Jul 16, 2020

What is a Wholesome, balanced meal?

"Wholesome, balanced meal" - I keep mentioning this phrase often in my blog posts as well as in my workshops. I suggest this as a solution to fix sweet cravings, to curb junk foods, to prevent mindless snacking etc. As I pondered deeply on this question - "What is a wholesome, balanced meal?", the initial answers that came to my mind are
  1. The meal plate should have a good combination of carbs, proteins, fats and fiber
  2. For a vegetarian like me, the meal plate should contain a good proportion of dals, 1-2 vegetables and indigenous rice/millets
  3. The plate should include more vegetables and greens
I wasn't quite satisfied with these answers. I felt there is something more to a "wholesome, balanced meal". The questioning continued and I reflected on the times when I felt like I have eaten a wholesome, balanced meal. Based on my personal observations, this is the answer I have come up with

"A wholesome, balanced meal is the one that gives YOU SATIETY"

First, the focus is on YOU, the individual. The meal that makes me satiated may not make you feel satiated and vice versa. That's the reason why generic diet plans don't work. Each of our preferences, taste buds and satiety levels are quite different. It is best to understand the key principles in nutrition and then take the responsibility to come up with a meal plan for ourselves.

Let's come to the key topic - SATIETY
Satiety is the feeling of satisfaction we get after eating a good meal. 
Being satiated means that we don't think about food for the next 3-4 hours. 
Being satiated means we don't feel sluggish and drowsy after a meal.

When you eat a pack of chips, do you feel satiated? No
When you eat a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, do you feel satiated? No

That's because of the fact that most packaged/junk foods are "calorie-rich, nutrient-poor". After eating such foods, our body craves nutrients and we end up feeling hungry within 30-45 minutes. 

Being mindful of how we feel after eating a meal will help us understand the kind of meals that give us satiety. Food tracking in a journal is quite helpful to identify the patterns. Apart from tracking the "What", "How much" and "When", it is also important to track "How did the meal make me feel?"
Sweet craving post the meal

Examples of meals that make me feel satiated
  • Handpounded rice, sambhar, 1-2 vegetable kari
  • Bisibhelebhaath, raitha and pappad
  • Matta rice, aviyal, rasam and pappad
  • Idli with a chutney or sambhar
  • Phulkas, dal and sabji/salad
Examples of meals that don't make me feel satiated
  • Lemon rice, potato kari
  • Pasta
  • Idli with molagapodi
  • Salad as a meal
  • Soup + Salad
Satiety depends on multiple factors - not just the right combination of carbs+proteins+fats. It depends on our individual food preferences, foods we ate while growing up, foods that our digestive system feels happy about. 

The ONLY way to figure such meals is by OBSERVATION and AWARENESS within oneself.  Calorie tracking apps or dietitians cannot help us here. Machine learning algorithms can't predict whether a meal will make us feel satiated or not. It is only up to us to figure that out.

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