You probably start off your day with nutritious breakfast. How about lunch? What does a healthy lunch meal look like? Let’s explore.
What Are the Components of a Healthy Lunch?
A healthy lunch must be nutritionally balanced. You should also enjoy it. Of what good is a nutrient-dense meal if you can’t enjoy it? When preparing a healthy lunch, ensure you have at least three groups of food: protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables (salads).
However, there are particular foods you have to limit, e.g. pre-made meals, canned sauces, corn syrup, sodas, and deli meats. Instead, go with whole foods. And if you must take canned foods, let them be slightly processed, e.g. canned tuna.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word salad? A salad goes beyond simple lettuce tossed with veggies. A fulfilling salad may have leafy greens, raw vegetables, herbs, proteins, and grains. For the greens, opt for dark leafy lettuce such as arugula, spinach, and romaine. Green vegetables contain compounds known as carotenoids which help your eyes to filter out different light intensity levels hence protecting them from damages caused by free radicals. Some of the fresh herbs to include are mint, basil, oregano, and thyme. Herbs usually add nutrients and zest to your salad.
Spice up your bowl of salad with fresh fruits of different colors. Dried fruits with no added sugar are super ingredients. To add extra veggies, go for raw cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. A bit of sweetness and flavor would be great if it comes from roasted sweet potatoes, squash, and berries.
Carbs are the basis for most meals as they provide energy. Carbs can either be simple or complex. Complex carbs are the most recommended as they comprise of large sugar molecules which stay longer in the digestive tract. Unlike processed or simple carbs, complex carbs help to control your appetite. Examples of complex carbs are brown rice, whole wheat flour, quinoa, couscous, bulgur, and barley. Always limit your daily intake of carbs to maintain healthy body mass.
For healthy body cell, you need to supplement your diet with good fat. Unsaturated fats are sources of energy, and they aid in the production of hormones. While saturated fats offer the same number of calories as unsaturated fats, their effects on the body can be detrimental. It is important to have a good balance between the two. Unsaturated fats (omega 3, omega 6, and monounsaturated fats) are found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines; and plants such as sunflower, olive, avocado, nuts, and canola/rapeseed. Note that the body doesn’t manufacture omega 3 and 6, and so you should get them from the right food. These essential fatty acids reduce the risk of many cardiovascular diseases.
Made of 22 types of amino acids, proteins are powerful sources of energy and they also maintain the normal functioning of body cells. Out of the 22 amino acids, only 12 are manufactured in the body. So you have to replenish yourself with the other 10 from the diet. While protein is fundamental, you have to take in in moderation.
You cannot miss to jazz up your lunch with tasty ingredients such as vinegar, scallions, fresh herbs, and spices. Squeeze some fresh citrus juice according to your taste. To your salad, add a few tablespoons of chia seed, sesame, or pumpkin to increase your daily fat intake. A few pieces of avocado also give your veggies a powerful boost. Dressings make food enjoyable. Feel free to experiment with different add-ins as you taste-test.
Note that some simple dressing mistakes can interfere with the potential benefits of a healthy diet. To avoid the risks, stay away from commercially processed additives and other cooked ingredients. The problem with processed dressing is that they are loaded with trans fats or corn syrup which is mainly fructose. Often, dressings that are low in fat have more sugars to compensate for the flavor. Excess sugars can increase insulin resistance, thereby predisposing you to diabetes and other long-term illnesses. It is, therefore, best to make condiments from natural herbs, oils, and juices that work well with your salads.