Thursday, December 1, 2011

Clean Eating Principle: 5-6 Small Meals Per Day

Clean Eating is essentially 5 principles for healthy nutrition:

1. Avoid processed foods / eat as close to how the food occurs in nature as possible. 
2. Drink a lot of water each day to stay fully hydrated - at least 40-60 ounces per day depending on your body size.
3. Eat 5-6 mini meals spread out throughout the day. 
4. Eat for maximum nutrient density - eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals, with complex carbohydrates and proteins combined in every meal.
5. Avoid processed sugars and excessive salts.

 Over the next few weeks, I'm going to discuss each principle at length. This week- the mini-meal concept.

Clean Eating Principle #3: Spread your food out over 5-6 smaller meals, consumed every 2-3 hours

This is the Clean Eating principle that many people scratch their heads over, especially since we’ve had the “three-square meals” idea pounded in our heads since childhood.
This principle isn’t necessarily about eating more food (although you might), but rather distributing your daily food over smaller, more frequent meals. This has four benefits:
  1. By keeping your meals smaller, you make sure you are only eating an amount of food that your body can utilize for energy and recovery over the next 2-3 hours. This discourages overeating, or calorie intake in excess of what your body needs, which will keep you lean or help you shed body fat.
  2. Better, more sustained energy. Eating smaller meals, more frequently, helps keep your blood sugar levels stable which prevents energy crashes. Blood sugar spikes also encourage excess calories to be stored more readily as body fat, so when you keep blood sugar stable, it can help you lose fat or at least maintain leanness.
  3. Improved metabolism. It takes energy to digest food. Eating more frequently can have a slight positive impact on resting metabolism.
  4. Improved macro-nutrient availability. This is especially important if you are performing weight or resistance training. Reducing body fat, while building muscle, requires food — and your muscles need carbs, fats and protein to recover and grow. By consuming food every 2-3 hours, you always make sure there is enough energy available to fuel recovery.
So under the Clean Eating approach, your meals for the day might look like this:
  • Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and scrambled egg whites with one whole egg
  • Morning Snack: Apple with almond butter
  • Lunch: Sliced chicken breast (from a home-cooked chicken breast, not deli lunchmeat) on Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread with lettuce and tomatoes and a side salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing
  • Afternoon Snack: Low-fat, low-sugar homemade granola with Greek yogurt
  • Dinner: Salmon fillet with herbed brown rice and steamed asparagus in Dijon mustard sauce
  • Evening Snack: Cup of low-fat cottage cheese with a handful of almonds 
Six small meals and snacks, all balanced with protein, carbs and healthy fats, none over 500 calories each, spread out over the day. Depending on your goals (fat loss versus building muscle), the amount of calories in each meal can be adjusted up.

Just as important as having mini meals is having variety. Don't eat the same thing for breakfast, day after day. Eventually you'll mentally prepare yourself for a big slip up and it will be almost impossible to ignore those donuts your co-worker brought in to work. Mix it up. Remember, your body is a machine. It doesn't care if you eat yogurt for dinner, though you might classify yogurt as a "breakfast" item.

Next week: Focusing on foods as they occur in Nature - a core tenant of Clean Eating.