It’s a common question for those who are thinking about making a change.
“Ok, so I kind of understand what I’m not supposed to eat – meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy. I get it. If it has a face or a mother, it’s off my plate. But I’m stuck there – what exactly should I eat?”
Here it is, as simple as I can: Vegetables, Fruit, Beans, Nuts ‘n seeds, Whole Grains.
Vegetables – as many leafy green ones as you can, as many different colors and variety as you can find.
Fruit – in their whole form – shy away from fruit juices for the high sugar content.
Beans – chick peas, black beans, mung beans, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc.
Nuts n seeds – any raw seeds you can find, and nuts (these in moderation so you dont overdo it on the high fat content).
Whole Grains – Brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, oats, etc. White rice is NOT a whole grain.
- Vegetables should really make up a huge portion of your diet. For most Americans today veggies get about 5% of the pie. For best results, it should be more like 60% of your calories. And they can be eaten raw, steamed, roasted, or whatever. Just don’t waste your efforts toward wellness by dousing them in butter (that’s dairy) or oil – even olive oil! What vegetables are good? All of them, again with a focus on leafy greens – spinach, bok choy, collard greens, brussels sprouts, kale, swiss chard, parsley, fennel, watercress, arugula, romaine, green and red leaf lettuce. Broccoli, radishes, peppers (all colors), onions, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, artichoke, daikon, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, etc.
- Check out the Whole Foods ANDI scorecard for all foods – Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It was developed based off of Dr. Fuhrman’s nutritarian approach and it’s the best scorecard we’ve ever had that truly rates food based on its nutrient density. Compare broccoli to chicken breast and you’ll re-think that lean protein focused diet you’ve been considering. Forget about Weight Watchers points or the nutrition facts because even those are heavily skewed by the water content of food. Read one of my past articles about labeling for a refresher.
- Eat 1-2 pieces of whole fruit every day. Fruit in its wholesome package designed by nature is fantastic for you. Packed with fiber, vitamins, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and a hit of healthy sugar, whole fruit is in a completely different category than drinking an apple juice from the store.
- Beans. It’s a myth that you must specifically seek out a protein source to replace the meat you used to eat. Check out a past article on the protein myth. Leafy green vegetables make up 50% of their heart healthy calories from protein! That’s right, 50% of the calories in kale are protein calories! But beans offer some great benefits nonetheless and are a welcome part of your diet. They’ve got protein, some fat, and definitely fiber. They’ll fill you up without expanding your waistline. A word of caution – canned beans are a great fast food to keep in your pantry, but they’re loaded with sodium because of their packaging. It’s very practical to use them anyway, but take an extra 10 seconds to rinse them before you use them. It cuts down on the sodium drastically.
- Nuts n Seeds – whole raw seeds like sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, chia, and flax (flax must be ground) are all fantastic little powerhouses of protection. The raw part is important here. Roasting is common and you’ve added loads of fat via oil and sodium via the salting that’s common with packaged seeds. Nuts are also loaded with some great nutrients but you can overdo it if you snack on them. Don’t think it’s healthy to keep a box of nuts in your desk drawer, a bag in the car, and to have handfuls while you prepare dinner. You’ll overdo it on fat in a hurry. 1-2 ounces a day of nuts and seeds has more benefits than drawbacks, but more than that and you tip the scales unfavorably.
- Whole Grains. This is one that trips up a lot of people. Despite the creative labeling of many packages of bread, pasta, and cereal, a grain is only ‘whole’ if you can see the hull! If it looks like a plant or part of a plant, it’s a whole grain. If it looks like it was powdered, pressed, processed, and reshaped into something else, it’s not a whole grain. Bummer… It’s really a tricky issue, but the whole point is that only whole grains are whole foods, and that’s important for how your body digests them.
- Whole Fruits. Just like the fruit juice concentrated without the safe packaging of the whole fruit, a naked grain flour separated from the safe packaging of the whole grain is completely different. The fibrous hull slows down your body’s digestion process and allows the sugar to be absorbed slowly. If you pay attention, you would feel a significant sugar crash after eating some kind of bulky white bread like a bagel or pretzel, but you won’t feel that at all after eating an equivalent amount of something whole – like quinoa or brown rice. When it boils down to it, grains are carbohydrates, and you’re much better off eating the complex form like in whole grains as opposed to the simple form as in flours and products made from flours.
Stay tuned for a grocery list, but these ingredients should start making more of a dominant appearance in your cart and on your plate as you prepare more wholesome healthy meals. Vegetables, Fruit, Beans, Nuts ‘n seeds, and Whole Grains. That’s what’s for dinner! And Breakfast, and Lunch!