It's time to get down to the basics. Each of your five daily meals should have these five essential components: protein, carbohydrates, fiber, fat, and a sugar-free beverage. Each one plays a unique role in achieving that perfect 5-Factor balance!
Protein tops the list for several reasons -- it helps you feel full, maintains your muscle tissue, and regulates metabolism. Aim for 1/3 of your total calories to come from low-fat protein like chicken or turkey breast, fish, seafood, egg whites, or cottage cheese. But stay away from nuts -- although they have some protein, they're loaded with calories.
Although they get a bad rap, carbs are actually an essential part of your diet, especially when you're trying to lose weight. The key is choosing the right carbs. The best ones are those that have what we call a low glycemic index; in plain English, that means they take longer to digest in your body, so your blood sugar levels remain more stable -- which helps control insulin release, so your body stores less fat.
How do you know which carbs to choose? In general, avoid refined-flour products like white bread and pasta, choosing flourless and whole grain starches instead. Beans, brown rice, wild rice, and vegetables count as healthy carbs too, as do citrus fruits, fruits with edible skin (like apples and pears), and fruits with edible seeds (like strawberries).
Fiber is one of those miracle nutrients -- it passes through your system without being absorbed, but it may still help lower cholesterol levels, fight heart disease and cancer, control blood sugar, reduce your risk of diabetes, and alleviate constipation. And it helps you feel full with fewer calories, so it's great for a weight-loss diet. Shoot for at least five grams of fiber in each of your 5-Factor meals -- although you can certainly have more! You'll find fiber in many healthy carbs -- whole grain cereal, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Fat is also crucial in a healthy diet -- yes, even a weight-loss diet -- as long as you're choosing the right fats. Unsaturated fats -- which are found in oils (like olive, peanut, and canola oils) as well as in fattier fish (such as mackerel, salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, herring, and albacore tuna) -- may help reduce LDL cholesterol levels ("bad" cholesterol) while improving HDL levels ("good" cholesterol). Use these instead of saturated fats (the solid fats that are found in meat, butter, and cheese) and trans fat (the fat found in shortening and margarines).
Sugar Free Beverages
The sensation of thirst is often confused with hunger because both trigger the same physical responses in your body. That's why drinking enough fluids is a key factor in losing weight and staying healthy. When you drink liquids with your meals and snacks, it helps fill your stomach so you eat less and don't feel as hungry. Plus, you need the right amount of fluids in your body for all its functions -- including digestion of foods -- to run properly. Drink at least 8 to 12 ounces of a sugar-free beverage with each of your meals and snacks.