Most of us lead busy lives, often made more stressful by a chronic health condition such as a mental illness, either personally or as a caregiver (or both). In the hustle and bustle of a typical day, when we may grab food only for the purpose of filling our growling bellies, it's easy to forget about all the many things that food can do for you.
Did you know that your brain consumes a whopping 420 calories per day, making up about 20-25 per cent of your total energy needs, while your other essential organs consume another 50-60 per cent of your energy in a day? In addition to energy (calories), all of these important functions also require protein for ongoing repair and maintenance of all our tissues from skin to bones, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) for optimal functioning of all our systems.
Vitamins found mostly in fruit and vegetables keep all of our systems, such as our immune system, working their best. Minerals such as iron allow our blood to transport oxygen to all of our cells, and others such as zinc help our blood vessels to stay relaxed. Antioxidants ward off potentially cancerous cells. The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that good nutrition can do so much beyond satisfying our hunger and fueling our daily activities. A nourishing diet can also prevent illness, promote quicker recovery from stress, provide pleasure and gratitude, and give us a reason to pause while we enjoy a meal with others.
To build a balanced meal, include half the meal as non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, carrots, peppers, cauliflower, onion, etc., one quarter of your meal as protein-rich food such as meat, poultry, eggs, tofu, or legumes, and one quarter of your meal with carbohydrate-rich food such as potatoes, rice, corn, squash, pasta, bread, cereals, and fruit. Add mostly unsaturated fats, which are liquid at room temperature, such as canola or olive oil.
Recipe idea: build a grain bowl using the guidelines above. For example:
½ bowl of vegetables such as kale, spinach, cauliflower, tomato, cucumber, etc. These can be raw or roasted with some olive oil.
¼ bowl of protein such as chicken, chickpeas, or lentils. Try roasting the chickpeas along with your veggies.
¼ bowl of carbohydrate such as quinoa, farro, bulgur, barley, brown rice, apple, dried fruit, or roasted sweet potatoes.
Toss it all together with a dressing of your choice such as:
- Maple vinaigrette: 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1/4 cup honey mustard, 2 tbsp canola oil (http://www.cookspiration.com/recipe.aspx?perma=D64F599D22E&g=6)
- Greek dressing using 1 part olive oil, 1 part red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced garlic, dried oregano leaves, and black pepper. Top with crumbled feta and a few olive slices.