There are three big macronutrients that we’re going to focus on as we build our plate like the image above:
Protein: building blocks for our muscles.
Carbohydrates: our bodies will burn as fuel.
Fats: can be burned as fuel, and also helps with nutrition absorption!
#1) PROTEIN: Priority Numero Uno.
Protein is amazing.
Your body uses protein to rebuild your muscles and keep you strong, especially if you are exercising or strength training regularly.
Protein is both good for you AND satiating without being a calorie bomb.
Protein can come from any number of sources, including:
A serving of protein is about the size and thickness of your palm.
*The 4 oz serving is for an uncooked piece of meat. Cooking reduces about 25% of the weight, bringing it down to about 3 oz.
When building a plate, aim for the following amount of protein:
If you’re curious, here’s how much protein is in a serving of food:
As we cover in our “how much protein should I eat per day?” you can target anywhere from 80% to 100% of your bodyweight in pounds per gram of protein, with an upper limit of 250g:
#2: VEGETABLES: The difference-maker when it comes to healthy eating and weight management.
They are nutrient-dense: full of all the good nutrients that your body can use to function at optimal performance.
Next, they are energy-dense but calorie-light, which means you can eat lots of them, you’ll feel full, but you’re unlikely to over-consume calories.
A serving of veggies is about the size of your fist.
Here’s a quick, non-complete list of veggies that can fill your plate:
Target 2 servings of vegetables on your plate – it should take up ½ the plate!
“But I don’t like vegetables…yet!”
That’s cool, I didn’t eat vegetables until I was 22. Now, they’re a main staple of every meal I eat.
To recap portion sizes of protein and vegetables:
#3) HEALTHY CARBOHYDRATES: Fuel and fiber!
These are the foods that can be an important part of a diet, provided you eat them in the right quantities for your goals.
These foods are also great to consume right after a strenuous strength training workout to help your muscles and liver refill their glycogen stores (their energy tanks, essentially).
Examples of healthy carbohydrates:
This is a list of REAL food, minimally processed, that also have plenty of fiber.
If you’re wondering how fruit factors into this equation, that’s the next section.
Back to healthy carbs: when consumed in proper proportion, these are great foods that can help you feel full and give you energy and all that jazz.
Just make sure you know what an actual portion of these foods are!
EVERYBODY accidentally overeats carbohydrate-heavy foods, even healthy ones, and then wonders why they aren’t losing weight.
To help you get better at eyeballing serving sizes:
1 serving of a starchy carbohydrate is 1 cupped hand (uncooked), or your two hands forming a cup (cooked).
Here are some images to help you learn proper portion sizes:
#4) HEALTHY FATS: No longer the enemy!
Fat had a bad rep in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but now things are swinging wayyyyy back in the other direction.
In some circles, fat is now considered the healthiest thing on the planet, will do your taxes for you and is considered a superfood.
Let’s get to the truth:
Fat is neither a superfood nor evil.
It’s just a macronutrient that you can eat that can help you reach your goals in the right quantity, or keep you from your goals if it’s overconsumed.
When your doctor tells you to eat more healthy fats, she’s referring to polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Healthy fat can be found in foods like:
Now, science has recently come around on saturated fat too – once completely vilified, but now cautiously considered okay for moderate consumption.
Saturated fats can come from things like:
Fat can be good for you provided you’re eating the right quantity for your goals.
However, like carbs, fats can be overconsumed accidentally too.
To help you gauge: a serving size of fat is roughly the size of your thumb!
THIS is a single serving of almonds (162 calories):
THIS is a serving of olive oil (119 calories):
As you can see, if you’re not careful – you can accidentally eat an extra 500 calories of “healthy fats” by absentmindedly eating too many “heart-healthy” fats.
When we dug into it, they had been preparing all of their food in an extra 500-600 calories worth of olive oil they weren’t accounting for.
To recap fats and starchy carbs: feel free to include a starchy portion to your plate in the form of rice, potatoes, pasta, or legumes, and healthy fats can help spice up a meal too.
I realize that was a CRAZY amount of info, so let’s put it all on the same Healthy Plate:
I know that not all of your meals are going to be perfectly segmented like a bento box. For example:
This plate and serving size stuff above is just to help you get started thinking about healthy food differently and in proper portion sizes:
Remember, all calories count.
“What about beverages?” Simple. Liquid calories count too. So stick to low or zero-calorie drinks like water, tea, coffee, and diet soda.
“How about condiments?” Grilled chicken slathered in 1000 calories of buffalo sauce means you’re still eating a calorie bomb!