What Does a Balanced Meal Look Like?

How to Make a Balanced Meal  

One of the things I hear on repeat is that ‘meals just don’t taste good’ which often leads to dissatisfaction in a number of ways. Your taste buds aren’t satisfied so you reach for more even after you’re no longer hungry, nibbling on this and that and ultimately being dissatisfied and frustrated at overeating — or in some cases, undereating — because of it. 

OR

You’re needing to eat a certain way to heal your digestive system, but “it’s so boring” and “it just doesn’t taste good.” And you resist the healing effect that should be taking place.   

OR

You want to eat intuitively, but you’re overcome by cravings for “junk foods” and comfort foods and simply don’t want to eat “healthy foods.”

The Balanced Plate

One of the best ways to solve a lot of the problems listed above is to build meals that are balanced. This means your meal includes the six primary flavors of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, pungent, and astringent

But it also means there’s a balance of those flavors, in the ideal-for-you proportions. A way that tends to be both nutritious and simple to apply is dividing those six flavors into categories of building and lightening foods. 

You can ask the question of each food ingredient, will this build my body or lighten it?, to help you.

Here’s a good list:

Building Foods (comprising the flavors of sweet, sour, and salty)
Whole Grains
Sweet Vegetables (often root vegetables)
Dairy
Oils
Sweeteners
Fruit
Animal Protein

Lightening Foods (comprising pungent, bitter, and astringent flavors)
Beans and Legumes
Nuts and Seeds
Green Vegetables
Spicy/Bitter/Pungent Vegetables – such as radishes, horseradish, spicy turnips, onions, garlic, and hot/spicy peppers, eggplants
Fresh Herbs
Spices

An Ideal Ratio for Your Balanced Plate

What’s an ideal ratio of building and lightening foods? This can depend on the person, but not as much as you might think. For most, aiming for a ratio of 60% building foods and 40% lightening is ideal.
In the process of doing this, you’ll also nearly always incorporate the six flavors, and meals start to taste better, you enjoy them more, and you notice that you’re feeling satisfied without reaching for more — or struggling to eat because nothing tastes good. 

Omnivore Balanced Plate

To make a basic meal that contains meat or eggs, it’s good to think about splitting the 60/40 ratio into the different components. I recommend 20% meat or eggs, 20% whole grain, and 20% sweet vegetables, like carrots, peas, or zucchini. Then the 40% can be mostly leafy greens, like romaine lettuce with a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing, a small handful of chopped nuts or seeds, and a pinch of fresh basil or mint.
When you add in the oil/fat, spice and seasoning components, depending on your preference for the meal, it will be complete, satisfying, and balanced. 

Plant-Based  or Vegan Balanced Plate

To make a basic meal that’s free from most animal products, split your 60/40 ratio into a whole grain, a sweet vegetable, a legume, and a green/astringent vegetable. Start with 30% whole grain, and 30% sweet vegetables, like any of the examples above or fennel, sweet potato, or corn. Then the 40% can be split between 20% legume, tofu, or tempeh, and 20% leafy greens, like cabbage with a nut-based dressing, and a pinch of fresh basil or mint.
When you add in the oil/fat, spice and seasoning components, depending on your preference for the meal, again, it will be complete, satisfying, and balanced. 

One Idea, Many Variations

The beauty of this Balanced Plate idea is that ultimately, it can apply to any type of food, cuisine or flavoring profile. It worked out just fine when I made a Lasagna, rolled up ingredients into a Sushi Burrito, make homemade Pizza, pasta or noodles, and more.

It also helps to keep this idea in mind when you’re eating out. When your preferred dish on a menu isn’t quite as balanced as this, is there a way to make it a little more so by choosing a specific side or leaving off/adding something? 

But I’m an athlete training for a race and need lots of food! Does this balanced meal ratio apply?

Yes, it does! There are two frequent meal scenarios that athletes tend to get into before recovery or performance starts to suffer. Either there’s not enough of the lightening / green vegetable component to most meals OR there’s too much of it, and not enough of the whole grains, root vegetables and (for plant-based athletes), beans or legumes. If you think one of these might apply to you, see if you can add in more of what’s missing, and see how you start to feel. 

One Final Caveat

These percentages are not meant to be exact or obsessively measured. When you look at your plate, does about 60 percent of it contain a grain, sweet root vegetable, and maybe an animal protein or dairy? And does about 40 percent of it look like it’s green vegetables and maybe beans and a sprinkle of toasted nuts? That’s what we’re aiming for here. 

When you begin to eat more meals that have a balance of the flavors in ideal proportions, you’ll also notice that ongoing digestive symptoms may begin to reduce and eventually go away. And because meals simply taste better without being elaborate or extra complicated, cravings and over- or under-eating begins to be less of an everyday issue.

Much of my nutrition practice is focused on individuals and athletes with digestive health issues such as leaky gut, food allergies and intolerances, chronic GI distress, malabsorption of foods and nutrients, and inflammation. If you’re tired, stressed, and not really sure what to eat to help or hurt anymore, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support.

Breakfast Tacos with Black Beans + Egg Scramble

A couple weeks ago, I made puff pastry, a cooking project I’ve long considered, but never before attempted. Puff pastry is so rich in butter, containing nearly more butter than anything else, that’s its the ultimate antithesis of a food you might think a nutritionist would make and eat.

It was a project well worth my time and effort. Gluten free, dairy-free (using Miyoko’s cultured ‘butter’), and more rich in refined starches than would be my norm. And it was an eight-hour kitchen project just to turn and fold and chill the dough.

The process and end result was so satisfying. I used the pastry the following day to make a spring asparagus, radish, and egg-topped tart which was super easy to finish and bake, but tasted like, well, I’d spent more than eight hours meticulously turning and folding it.

That puff pastry crunch as our teeth sank into each bite.

In the days that followed, the topic of puff pastry has come up again and again on repeat. In The Great British Baking Show, a past season I’ve been watching for the first time ever. And, multiple nights in a row, I woke up somewhere around 3am from a dream about getting my pastry baked in time, having enough room in the oven, measuring and folding my puff pastry correctly. A direct result of watching the show with apt attention for too many nights in a row.

Puff pastry again in a book I’m listening to on becoming a French chef.

And then another in a new recipe sent to my email from a baking blog I follow, but have never actually baked from.

I consider that when topics or ideas keep repeating themselves in rapid succession in my life, there’s meaning there. But what’s the meaning of puff pastry on repeat?

And what does that have to do with these breakfast tacos?

One thing I realized was just how much joy I found in the process. How little nutrition brain was involved in the making. Is the puff pastry good for me? Yes, unequivocally yes. For any creative process that brings that much joy, present moment awareness, and time just being lost in the process is certainly good for me / us.

Is it nutritionally sound? Certainly not everyday.

It’s taken me nearly 15 years and a whole lot of practice, therapeutic reprogramming, health crises, and grad school to realize that health is about a lot more than just the nutritional components of what we put into our mouth.

Does what we eat matter? Absolutely.

But what our body does with the food, what mindset or stress-state we eat it in, are we enjoying it with full attention or just half-heartedly chewing while doing something else? I’m coming to believe those matter even more. It took me something like these past 15 years to achieve puff pastry freedom from the food police in my brain, and just have joy in the process.

And that’s something to be proud of.

In an earlier article I wrote this year on Intuitive Eating and Cravings, which has quickly become a popular one, I spoke to the idea that we often need to balance our body first before we can decipher between what our body actually wants (intuition) and what our mind desires (cravings).

Was puff pastry an intuition or a craving?

For me, it was neither. It was a cooking project that I’ve long considered quite challenging, especially with gluten-free flour. That I just happened to eat. I love that there’s room for that in my current life.

One thing I’ve realized after I spent more time learning about the purpose of balancing flavors and optimizing a food’s digestibility is that when those two are done, the flavor and yum-factor is usually there by default. And in contrast, some of the recipes I see published that I might have reached for previously stand out to me as overly spiced, one-sided, leaning too heavily on one taste aspect or effect, and containing too many components that stimulate me/us on various levels. Or are just plain too difficult to digest. The more I notice it, the more I notice the effect it has on my mind and body.

As I focus on the balancing flavors in the everyday meal-after-meal routine, the intuitive of what my body needs / wants becomes infinitely more clear. And what it doesn’t want when I temporarily stray from that does too.

So that’s what these breakfast tacos are.

A colorful, flavorful, texture-rich, balanced taste, and for all that, actually-easy taco plate. They may have breakfast in their title, but I enjoy them much more as a weekend after-run brunch or weeknight meal.

Hope you enjoy! If you try them out, leave a comment and let me know how you enjoy them.

Breakfast Tacos with Black Beans and Egg Scramble

Switch up radishes for another seasonal vegetable as desired, add more of your tortillas as needed, or switch them out for rice to make more of a plate-style meal instead of tacos.
The black beans should make enough for a double batch (about 4 servings) to be used for another meal. 

Prep:  overnight   | Cook: 3-4 hours (for beans); 15-20  minutes  to finish  | Serves: about 2

1 small avocado
1 lime, zest and juice
olive oil for cooking eggs
pinch of mineral salt
2 eggs
1 tsp. olive oil
⅛ tsp. salt
½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 bunch of radishes, quartered
cooked black beans, see below
6 small  tortillas (6”)
small handful of cilantro, minced

Black Beans
1 cup dry black beans, soaked overnight
¾ tsp. mineral salt
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
water to cover by 3-4 inches

  1. A few hours before or in the morning, cook black beans in a medium pot in the spices and water until very soft and flavorful. This is best done for at least 3-4 hours, adding water as needed. 
  2. To prepare breakfast tacos, peel and pit the avocado and mash in a small bowl. Zest the lime and stir in lime zest, salt, and then juice from at least half of the lime. Add more juice as needed. Set aside. 
  3. Scramble the uncooked eggs in a small bowl, add a dash of salt and pepper, and set aside. 
  4. Add the olive oil, ⅛ tsp. salt, and paprika to a sauté pan. Heat until the aroma comes up and then add in the radishes and a splash of water to cover the radishes by about a ¼. Simmer, covered, until the radishes are just soft. Transfer to a bowl, and then use the sauté pan to scramble the eggs in a little oil. 
  5. Heat the tortillas in a clean pan. 
  6. Enjoy the various elements including the seasoned black beans, eggs, sautéed radishes, mashed avocado, tortillas and cilantro, either as traditional taco toppings, or as a plate with tortillas on the side. 

What Does Your Tongue Say About Your Digestion?

Sometimes our bodies are really weird. And sometimes they’re super cool.

Today let’s chat about how they’re cool. Did you know our bodies have all sorts of ways to indicate and reflect externally, what is going on internally?

One of these ways is by looking at your tongue. Let’s take a look at what we can learn from assessing our tongues today!

But first, if you’re a regular reader in this space, yes, I changed my website and business name. But, it’s the same old mostly serious, sometimes goofy me (Rebecca). I’ll continue to share recipes here interspersed with more just-plain-nutrition-topics. Thanks for continuing to read and follow. Now let’s get to learning about your tongue!

When you look at your tongue, you can see clues about internal moisture (or lack thereof), heat and cold, tissue integrity and health, and overall vitality. All of this begins in the digestive tract, since the food you eat literally becomes the cells and tissues of your body within the following days and weeks. 

There are several aspects of the tongue that clue us into what is going on, including: 
Color
Shape, including width and vertical thickness
Cracks
Marks (spots, swollen papillae)
Coat (its presence, thickness, color, and how rooted it is)
Tension
Under tongue vein conditions and/or teeth indentations

For instance: The color of a healthy tongue is generally a moderate shade of pink. If yours is darker or paler, that indicates there may be something going on with the blood and/or blood circulation, such as excess heat and internal inflammation, or anemia (which at its most basic definition means lack of blood). A tongue that is purple or bluish, or has spots of those colors tells us the blood isn’t moving. You might really be suffering from a lack of circulation and feel particularly cold compared to others. Adding warmer spices to your foods and circulation-promoting herbs can particularly help cold, stagnant blood circulation. 

The tongue size and shape indicates the state of fluids and hydration within the body, as well as overall tissue nourishment and balance. A swollen, wide tongue usually indicates there’s excess moisture, mucus, or edema, and a dry, thin, tongue is often the opposite. A tongue that’s thick vertically often indicates excess heat and internal inflammation. 

Likewise, lack of vertical or horizontal cracks indicate there is adequate bodily moisture. Are you routinely dehydrated? Do you have cracks on your tongue? 

The tongue’s coat and the color of the coat in particular are tell-tale signs of how digestion has become imbalanced and can be improved. If there is no coat at all or it’s present in patches, this tells us your digestive capacity is a bit insufficient. We need to work on helping the digestive system assimilate and absorb those nutrients from your foods!

And a particularly thick coating tells us there’s some sort of excess going on, in the way of imbalanced gut bacteria, excess moisture which often presents as bloating after meals, or stagnant digestion, where you feel like your food just sits in your gut. 

One of the most common indications of imbalance I see is tooth marks or indentations or ripples on the sides of the tongue. This means the digestive fire is low, and you’re not assimilating the foods you’ve eaten, leading to poor tissue quality and all sorts of bodily presentations of feeling not optimal.

Take a look at your tongue. What do you see? 

Here’s mine. What can you determine about my digestion by looking at it?

My tongue assessment:
Shape: A little wide, indicating possible lymphatic stagnation or mucus.

Color: Somewhat pale (not shown super well in this photo); indicating possible anemia and/or malnourishment.
I tend to float back and forth on the line between clinical anemia and low-normal red blood cells, have fairly chronic low digestive ability, and need for a ton of supplements to stay in “health” despite consistent focus on optimizing digestion and food first. This clue checks out with my actual lab data and long-term health tendencies.

Thickness and Color of the Tongue Coat: Spotty. Mostly absent from the front; thicker than ideal in the back, indicating poor digestive capacity in the middle and lower GI (stomach and small intestine), and excess mucus or stagnation in the lower GI (colon), probably as a result of the under functioning section above. The color is a transparent white which is ideal!

Tongue Moisture: Moist – which is ideal.

Cracks on the Tongue Body: none – ideal.

Lastly, I tend to have mild indentations or tooth marks on the sides of my tongue in the middle to front; particularly in the morning when I wake up. This indicates I’m likely not digesting the last meal of the day well and could use simpler to digest evening meals – and a little more help in getting digestive functioning to optimal: as reflected in the above areas.

Overall, my tongue indicates fairly exactly what I tend to find with my digestion, and what long-term lab data has shown: Sub-optimal digestion with a tendency to not digest and assimilate nutrients well.

I will say with consistent work at it, my digestion has improved substantially from what it used to be, and I’m less super-obviously symptomatic. I rarely experience bloating, sharp or low-grade GI pain, etc.

Here’s another illustration with notes about what the presentation is indicating in terms of digestion and health: 

Tongue Types – Digestive Health

Does your tongue suggest your digestion is functioning optimally? Or do you find indications that reflect exactly what you’ve had going on in there? If you’d like to learn more about how you can fix it, I’d love to speak with you in a quick phone consultation! Or learn more about your digestion in my other articles on the topic of optimal digestion and gut health

References:
Bunce, L. (2017). Tongue Assessment for Western Herbalists: A Primer.
Coatzee, O. (2017). NUTR 663: Sports Nutrition; Eastern Medicine Tongues. [Lecture]. Maryland University of Integrative Health. Retrieved from: https://learn.muih.edu