I want to talk about ways to get more nutrients into your diet. For many people the idea of transitioning to a nutrient dense diet from a diet of processed foods can be so daunting they give up before even starting. We don’t have to take an all or nothing approach to food. One of my favorite quotes: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I don’t know who first said this, but I’ve heard it a lot lately, and I think it very succinctly makes my point. One of my goals is to eat 6-9 cups of vegetables daily. Some days I fall short of this goal. That doesn’t mean I give up or eat an entire bag of potato chips. I think, at least I got 4 cups of vegetables today, and I make an effort to do better the next day.
Another problem I see is people taking a rip off the Band-Aid, approach to changing their diet, and failing miserably. This is where knowing yourself is very important. Some people may find this approach works best for them, but I think the majority of people will have more success with gradual changes. I did not go from a Standard American Diet to a nutrient dense diet of real food overnight. There are so many factors that go into changing your diet, but one of the big issues is digestion. If you go from a diet of refined carbs, poor quality fats, low protein, and no vegetables, to eating a nutrient dense, vegetable rich diet overnight, I can almost guarantee you are going to have significant digestive distress. You have to give your body time to adjust, especially when you’re drastically changing the amount of fiber you eat. Take it slow, every journey starts somewhere.
One thing most people can do is simply add vegetables to their diet. So many people get less than 2 servings of vegetables per day. And no, iceberg lettuce and potato chips don’t count as vegetables. My suggestion would be to try to increase your vegetable intake week by week. If you eat 1 serving of vegetables daily, increase it to 2 servings the first week. The next week try to increase it to 3 or 4 servings, etc. If you like to snack on granola/cereal bars, substitute an apple with almond butter. If you’re more of a salty/crunch type of snacker, try vegetables dipped in humus or a good quality dressing, and maybe a small handful of nuts. A lot of people like smoothies. It’s easy to add vegetables to smoothies, a handful of greens won’t change the flavor much. For your regular meals replace pastas and breads with veggies like spaghetti squash, zucchini noodles, sweet potato, sunchokes, plantains, etc.
I’m a big fan of all types of greens, although this was not always the case. As you add more vegetables and cut out junk food and added sugars, you will find your palate will change. Things that were once bland or bitter will become more appealing. I enjoy greens raw in salads or wraps, or sautéed alongside a meal, but I also like adding them to other dishes. I find this is also a great way to get yourself used to eating greens if they are unfamiliar to you. I add purple kale to my spicy chicken soup, frozen spinach in my meatloaf, collard greens in my beef stew, wild greens in my salads, etc.
I am also incorporating more organ meats into my diet. I know, this is a big step, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Liver is easily hidden and I make sure to mix liver in with meat anytime I make meatloaf, meatballs, or hamburgers. I have also found some liverwurst that I have been experimenting with. It is a mixture of organ meats and is concentrated nutrition so you don’t have to eat much. The flavor may be a bit strong for you at first, but I’ve found if I put a piece on a grain free cracker and top it with a green olive, I don’t really taste it.
Now you’re probably wondering where to find all these wonderful foods. Most grocery stores are now carrying a larger variety of fresh produce so you probably have more options than you realize. To maximize nutrition at the grocery store a good tip is to go for the darkest colored vegetables. For example, skip the iceberg lettuce, it’s basically water, and look for a spring mix blend that contains different varieties of dark green, red, and purple lettuces. Bitterness in greens is often a sign of nutrition as well. Dandelion greens, radicchio, and arugula are good examples and are available in many grocery stores. Variety is also very important for health, different plants contain different nutrients. Everyone is familiar with carrots and potatoes, but there are many other root vegetables available. Our local store has turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, and sunchokes.
If you are lucky enough to have access to a farmer’s market or CSA I highly suggest you check it out. Not only will you be exposed to many different varieties of vegetables that you can’t find in the store, they will be fresher as well. Most nutrients degrade the longer it’s been since a plant was harvested and farmer’s markets tend to have fresh picked produce. You are also more likely to find farmers who are building healthy soil, which builds healthier food.
Anyone who has even the smallest bit of yard can grow much of their own fresh fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and it’s probably not as much work as you think. If you live in an apartment you can still grow fresh herbs in pots as well as things like tomatoes and strawberries. You can also search for a community garden in your area, they are popping up more and more.
Finally, I want to talk about foraging for wild foods, especially greens. Even if you live in a large city and can’t make it out to the wilderness, you might be surprised what you can find in local city parks. If you are able to make it out of town, there are so many options. For example, on our property we have Dandelion, Lambsquarter, Nettles, and Plantain growing like crazy. And a short drive up into the mountains gets us Huckleberries, Wild Strawberries, and various mushrooms. Foraging is also a great way to get some exercise and the health benefits of time spent in Nature.
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