I've probably overwhelmed you with the concept of meal-planning. I agree, it is probably one of the hardest parts of achieving your weight loss/performance goals. While it doesn't take much effort to make pasta or a grilled-cheese sandwich, you may find that some of your meals aren't very filling. Well, at least 1 serving, that is. It is only after you eat 2,3, possibly 4 servings of pasta or 3-4 grilled cheese sandwiches that you finally feel full (or should we say "stuffed").
If you are an active person who can't quite seem to conquer those cravings and hunger pains throughout the day, my first tip is to focus on nutrient timing. How are fueling for a workout and recovering from the workout?
If you are the person who lacks the energy to be consistent with training, my suggestion is to focus on balanced and complete meals which leave your blood sugar stable and tummy satisfied.
Regardless if you do/don't have energy for workouts or do/don't experience cravings or hunger pains, it is important that you focus on fiber in the diet. According to the American Heart Association, adults should aim for around 25-35g fiber per day (women around 25g/men around 35g). Not only are there countless benefits of adding fiber to your diet but fibrous foods that contain no ingredients (ex. fruits and veggies) or are whole-grain in nature, will help you fill up quicker at meals and snacks, as opposed to eating sugary or low fiber foods (ex. processed foods, enriched foods). While you may eat more than one serving of raisin bran cereal in the morning, research shows that starting your day with a complex carb, high fiber breakfast (with some protein) will cause you to eat less throughout the rest of the day. While you may not feel the benefits of your high-fiber breakfast at 8am, you will likely find yourself reducing your caloric intake later in the day...without even trying.
You probably see plenty of commercials or ads promoting Whole Grains, as opposed to refined grains.
Whole grains, such as whole-wheat, oatmeal and brown rice, contain all 3 parts of the grain:
Refined grains have been ground into flour or meal (milled) which causes the bran and germ to be removed. While an enriched product may appear healthy because they contain B vitamins and iron, the enriching process actually removes the fiber and other vitamins in grains and through processing, adds back some vitamins but not fiber. It seems weird that vitamins would be taken out, only to be added back again, but perhaps that is why wheat flour, enriched bread and white rice is so affordable compared to popular "whole-wheat" products.
Taken directly from the American Heart Association website:
*Whole grains are generally good sources of dietary fiber; most refined (processed) grains contain little fiber.
*Dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.
*Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories and so may help with weight management.
*Grains are also important sources of many nutrients:
-B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) play a key role in metabolism.
-Folate (folic acid), one of the B vitamins, helps the body form red blood cells.
-Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood.
-Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles.
-Selenium is important for a healthy immune system.
Do you have to eat only whole grains? It wouldn't be a bad thing but it is perfectly fine to have a few enriched products in your diet. I do not recommend emphasizing low-fiber/enriched foods in your diet but if you are choose 1 serving enriched pasta over a bowl full of veggies and beans, it is likely that you are receiving plenty of fiber in your meal. However, if you are eating 4 slices of 100% whole-wheat bread w/ butter and cheese, in addition to 3 servings of whole-wheat pasta topped with cheese and Alfredo sauce, you may be eating a lot of fiber, but also more fat and calories than necessary.
Most fruits and veggies contain some amount of fiber (some more than others) but will not have an ingredient list (isn't that wonderful that fruits and veggies don't contain ingredients :)
But to determine whether or not your food product is really 100% whole grain, look at the first ingredient on the nutrition panel. If you find one of the following names first on the list, you are certain your are choosing a whole-grain product:
whole wheat, graham flour, oatmeal, whole oats, brown rice, wild rice, whole-grain corn, whole-grain barley, whole-wheat bulgur and whole rye.
FYI-many breads featured as "light" will read "2 servings" on the nutrition label to make you feel like you are eating healthy and saving calories. Or getting more with less. If you are choosing a bread that has 120 calories per serving and the serving size is 2 pieces, sure each slice may be 60 calories but for 2g fiber per serving, you are only receiving 1g of fiber per slice. There are many other products on the market that will leave you satisfied with more fiber and only 30-40 extra calories. Not sure about you, but I'd rather choose a piece of 100% whole-grain bread that has 70 calories and 5g of fiber than choosing an enriched food that is not giving me the fiber I am looking for to feel satisfied at my meal. However, if you are eating a low fiber english muffin, topped with natural PB, fresh apricots and an apple, I'd say you are getting plenty of fiber and you understand how to plan your meal.
Don't be fooled by baked goods which may come across as "healthy" or by meals which leave you stuffed but don't provide you with very much fiber:
*Panera Reduced Fat Wild blueberry muffin: 350 calories, 10g fat, 2.5g saturated fat, 2g fiber, 35g sugar
*Full Smoked Ham & Swiss on Stone-Milled Rye: 700 calories, 28g fat, 10g saturated fat, 2320mg sodium, 5g fiber
Look at what happens to your calories and fiber when you choose a soup:
*Low Fat Garden Vegetable with Pesto: 160 calories, 3.5g fat, 1240mg sodium, 6g fiber
Furthermore, generic brands are often just as good as named brands when it comes to "high fiber" foods. If you notice that many of your "high fiber" whole grain foods (particularly breads) may be high in calories. By reading food labels you will be able to make an educated decision and find whole grain products that are lower in calories but still with the fiber that you are looking for in your diet.
Lastly, there are two types of fiber:
Solube - Oats, oat bran, beans, barley, citrus fruits, apple pulp, strawberries
Insoluble - whole-wheat breads, wheat cereals, wheat bran, rye, barley, cabbage, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and apple skin
Soluble fiber decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as modestly reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol beyond levels achieved by a diet low in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol alone (AHA website).
Insoluble fiber is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk and slower progression of cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals. The best part of dietary fiber is that it makes you feel fuller sooner and eat less calories. Think of how satisfied you would feel after eating a piece of whole-wheat bread compared to a doughnut?
Most importantly: READ labels. If you are looking at servings, calories, fat, sodium, cholesterol, etc. it is equally important to look at the first ingredient and the fiber content.
The following count as 1 ounce-equivalent (or 1 serving) of grains:
American Heart Association
* 1 slice whole-grain bread (such as 100% whole-wheat bread)
* 1 ounce ready-to-eat, whole-grain cereal (about 1 cup wheat flakes)
* 1⁄2 cup cooked whole-grain cereal, brown rice, or whole-wheat pasta
* 5 whole-grain crackers
* 3 cups popped popcorn
* 1 slice white bread
* 1 small white roll
* 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal (about 1 cup corn flakes)
* 1⁄2 cup cooked cereal, white rice, or pasta
* 9 mini 3-ring pretzels
* 1 4.5 -inch pancake
* 1 6-inch flour or corn tortilla
Starting today, try adding an additional 1-2 servings of high fiber fruit to your daily snacks and at least 2 servings of veggies with 1-2 meals.