The 9 Commandments of a Balanced Diet
Raise your hand if you made eating healthier a New Year’s resolution this year. Raise your hand if you make eating healthier a New Year’s resolution every year. Now put your hand down and listen up—this is the year it’s actually going to happen. We made it easy for you by consulting with two top nutritionists—Kelly LeVeque and Elissa Goodman—and gathering their wealth of information into a simple, easy-to-follow list. We’re calling them commandments, but you can treat them like suggestions from a friend—an extremely healthy, balanced, nutritionally satisfied friend.
Keep scrolling to see the nine commandments of a balanced diet!
“A balanced diet includes loads of fresh vegetables and fresh fruits,” Goodman says, “in particular, leafy greens.” Load up on kale, spinach, collard greens, lettuce, broccoli, Swiss chard, and cabbage—they’re powerhouses filled with the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients your body needs. They’re also rich in chlorophyll, which is necessary for alkalinizing your blood, as well as fiber, which keeps your digestive tract healthy.
Repeat after us: Say no to hydrogenated oils. Instead, LeVeque says to incorporate healthy fats like almond butter, coconut oil, or ghee, which are full of “medium-chain triglycerides and conjugated linoleic acid” and won’t increase your cholesterol levels. Goodman agrees, citing coconut oil as well as grass-fed butter and avocado as good sources of healthy fats.
If you are a meat eater, Goodman says to always try to choose organic, lean animal proteins like organic pastured eggs and hormone- and antibiotic-free lean meat. Try skinless chicken or turkey, lean ground beef, beans or lentils, or the nutritionist favorite: salmon (which also happens to be a great source of omega-3 healthy fats). If you’re feeling more adventurous, LeVeque says bison meat is one of her staples.
We all know this by now—anything that comes in a frozen box or crinkly bag probably isn’t the best for our bodies. “A good start is to avoid processed foods at all costs,” Goodman says. “If it comes out of a box prepared and frozen, it is not part of a balanced diet.” Most processed foods are high in added sugars, as well as artificial ingredients and refined carbohydrates—aka the enemies to your healthy body goals.
This one is hard—how can we deny our midday chocolate craving? Goodman says it’s important to make every effort to cut out added and processed sugars and to instead invest in a bottle of organic stevia, raw wild honey, high-grade maple syrup, or coconut sugar. “Use these as sweeteners in place of processed sugar replacers,” she says. Need help quitting your sugar addiction? Here’s how to kick the habit.
Speaking of sugar cravings, LeVeque says we should avoid the one thing that often leads to them: carb binging. “Overdoing carbohydrates in one sitting can cause elevated blood sugar and excess insulin,” she says. This leads to that food coma feeling and results in sugar cravings from the insulin spike. One thing to clarify: Carbohydrates aren’t all bad. However, LeVeque says your body is most balanced when you don’t overdo them. When you do opt for carbs, Goodman says to reach for gluten-free whole grains, like millet or quinoa; they’re nutrient rich and can actually reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes (not to mention give you better hair).
Here’s the thing about a balanced diet: It won’t work unless you indulge a little. “Balance is found in the 80/20 rule,” Goodman says. “If you can eat [a healthy diet] 80% of the time, 20% of the time you can indulge.” LeVeque agrees, saying, “If you want pizza, wine, or chocolate cake, enjoy it.” Enjoy the indulgences, but make sure to take the steps afterward to bounce back…
When you indulge, LeVeque says to remember your blood sugar is compounding and you will need to take some steps to “autocorrect” over the next couple of days to ensure your blood sugar isn’t elevated. “A great tip for my clients is that when they drink wine, the next morning they know their Be Well Smoothie should be fruit free,” she says. “Fructose and alcohol are both metabolized in the liver, and if you had a little fun the night before, it’s best go easy on the sugar.”
The most important thing to remember? It’s not a competition with yourself, and your diet isn’t something that should wrack you with guilt. “All or nothing, binging and cleansing cycles swing you back and forth like an out-of-control pendulum ball,” LeVeque says. “Opposed to popular belief, balance isn’t when you stop moving and live a rigid, on-plan, perfect life. None of us is perfect.” That means it’s okay to swing on the scale from time to time or go in for the last slice of chocolate cake. Achieving a balanced, healthy diet should be a positive thing, filled with an “intentional movement to eat clean and even enjoy a glass of wine with friends,” says LeVeque. “Accept who you are, love who you are, and build a lifestyle focused on health, not some abstract idea of perfection.” Preach!