INCREASING YOUR NUTRIENT INTAKE: A 2017 CHALLENGE
Vertumnus (Emperor Rudolph II), oil on wood, 56 x 68 cm, Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1527-1593.
Happy 2017! Whether you're at the top of your game with healthy eating, or reading this in bed next to a stack of empty pizza boxes, I have a simple tip to help you increase the variety of nutrients in your diet. I'm all for making New Year's resolutions, setting goals for both the short-term and long-term. We are all wired differently. Some of us do best by jumping into change cold turkey- cutting out all processed food overnight, or banishing sugar with sheer will power and the snap of fingers. This drastic approach spells disaster for others who may be inclined to take a step forward and then a sloppy slippery slide backwards- you know who you are, and you do better with slow and steady changes. For me, my lifestyle overhaul has been a combination of both sudden and slow changes by default. In the process, I came up with a little system that's been super fun, educational, and a practical way to sustain and continue to improve my diet over the last 6 years and still today. There's no single diet that works best for everyone, so we are all a work in progress. What the experts agree on though, is that a diet comprised of whole foods brings us the most bioavailable nutrients, and eliminates the chemicals, preservatives, and toxins that can cause countless symptoms- from headaches to skin irritation, bloating, and cravings.
Six years ago, if I wasn't sitting next to a stack of empty pizza boxes, I was scarfing down a Burrito Supreme from Taco Bell (Mountain Dew helped to wash it down), and btw I just had to do a Google search to get the right spelling because "Mountain Do" seemed like a "don't," and "Mountain Doo" didn't seem much better- which only proves its been a long while since I've had a can in hand. A square fish from Mickey D's was of course a daily entree. I was in my twenties, taking classical ballet classes in NYC 3-4 times per week, so while I easily burned the calories and fat to maintain an ideal weight, only the gods know how on earth my diet gave me enough energy to dance much less stand up each day. I suffered from run of the mill acne, monthly migraines, and indigestion- all minor stuff I never complained about or even thought about at all really- it was my normal. It was a good run and I'm a bit nostalgic for those days when I could grab a meal at the mall food court, the drive thru, the bowling alley, the ballgame. I remember the convenience. At age 30, I had a sudden onset of severe food allergies, which you can read about in detail here. I developed an allergy to legumes, including soy, which lurks in nearly all processed foods and beverages on the market. I was forced to adopt a whole foods diet overnight. This incredible challenge was emotional, mental, physical, and everything in between. And while at first this change came suddenly and out of necessity, overtime I'd discover a whole foods diet significantly improved my health, regardless of food allergies. No more acne, headaches or indigestion. I enjoyed a newfound level of energy and health I never thought possible. But to jump into this drastic lifestyle change, I had to wear special basketball shoes with airpumps, one of those hats with a propeller, and sprout some feathered wings. Afterall, I'd never cooked for myself outside of microwaving a frozen meal, toasting an Eggo, or boiling some Ramen. I didn't know the names of fruits and vegetables besides "apple" and "banana", much less how to choose something ripe, how to store it, how to cut or prepare it, to eat the skin and seeds or to not eat the skin and seeds... I had to find a way to educate myself quickly, but without becoming overwhelmed. I devised a challenge that I still uphold to this day, six years later.
I challenged myself to look in the produce aisles for 2 foods each week that I had never before prepared myself. In many cases I'd never even tasted the thing in a restaurant (McDonald's has "apple pies" and some sandwiches are topped with a fragment of "lettuce" but otherwise not too many fruits or veggies there). I picked two items at the store completely on a whim, a fruit and a veggie, or two fruits, or two veggies- whatever captured my attention. I'd bring them home and Google the hell outta each of them. I watched YouTube videos on how to peel and chop garlic (Because the only time we'd purchased fresh garlic for our household was a hot summer day in 2004 when my husband got an idea to make homemade guacamole for the first time while I napped. I awoke to a pungent smell and an 8 cup plastic tupperware bowl nearly overflowing with a lumpy white texture he proclaimed to be guacamole. Together we contemplated his interpretation of the recipe, and soon learned a "clove" of garlic is smaller and not equal to a "bulb" of garlic.) I read about the health benefits of red onion vs yellow or white onion. I learned that carrots don't need to be peeled- much of the nutrients are in the peel- and that purple and white carrots are more dense with nutrients than those sweet orange ones we've come to know so well. I learned the white pith of citrus is bitter but so beneficial to consume, that the skin of kiwi is edible and fantastic, the tough center of pineapple is the best part, that passion fruit is ready to eat once the skin becomes wrinkled... By choosing 2 new foods each week, I slowly and steadily built a foundation for a whole foods diet, then a house, and now a home. I feel comfortable with a repertoire of various fruits and vegetables, which foods I prefer to cook and which I prefer to consume raw, and I know a few good flavor combinations by heart. I'm not done with this challenge though, and I don't think I'll ever be. Chestnuts, parsnips, and leeks are up next for me to test out at the start of this new year. You may have tried preparing those already and many more foods that I've yet to explore, but I challenge you to find foods that are new to you nonetheless. Goji berries, golden berries, exotic fruits, radishes of every variety shape and color... the planet is magical and plants are abundant. The more variety of fruits and vegetables we can add to our diets, the more variety of nutrients we'll consume. Try it out in the New Year, and share in the comments below or on my Facebook page which foods you're discovering!
It's 2017! This could be YOU: