(If You Don’t Eat Bread, Cheese, Meat, or Olive Oil)
As a nutrient-dense vegan, people often ask me what I eat. When I tell ‘em, “fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds,” they almost always respond, “Oh, I eat most of that stuff, too.”
Now, usually I’m having this conversation with someone who’s overweight or has had a life-threatening health event like a stroke or heart attack, and this person wants to believe they have healthy eating habits. When I emphasize that fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds are ALL I eat, then the hemmin’ and hawin’ begins.
There appears to be a major misunderstanding about the purpose of nutrient-dense food. It goes something like this: if you had a salad for lunch, it’s ok to have BBQ ribs for dinner. And a cup of broccoli added to your mac and cheese makes for a healthy meal. Furthermore, a plate of steamed kale is reasonable comeuppance for your lunchtime pizza splurge.
Unfortunately, feeding your body the nutrients it needs doesn’t undo damage from a prior meal. In fact, kale needs its antioxidants to help neutralize the free radicals produced by its own digestion! Nutrient-dense food is neutral in this way—it provides you with the calories necessary to live without leaving a slew of byproducts in its wake. But animal foods (meat, cheese, eggs) and refined foods (beads, oils, sugar) don't. They provide you with needed calories, but at a high cost down the road (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.) because they don’t come packaged with the ingredients necessary to deal with the perfectly normal (but hazardous) byproducts of cellular metabolism.
To fully reap all the benefits of a nutrient-dense diet, your diet needs to be, well, fully nutrient-dense. Here’s a meal-by-meal account of what I eat on a daily basis.
Breakfast: 8 oz. of steamed kabocha squash, 12 oz. of fruit, and a heaping tablespoon of flax seed meal.
Lunch: Gianormous Mega Salad consisting of a pound of raw veggies (lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, etc.), 4 oz. of fruit, a cup of unsalted beans, and 2 oz. of avocado
Supper: a pound of cooked vegetables (steamed, steam-fried, roasted, or in soup), some kind of homemade nut/seed sauce, and a half cup of beans.
I also eat an ounce of 85% dark chocolate and drink lots of green and white tea (a great way to boost the phytonutrient content of your diet without adding calories).
You’ll notice that everything I eat is nutrient-dense—no calories are wasted on nutrient-poor, disease-inducing foods. Mind you, it took me many years to get here from the dietary roots of fried southern cuisine. But here I be, and I love it!
Does my food plan prescribe more produce than you can currently stomach? Don’t be afraid to start small and gradually increase your plant-based nutriment while decreasing low-nutrient foods. For instance, start your breakfast with 4 oz. of fruit and finish up with the usual. Similarly, begin lunch with a salad (without a salty, oily dressing) followed by the desire of the day. If you follow through every day no matter what while slowly increasing fruits and veggies while decreasing the other stuff, one day you’ll find that you have arrived—and you’ll love it!