Diversify Your Diet The often overlooked way to lose weight and live longer
In the world of finance, experts advise you to avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket. When it comes to your diet, a similar rule exists, but with this twist: Avoid filling your basket with only eggs.
As with your finances, diversity is the smartest choice around when it comes to choosing the foods that you eat. Applying a diversity strategy to your eating patterns can provide you with easy opportunities to lose pounds, gain years, and enjoy some of the most delicious foods on the planet.
Food, Glorious Food You probably know all the major players in the nutrition game: vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy, meat-based foods, and fats. Getting an appropriate amount from each food group every day is a good start toward eating a diverse diet. But can you name five different fruits you've eaten in the past week?
Within each food category is a vast array of nutrient-rich foods, each one containing hundreds of unique substances. The key is to get to know all the different powerful choices within each food category and to rotate different foods into your diet. With a little exploration, you can add dozens of nutritious newcomers to make your meals more satisfying and more nourishing.
A Colorful Adventure Start at the grocery store, and spend a little more time than usual exploring the offerings. Hit the produce aisle first, and while you're inspecting the fresh fruit and veggies, focus on the range of colors. Richly colored plant foods -- bright berries, sunny tangerines, and dark green lettuces -- contain protective phytochemicals and antioxidants that help prevent disease and preserve health. These healthful vegetables, fruits, and legumes are often lacking in most diets.
Pick out four or five that you've never had before or that you rarely eat, and grab a few of your favorites, too. Make sure you see a range of colors in your cart. The following table will help you appreciate the full range of nutritional power these different colors have to offer.
Red Tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, cranberries, pomegranates, beets, red peppers, radishes, radicchio, red potatoes, rhubarb . . .
Red foods contain lycopene and anthocyanins, phytochemicals that help lower the risk of some cancers and promote:
Heart health Memory function Urinary-tract health
Blue-Purple Blackberries, blueberries, black currants, dried plums, elderberries, purple figs, red grapes, plums, raisins, red cabbage, eggplant, purple peppers . . .
These foods contain anthocyanins and phenolics, phytochemicals that reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and help promote:
White-green foods contain allyl sulfides and allicin, phytochemicals that may reduce cancer risk and help promote:
Heart health Healthy cholesterol levels
Discover New Foods Continue exploring as you move through the other aisles. Check out low-fat options in the dairy section; whole-grain breads, cereals, grains, and pasta; and fish, seafood, and lean meat options. Read product labels to learn what foods contain healthful unsaturated fats rather than bad saturated and trans fats. Whenever possible, choose fresh, unprocessed whole foods over prepared and packaged foods, which are often highly processed, low on nutrients, and potentially full of chemical additives.
Rebalance Your Food Portfolio Once you have a better understanding of what's out there, it will be easier to figure out what's been missing from your diet. But rather than simply adding these foods to your menu, clear some room for the new additions; otherwise, you may start putting on pounds rather than dropping them. Take a look at your meals, and cut back on nutrient-poor foods you eat too often. For most people, that means cutting back on refined breads, pasta, rice, and other heavily processed grain products. Replace these with whole-grain alternatives. Studies show that choosing a mix of whole-grain cereals and breads that have been made with largely unprocessed grains, such as millet, bulgur, and whole wheat, can help boost your efforts to keep off extra pounds.
If you routinely eat a big plate of pasta with a couple of slices of bread, you're overloading on grains and neglecting other groups. Instead, diversify your meal by eating less pasta and adding a serving of tomatoes, spinach, and pine nuts. Yum.
Strive to cover all your bases by incorporating at least three food groups into each meal. If you take this approach with most of your meals, you'll give your body the mix of nutrients it needs to function at its best. This in turn can help you avoid those energy lulls that lead to poor food choices, especially between meals. Fill in any dietary holes at snack time: If you're short on dairy, enjoy a cup of yogurt or a slice of low-fat cheese. If it's protein you need, grab a handful of nuts or soybeans (edamame). Raw vegetables and fruit are always a wise choice.
Add Up the Colors Expanding your food selections to include a wide range of great-tasting foods that are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber has many benefits. But how do you know if you are on the right track? For most people, counting servings and calories is tough to do. Try counting colors instead. You can't go wrong if you add a greater variety of colorful vegetables and fruit to each meal and push out bland colors, such as refined bread and pasta. The more colors, the greater the payoff (and food coloring doesn't count).
Also, make sure you vary your greens, reds, yellows, and purples from day to day. Green bell peppers add vitamin C or A. But don't forget asparagus, which is high in folate; and spinach, which is a great source of calcium and iron. This diversity across and within the food groups is one of the wisest investments you can make in your most precious asset: your health.
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