The most helpful guide for a healthy diet that I’ve ever come across, hands-down, is called the Daily Dozen Challenge. It’s created by Dr Michael Greger (founder of NutritionFacts.org), from having researched the special benefits of different plant-food groups. It’s all very well to say that it’s best to eat a whole food plant-based diet, but different foods have very different benefits that are often not shared across food groups.
For example, cruciferous vegetables (particularly broccoli) contain sulfurophane, a powerful antioxidant which isn’t found in other plant foods. Berries also contain much higher doses of antioxidants than other fruits; beans are a super important source of protein, fibre and minerals; flaxseeds are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and turmeric is a disease-fighting anti-inflammatory like no other spice.
Whole grains deserve a special mention, if only because of the badmouthing that grains have received over recent years. They’re a crucial fuel source, as I expanded on in my post Carbs vs Fats. The key is to stick with whole grains, not refined. For example, whole wheat pasta is made from the entire wheat kernel, retaining the fibre, vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, refined pasta (or semolina pasta) is made from only the endosperm, i.e. the starchy inner part of the seed. The germ (the part that germinates to become a new plant) and the bran (the outer protective seed coating) are both removed in the milling process, leaving an end product that is stripped of fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.
I won’t delve into all the food groups, but here’s the list:
- Beans (and lentils): 3 servings per day
- Berries: 1 serving per day
- Fruits (other than berries): 3 servings per day
- Cruciferous veg (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage): 1 serving per day
- Greens (e.g. spinach, kale, rocket): 2 servings per day
- Vegetables (other veg): 2 servings per day
- Flaxseed (ground): 1 serving per day
- Nuts (and seeds): 1 serving per day
- Grains (e.g. brown rice, whole grain bread): 3 servings per day
- Spices (especially turmeric): 1 serving per day
- Exercise: Once per day, 90 min moderate or 40 min vigorous
- Beverages (unsweetened): 1,750 ml per day
It’ll make sense if you jump over to the original source and read into each category there. And yep, the list is available as a mobile app where you can track your intake!
Personally, I don’t have the discipline to stick to this list properly, but I use it as a guide for foods that I should try to have available in my kitchen, and to help ensure that I get a healthy variety of ingredients when I’m grocery shopping. If you’re wanting to really optimise your diet, though, definitely give it a try!
Some easy ways to tick off several servings from different categories in one go:
- A smoothie (with frozen banana, berries, ground flaxseed, oats, spinach, plant milk): 6 boxes checked off
- A soup or stew (with onion, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, carrots, kidney beans, mixed herbs, served with brown rice): 8 boxes checked off
- An ‘everything salad’ (with quinoa, black beans, salad greens, red pepper, avocado, mushrooms, sunflower seeds): 7 boxes checked off
The key here is variety: eat the rainbow to optimise your nutrition! Explore the hashtags #dailydozen and #eattherainbow for inspiration, and tag me (@plantifulcoach) on posts you make, I’d love to follow you!