further. Have all the information you need but just don’t want to cook? Give one of our plans a go with £50 off your first 5-days with code BLOG50 – Start your trial here.