In the health industry, I've found that most practitioners come to have a "signature" talk that they could literally give in their sleep. My signature talk is about my approach to nutrition, which I call PFC Balanced.
I first came across this acronym and usage when I was in college and first switching to a real food diet. Dietitian Cassie of Healthy Simple Life was featured on a podcast I listened to, and I loved her simple approach to nutrition. Since that time, I've used her basic principles as a guide when I developed my own approach to eating.
Eating PFC balanced means having a source of protein (P), fat (F), and carbs (C) on your plate at each meal. This ensures that you energy, blood sugar, and mood stay stable throughout the day. It also enables your brain, body, and metabolism to perform their best. Without eating foods in such a balance, we often overeat on carbohydrates, causing our blood sugar to spike up and subsequently plummet later in the day (the mid-morning or mid-afternoon crash we all know and experience!). This leads to a host of issues, among them inflammation, which we've discussed at length before as being the probable root cause of most modern diseases (including type II diabetes, Alzheimer's, obesity etc).
When it comes to actually eating PFC balanced, I usually recommend the following portions and foods for each category:
Portion Size - the size of your entire hand, 4-6oz per meal, 2-3oz per snack
Choose - any cut of beef, chicken, turkey, pork, bison, lamb, seafood (wild caught), and whole eggs
Avoid - soy protein, beans as protein source (they contain more carbs than protein), meat substitutes, fake/processed meats, breaded or fried meats, glazed meats, etc
It is vital to get our protein from animal sources as they contain the most bioavailable sources of critical nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, zinc, and choline. Plant sources of protein aren't as bioavailable (soy, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds) because they contain anti-nutrients, which are mechanisms which prevent the breakdown, digestion, and absorption of such foods. I also find that many people think they are eating enough protein, when in actuality, they aren't even coming close! Most women, for instance, are only eating about 50-70 grams, when in reality, they need closer to 100-120 grams per day to maintain and add muscle mass and lose fat mass (which tend to be the most common goals across the board).
It is also CRITICAL to get enough protein at breakfast. Coupled with fat, protein at breakfast keeps your fuller longer and allows your to get through your day without blood sugar crashes, energy slumps, and mood disturbances. If you only have carbs for breakfast (oatmeal, OJ, banana, etc), you are setting yourself up for a tough time the rest of the day!
Portion Size - 2-4 Tbsp for oils and spreads, 1/8-1/4 cup for nuts and seeds, avocado (half or whole), 1/4-1/2 cup for olives, 1/2 cup for dairy products, about the size of your thumb for cheeses
Choose - olives, olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, butter, ghee, coconut oil, full fat coconut milk, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, cashews, seeds, almond butter, tahini, coconut cream, coconut butter
Limit - full fat dairy, peanuts
Avoid (at all costs!) - vegetable oils (soybean, corn, canola, cottonseed, sunflower, etc), margarine, fake butter spreads (even the "heart healthy" ones), shortening, trans fat (labeled as partially hydrogenated ___ oil on labels), skim or low-fat dairy
If you make one change, change the fats your are eating and cooking with! Vegetable oils are toxic by way of their processing method. Better options for cooking oils are avocado and coconut oil, as well as butter and ghee. I do NOT recommend olive oil for high heat cooking, as the fatty acid profile doesn't hold up well to high heat cooking.
Unfortunately, vegetable oils and trans fats hide in about every single product on the shelves. You must read your ingredient lists carefully to avoid them. Nuts and seeds are often roasted in vegetable oils, taking a wholesome food and ruining it. Sauces, dressings, condiments, meat, dips - these are all options that often contain vegetable oils. Make your own, or seek out better options from companies like Primal Kitchen or Tessamae's (the sunflower oil used in Tessamae's is from an acceptable source).
As far as dairy, I'm not a huge fan because of it's modern processing method. However, if you do choose to consume dairy, I recommend full fat, plain dairy products. Yes, this means plain, full fat yogurt; whole milk; full fat cheese; and the highest percentage fat of cottage cheese. The fat is natural to the dairy products themselves, and we need that fat to absorb the nutrients in dairy, like Vitamins A, D, and K2. These vitamins are fat soluble, meaning they need the presence of fat to be absorbed. That being said, I still recommend limiting dairy consumption because of it's effects on our immune system, digestive system, and health in general. Close to 75% of American's are lactose intolerant. You might not even realize that some of your most common ailments or complaints (bloating, gas, skin issues) might be traced back to dairy!
Don't limit your fat at meals. Make sure to have a decent source to ensure nutrient absorption, satiety, and proper blood sugar regulation. Stick with the healthy fats, and you are good to go!
Portion Size - unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables, 1/2-1 cup starchy vegetables, 1 piece or 1/2 cup of fruit, 1/4-1/2 cup cooked for gluten-free grains and legumes
Non-starchy vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, etc. Enjoy them raw or cooked however you like them.
Starchy vegetables - butternut squash, acorn squash, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, turnips, rutabaga, pumpkin, etc.
Fruit - all kinds for fresh fruit; limit and/or avoid dried fruit (often has added sugar or vegetable oils and is a much more concentrated source of sugar)
Limit - gluten free grains and legumes such as beans, quinoa, rice, or lentils
Avoid - gluten containing grains, candy, pastries, chips, muffins, bagels, granola, cereal, bread, processed foods, added sugar, artificial sweeteners
This is the food group that gets the most attention, and for good reason too. Excess sugar and refined carbs are at the root of inflammation (right alongside of toxic vegetable oils). Getting them out of your diet in favor of real-food based carbs is not the easiest switch, but your body will thank you! Vegetables of all kinds contain a plethora of nutrients that your body needs and craves on a regular basis. Getting upwards of 5-8 servings of vegetables per day is critical to overall health. Fruit is great, but it does still have an impact on your blood sugar, so I recommend keeping fruit to 1-3 servings per day.
Carbs shouldn't be eaten alone. Their impact on our insulin and blood sugar is too great when alone. Instead, pairing them with fat and protein will help slow digestion and the hit on your blood sugar. This is why I'm not a fan as just fruit alone as a snack or breakfast!
Gluten is a hot topic these days, as it is an inflammatory protein found in wheat and wheat derivatives. Gluten is very damaging to our bodies, especially our gut health. Although only about 1% of people are actually allergic to gluten (Celiac disease), I would argue that almost everyone has some level of reaction to gluten. The best way to see how it is affecting your mental health, digestion, energy, mood, inflammation, joint pain, or skin is to take it out and see what happens!
The same goes for added sugar. Ever since we demonized fat as the reason we get fat (not true for healthy fats), we've added sugar to EVERYTHING to help make those foods more palatable. This has led us to crave sugar on a regular basis and has increased the level of inflammation in our bodies as well.
Artificial sweeteners are worse yet. Even though they don't contain any calories, they are recognized as a foreign, toxic substance in our bodies. This is why they don't have calories; our bodies don't see them as food or nutrition, so our bodies don't break them down. However, artificial sweeteners still wreck havoc on our gut health, mental health, and sugar cravings. Eliminating them for real sources of sugar in limited amounts (honey, dates, pure maple syrup) is the way to go.
Overall, a PFC balanced plate is just that - balanced. Having a source of each macronutrient ensures that you are absorbing nutrients, remaining satisfied, and supporting your metabolism. Take a look at your plate at your next meal; is it PFC balanced?