Nutrition Habits: Food Selection
By: Jon Collette (Prototype Nutrition Coach)
In part 3 of our nutrition series, Nutrition Habits, we will be talking about food selection and how it can impact you. If you missed Part 1 on Eating Schedule and Part 2 on Key Nutrients you would benefit from reading into that first! The links for those articles are below!
Food Selection (What to eat and why)
When it comes to food selection, I recommend looking at everything you eat and how it fits into your nutrition plan vs. the individual components that make it up. The reason why I recommend looking at your daily or weekly intake from a macro perspective is that we tend to demonize any food we may consider to be “less nutritious” or bad for us.
Saying one food is inherently good or bad (unless it’s literally poison) is silly.
I want you to listen to what I’m saying (and I’m a Nutrition Coach that has helped people lose 100’s of pounds), THERE IS NOT A FOOD THAT IS BAD FOR YOU. Cake… it’s not bad for you. Candy… it’s not bad for you. Cheese… it’s not bad for you (unless you’re lactose intolerant).
This is important to understand because the Language we use matters. If we do this consistently, we will learn to develop a better relationship with food. A better relationship with food results in less crash dieting after a day of eating some foods that may be considered less nutritious.
Is Candy nutritious? No, not really. There aren’t a lot of nutritious things about it. Not a lot of micronutrients or protein. It’s basically carbs and fats and high in energy (calories).
If you read my previous blog post on Key Nutrients you would have learned about the roles that macronutrients and micronutrients play in the body. When making our food selections we should have a basic understanding of a few factors that are important to review:
- Food preference (what do you like to eat)
- Dietary restrictions (what your body literally can’t have)
- Time of day (when to eat)
- Pre-Post Workout Nutrition (when to eat relative to fitness)
- Goals (how does it relate to your goals)
What foods help you prioritize getting enough key nutrients that you enjoy? What foods do you enjoy that make you feel unrestricted? That makes you feel happy? What taste and textures do you prefer? We should enjoy the food we eat!
Food allergies/sensitivities, religious beliefs, health issues (ex: type 2 diabetes)… you need to know this information and be aware of these things especially when dining out. Food can really impact us in both positive and negative ways, after all, it’s what gives us energy and it’s what we put into our bodies!
Time of day
It’s a good idea to make food selections based on your schedule. Your food selections should make you feel comfortable, energized, and satiated, especially if you’re eating between meals. An example of this is having a 10am mid-morning snack that needs to tide you over until 1 pm because of back to back work meetings. Will the doughnut your co-worker brought in make you feel full, energized, and comfortable throughout the day? I’m not saying donuts are bad but keep these things in mind when making your food choices at certain points of the day. High bouts of sugar mid-morning but give you energy, but expect a crash as well!
Pre and Post Workout Nutrition
We get these questions a lot at Prototype Nutrition: “What do I eat before I workout?” What should I eat after I workout?” “How much protein should I have?”. The reality is we need to select foods that will provide us with ample carbohydrates before exercise and prioritize making food selections that provide protein and carbohydrates after we exercise. We can eat whole foods or use supplements for this, but it’s important to consider exercise when making your food selections for that day. Depending on the duration of time, intensity, and energy systems you’re predominantly using when exercising will determine portion and ratio, but we can talk more about that next week!
Arguably the most important component of food selection will come down to what your goals are and how these foods fit into your nutrition plan. At the end of the day, almost every nutrition plan can accommodate any food. But how much of that food and how it can fit into your plan based on the other variables above is the question? If you have a weight loss goal, the energy (calories) you take in needs to be less than the calories (energy) you use throughout the day. Some foods are very dense in calories and make it hard to fit in your plan, especially if they are eaten late at night after you’ve consumed a sufficient amount of energy for the day. Again, it comes down to goals and what you are looking to achieve!
Now that we have reviewed some of the variables or things to consider when making our food choices, how do we structure it?
How to structure a meal
There is a bit of strategy as it relates to selecting the foods that make up our meals. The best practice is to shift where our calories come.
A common strategy I’ve recommended for clients who struggle with hitting their protein goal for the day is to eat larger high protein meals in the morning. Same thing with water. If you struggle with drinking enough water, start the day off with 20oz+.
Additionally, we want our meals to be more filling and provide us with more vitamins and minerals with fewer calories per meal. We call these nutrient-dense meals. So mixing in high fiber foods into your meals, for example, can accomplish this.
Having less nutritiously dense meals can certainly fit into your plan, but I would recommend doing it from time to time. I outline a few examples of what this looks like below:
Low Nutrient-Dense Meal
Chicken fingers and fries (carbs, fat, protein, low fiber, low amounts of micronutrients)
Grilled chicken cooked in olive oil (protein, healthy fats)
Brown rice (carbs/fiber)
Quinoa (provides carbs/protein, fiber)
Green beans (provided micronutrients)
How to select a snack
Remember what I said above about how there are no good or bad foods? The same applies with snacks. Something to always ask yourself before eating any food is “how will this make me feel?” You can certainly eat a portion of potato chips and still get plenty of key nutrients in your other meals so don’t feel like it’s a “bad choice”. That bag of chips might be the thing that makes you feel so in control of your nutrition for the day that you never feel the need to have a cheat day. If you’re truly hungry and might not have an opportunity to eat again until your next meal you might want something more filling.
Select your snacks based on the points I made above. Do you want to feel full between meals? Do you want a certain flavor or texture? Will this make me feel happy? Food freedom is allowing yourself to eat that piece of fruit or that bag of chips. The choices I make and the choices you make may be different but that’s ok!
Stay tuned for next week as we talk about Portion Sizes!