To maintain energy and health as an active individual, it is essential to eat a carbohydrate-rich meal plan every day. One way to estimate the amount of carbohydrates required is the balanced plate method. It is a practical and easy-to-use technique that shows individuals how to build a balanced, nutritious meal to support their energy needs.
Here's how it works. Visualize a typical lunch or dinner plate. One-half to two-thirds of the plate (or the amount of food eaten at a given meal) should be filled with carbohydrates.
Individuals should enjoy nutrient-rich carbohydrates the majority of the time. Nutrient-rich carbohydrates are foods that have been minimally processed or are not processed at all.
A wide variety of foods fit into the nutrient-rich carbohydrate category such as whole grains, beans and legumes. Fruits and starchy vegetables are also nutritious carbohydrate choices. And, surprisingly, so are yogurt and milk.
There are many nutrient-packed and carbohydrate-rich foods that can be enjoyed.
The remaining one-quarter to one-third of the plate is for lean protein sources like fish, poultry and meat. Other protein-rich sources are eggs and vegetarian options such as soybeans, beans, legumes and peas.
Select protein sources that are baked, grilled, broiled, or roasted rather than fried. Most adults need to consume at least 3 ounces of animal protein or the plant equivalent at meals to reach their protein needs.
Three ounces of animal protein is approximately the size and thickness of a deck of playing cards or the size of a checkbook. This amount supplies just over 20 grams of protein and is the quantity required to begin the muscle-building process.
Vegetarians can substitute 3 ounces of animal protein for the equivalent amount from plant sources. Options include tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and whole grains. A single cup of beans provides 16 grams of protein.
It is important to consume at least 1 cup of nonstarchy vegetables and a small portion of heart-healthy fat at each meal.
Nonstarchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, sweet peppers) are essential for optimal energy and health because they provide fiber, a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and a myriad supply of phytochemicals.
Add color to every meal to ensure a daily dose of health-promoting substances, such as tomato or spinach to sandwiches and vegetables to soups and salads.
It is also essential to enjoy one to three servings of heart-healthy fat at each meal. Individual servings depend on energy needs.
One serving of fat is approximately 5 grams and 45 calories. It is equivalent to 1 teaspoon olive, canola or peanut oil, ½ tablespoon nut butters, 1 tablespoon of pumpkin or sunflower seeds, or 2 tablespoons of avocado. Olives, nuts, mayonnaise and fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and flounder) also provide heart-healthy fat.
I have found that most active individuals are able to reach both their carbohydrate and energy needs by following the balanced plate method.
However, it is a guideline and therefore, may not meet the needs of all individuals. For a more individualized plan, visit www.scandpg.org to find a registered sports dietitian.
THE AUTHOR IS A REGISTERED DIETITIAN, BOARD CERTIFIED AS A SPECIALIST IN SPORTS DIETETICS, AND THE OWNER OF FITNUTRITION, LLC IN OLD LYME.