Nutrition

Eat Your PRO's! Healthy eating made simple.

Megan Dahlman
July 13, 2017

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Healthy Eating Made Simple

When I took nutrition courses in college, food became so technical. It was complicated and really science-y. Even after my college courses were over, I would come across nutrition books and eating plans that were still really complicated. It seemed like in order to eat healthy, you had to have a master's degree to figure it out and a lot of money. (Because, let's be honest...healthy eating feels so expensive!)

But what if we made it really easy...like stupid easy? Not all of us want to get a nutrition degree, nor do we want to spend $300 a week on spelt. We just want a clear plan on how to eat better. 

So what are the staples of a good, nutritious diet? The foundation of every meal should be protein and fruits and vegetables. If you simply focused on including these items in every meal you would lose body fat and carry a leaner frame, have more energy, become more resistant to illnesses and disease, and experience a deeper level of health. Who doesn’t want all that?!

To keep it simple to remember, I came up with the catchphrase “eat your PRO’s!” This helps you remember that with every meal you should be eating some PROduce and PROtein. Super easy to remember, right?

Now, let’s break it down and learn WHY we need to be focusing so much on the PRO’s… (just a teensy bit of the science, ok?)


Fruits and Vegetables (PROduce)

The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are plenty. I think we had it drilled into us by 4th grade that we need to be eating our fruits and vegetables. Here are some of the reasons why they are so darn good for you:

  • Higher vitamin & mineral intake from fruits & vegetables prevents malnutrition & deficiencies
  • Higher intake of “phytonutrients” (nutrients that are only found in certain fruits or vegetables) reduces the risk of many cancers, diabetes, and heart disease
  • Higher intake of “antioxidants” reduces free-radical damage. Damage from free-radicals in your body can lead to a number of bad health issues, like cancer. Think of antioxidants as “pac-men”, munching through your cells finding these free radicals.
  • The strong alkaline potential of vegetables balances out dietary acids. Proteins and grains are very acidic foods, so it’s important to eat an equal amount of alkaline foods to keep your dietary acids in balance.
  • Higher intake of fiber found in produce improves blood sugar control, reduces appetite, and increases digestive health.
  • Getting nutrients from whole veggies and fruits seems to be more health promoting than supplemental forms. When you eat your nutrients from whole foods, your body gets the full package with all its benefits. This is not the case with supplements. Don’t just rely on a multivitamin for your nutrients!



Produce Recommendations

Now that we know how healthy fruit and vegetables are, here are your daily PROduce recommendations:

  • Most adults should build up to eating 8-12 servings of produce each day
  • This equals about 2 servings of produce with every meal
  • A serving is equal to: 1 medium sized fruit, 1 fist-sized portion of cut up fruit or raw/cooked veggies, 1 large handful leafy veggies (Learn more about proper portion sizes here.)
  • If you’re interested in fat loss, eat more vegetables than fruits, striving for a 5:1 ratio
  • Aim for eating a variety of fruits and vegetables. A good goal is to eat 2 servings of different produce with every meal.
  • Whole, unprocessed produce will always trump canned or overly processed options. You can cook it and prepare it however you like, but make sure you get the real stuff! (And no, dried cranberries do not count!)

 

PROtein

The other half of the “PRO” equation is protein. Let’s learn a bit about the benefits of eating adequate protein:

  • Protein is a requirement for nearly EVERY metabolic process and structure in the body. Did you get that?! It pretty much runs your body.
  • Our bodies can make some “amino acids” (the individual structures that clump together to make a protein), but there are several “amino acids” that we have to consume. Without these essential amino acids our bodies would cease to function.
  • Higher levels of protein consumption promote satiety, a healthy body composition and a healthy immune system.
  • Animal proteins are the highest quality proteins, although we can get some protein from plant-based sources. Proteins that come from an animal will have every essential amino acid. If it’s a plant protein, you’ll have to pick and choose from a variety of sources to get all the amino acids you need.
  • Unlike carbohydrates and fats, if you are deficient in protein you cannot make it from another source. Your body will simply pull the protein it needs from your muscles to help run the essential organs of your body. Bad news bears!



Protein Recommendations

So, here is what you need to be shooting for when eating your PROtein:

  • Aim for eating one serving of protein with every meal and snack
  • One serving is equal to 1 palm-sized amount for women (Learn more about proper portion sizes here.)
  • The best protein options are lean, animal sources, or sources that do not have a significant amount of fat with it: lean cuts of beef like sirloin, turkey, chicken, pork loin, eggs, and fish. Some dairy options are good like plain nonfat Greek yogurt and lowfat cottage cheese.
  • Avoid overly processed protein sources, such as some burgers, salami, pepperoni sticks, sausages, etc., as these tend to contain high amounts of fats, sodium, and preservatives. Canned tuna, salmon and chicken are great sources of protein, just make sure they're packed in water, not oil.
  • If you are a vegetarian, aim for consuming at least ½ cup beans or other legumes with every meal. Quinoa, peas and soybeans are other good plant protein sources.



Don’t make nutritious eating complicated. If you can focus on and master eating your PRO’s with every meal, you will do remarkably well. And it’s helpful to know why you should be eating plenty of produce and protein. So the next time you have that big, leafy steak salad you can be confident knowing it’s going to work for your body. Eat your PRO’s!

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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