In this post and the next one, I’m going to elaborate on these tips, so you can fully grasp the profound impact that implementing them will have on your health and wellbeing.
Tip # 1. Centre every single meal you eat on fresh fruit and/or vegetables. Make them the main dish – not the garnish!
The ‘5 a day’ programs adopted by many governments around the world, to promote the consumption of 5 serves of fruit and vegetables per day, are so passé! The Australian government now recommends that adults eat at least 2 serves of fruit and 5 of vegetables each day, while the US departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services recommend 9 servings per day for an ‘average’ person on a 2000 calorie per day diet.
In case you were wondering, a serving equals 1/2 cup. So if you’re following the US guidelines, you’d be eating 4 1/2 cups of fruit and vegetables per day. Sound like a lot? Just for fun, I decided to measure how much fruit and vegetables I eat on an average day. (Please note that this is just the fruit and veg content of my diet; I do eat other foods beside fruit and veg!)
Breakfast: a fruit salad of pear, apple, banana, mandarin and kiwifruit, topped with a ‘yoghurt’ made from frozen strawberries blended with hemp milk, flaxseed and dates, delivered 2 cups.
Lunch: a salad of lettuce, coriander, tomato, cucumber, carrot, broccoli sprouts and capsicum totalled 2 1/2 cups. So my running tally is already up to the 4 1/2 cups recommended in the US guidelines, and it’s only lunchtime!
Dinner: eggplant, lentil and tofu paté served with a variety of vegetable sticks and slices came to another 2 1/2 cups of vegetables.
Dessert: stewed apple and rhubarb added another 1/2 cup.
Total for the day: 7 1/2 cups (15 serves) of fruit and vegetables – more than twice the Australian government recommendation, and higher than the US government recommendations for people with the highest activity level!
What do I achieve with such a high intake of fruits and vegetables?
- Because fruits and vegetables have low energy density (calories/kilojoules per unit weight of food), I take in far fewer calories than if I was loading up on animal products or energy-dense processed carbohydrate foods such as bread and pasta. I can maintain my ideal weight easily and without ‘dieting’ because there’s no need to restrict the volume of food I’m eating; I can eat large portions and feel completely satisfied after every meal.
- Because fruits and vegetables have high nutrient per kilojoule/calorie density (more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals for each kilojoule/calorie of food intake), I get much more ‘bang for my buck’ – more of the micronutrients that maintain and enhance health and longevity, without the excess kilojoules that shorten life- and health-span.
- My meals are appealing to my senses – vibrantly colourful, and with a satisfying variety of textures and flavours. This helps me feel satiated after every meal, so I’m not constantly ‘grazing’.
Tip # 2. Choose whole and minimally processed foods over refined, fractionated foods.
Whole brown rice is nutritionally superior to pasta or crackers made from brown rice flour. Whole carrots and apples are more nourishing than their juice. Traditional soy foods such as tofu and tempeh are far more health-promoting than soy cheese or fake meat made from isolated soy protein.
Whenever we process a food by separating out its components, grinding it up, treating it with chemicals, altering its structure or any of the myriad other forms of processing and refining, we change the nutritional composition of the food, and the way it behaves in our bodies.
Whole wheat berries take a long time to digest, keeping you satisfied for longer. In fact they take so long to digest that a considerable amount of the carbohydrate they contain is not absorbed through your gut wall, and instead ends up in your colon, feeding your friendly gut bacteria which in turn produce a myriad of beneficial substances from them – including short chain fatty acids which suppress your appetite.
But those same berries ground into flour and baked as bread – even wholemeal bread – break down much faster, resulting in more of their starch calories being absorbed, but leaving you feeling hungry again sooner than if you were to eat the unrefined carbohydrate.
Almonds, walnuts and other nuts are wonderful foods which protect against heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The oils extracted from them have none of these beneficial effects, and in fact damages our endothelial cells – the cells lining our blood vessels, which regulate blood pressure, keep our blood flowing freely instead of clotting, and prevent the formation of artery-clogging atherosclerotic plaque.
Eat food, not components of food reassembled into food-like substances!
Tip # 3. Eat as many green, leafy vegetables as you can possible fit in!
Green leafies are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. High in protein, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, low in carbohydrate and glycaemic load, greens are the secret of the great muscular strength of some of our nearest relatives, the gorillas.
Delicious ways to boost your intake of these superfoods:
- Blend them into a green smoothie like my Cancer Knockout Smoothie.
- Add finely shredded greens to soups and stews; don’t overcook them.
- Put several bunches of nutritious Asian green vegetables such as bok choy and choy sum into stir-fries.
- Add spinach to desserts such as Guiltless Chocolate Pudding.
Tip # 4. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Challenge yourself to try a new food every week. Eating a limited diet isn’t just boring, it reduces your chances of meeting your nutrient needs. There are over 40 000 phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants) that fight disease and boost our health and well-being; eating a limited range of food deprives you of this symphony of nutrients.
I’m often asked by clients, what is the best variety of nut to eat, or the best legume, or the best berry? My answer is, there is no best! There is enormous variation in the nutritional composition of foods that are within the same food category (e.g. fruits, grains, seeds), let alone between foods in different categories (e.g. fruits vs vegetables).
For example, almonds have nearly 7 times more calcium than cashews, but cashews have 1.5 times more zinc and iron than almonds, and nearly 4 times as much vitamin B1. Berries are rich in cancer-fighting polyphenols called anthocyanins and anthocyanidins; green leafy vegetables have none of these but are rich in cancer-fighting carotenoids such as lutein and alpha-carotene.
You don’t have to eat every single fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, legume and grain every single day to meet your nutritional needs, of course – your body is far smarter than that! Many nutrients can be stored within your body so that if you take in an abundance of a particular nutrient on one day, the excess will be kept for a later time when you’re eating little or none of it. (There are important exceptions, including vitamin C which we need to consume ample amounts of every day, because unlike almost every other animal on this planet, we cannot make our own.)
All you need to do is vary the kinds of plant foods you eat from day to day. This makes meals far more exciting as well as ensuring your nutrient needs are met.
Tip # 5. Favour legumes (chickpeas, lentils, dried beans etc) over grains, as the energy-dense portion of your meal.
Legumes are much more nutrient-dense than grains, higher in resistant starch which helps you feel fuller for longer and improves your bowel health, and have a much lower glycaemic index (GI) than grains.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when they begin moving toward a plant-based diet, is to fill their plates with refined grain products such as pasta, rice noodles, corn cakes and bread. These foods are lower in friendly bacteria-feeding resistant starch, and depleted of much of their fibre.
In contrast to grains, legumes are abundant in resistant starch and fibre, which strongly promote weight loss and protect against bowel cancer.
I advise eating at least a cup of cooked legumes per day – some at lunch, and some at dinner. And of course, follow Tip # 4 above and choose different varieties from day to day.
Read Part 2 of this article here.
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