Forget counting macros, low fat versus low carb, keto versus Mediterranean, or anything else trending out there in the mainstream media in terms of what is the best diet du jour.
When it comes to healthspan, it’s always the food and we recommend you simply eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices…in infinite tasty combinations. This translates into soups, salads, sides, sweets, stir-fries, burgers, bars, burritos, bowls, rolls, tacos, pasta, pizza, pancakes, porridge, pho, pinwheels, potato jackets, frittatas, flatbreads, scrambles, smoothies, sheet pans, stews, slaws, sushi, sautees, sliders, sandwiches, spreads, hummus, dips, nachos, nuggets, wraps, kebabs, ratatouilles, casseroles, curries, chilies, and much, much more.
The boundless possibilities begs the question, however, of how best to fit all of that in over a day or a week or…? Especially as we emphasize the fact that less may be more when it comes to adding life to your years. The mnemonic we use to help you prioritize the most nutritionally-dense food groups that should be consumed consistently is the 6 Daily 3’s. As you can see in the graphic, this breaks down into 6 (well 5 food-centric) categories: leafy greens, other-colored vegetables, fruits, legumes, and nuts/seeds. Movement/exercise is in there to remind you to move daily. Let’s break down each category.
I used to always say that you should “let leafy greens be thy medicine” (until Ray devasted me with the news that Hippocrates didn’t actually say “let thy food be thy medicine.”) But, nonetheless, we can still use this proclamation, as leafy green (and cruciferous veggies, too) are quite literally the most nutrient-dense food group on the planet. Chock full of fiber, amino acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins K, C, and folic acid, and swimming in a plethora of phytonutrients including carotenoids, lutein, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin, glusoinolates, and more that offer chemopreventive, detoxifying, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant, and broad spectrum antimicrobial properties. With all of this nutritional punch, they provide minimal calories. This recommendation of 3 servings (where 1 serving equals 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked) is the minimum. You can enjoy these extraordinary foods that include romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, beet greens, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, sea veggies (a la nori), asparagus, arugula, dandelion greens, collards, mustard greens, microgreens, spring greens, Swiss chard, rainbow chard, sprouts, and more….and you can eat them ad libitum, to your heart’s content.
Other-Colored Vegetables and Fruits
Beyond glorious greens, there are thousands of vegetable and fruit options that can add color, flavor, and extraordinary nutrition onto your plate. Again, these foods offer the most nutritional bang for their caloric buck The simplest (and most fun) way to consider this is to aim to eat the rainbow every day (or every meal, if you are competitive like that). Enjoy at least a cup and a half a day of veggies as well as 3 medium pieces or cups of fruits such as:
- Red: red cabbage, bell peppers, radish, radicchio, red chili pepper, rhubarb, red onion, red potatoes, beets, strawberries, apples, cherries, grapefruit, blood oranges, red grapes, pomegranates, tomatoes, watermelon
- Orange: bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, apricots, mango, cantaloupe, oranges, papaya, peaches, persimmons
- Yellow: sweet corn, spaghetti squash, summer squash, squash blossoms, pineapple, lemon, banana, jackfruit
- Green (as above, but bears repeating): leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, lime, green apples, green grapes, honeydew, kiwifruit
- Blue/Purple: eggplant, purple cabbage, purple peppers, purple potatoes, blackberries, blueberries, figs, plums, purple grapes
- White: parsnips, cauliflower, onions, garlic, mushrooms, jicama, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, white peaches, white nectarines
This category includes all beans (hummus, too, howdoyouhummus.com), lentils, peas, and soyfoods (e.g. tofu and tempeh). Peanuts are also legumes, but nutritionally and culinarily, they are more similar to nuts and seeds. This food group is particularly unique because of their extraordinary nutrition profile, health advantages, and culinary diversity. As an exceptional source of several types of fibers, including soluble, insoluble fibers, and resistant starch, legumes help improve glycemic control, lower cholesterol, and enhance satiety. Legumes are rich sources of amino acids, including essential amino acids, and are high in indispensable minerals, such as iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese, as well as B vitamins (especially folate), and phytonutrients, including isoflavones, lignans, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Enjoy about a cup and a half a day.
Nuts and Seeds
These nutritional nuggets are loaded with amino acids, such as L-arginine; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (plus they are low in saturated fats); vitamins E, K, folate, and thiamine; essential minerals, especially calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc; and phytonutrients such as phytosterols, lignans, ellagic acid. There is a litany of research showing the myriad advantages of consuming 1 to 2 ounces per day to improve satiety, glucose control, serum cholesterol levels, cognitive function, decreased mortality, and support weight management, despite their high energy and fat content. Enjoy a combination of nuts and seeds and include:
- A single dose of 4 Brazil nuts each month for cholesterol-lowering benefits
- Walnuts, flaxseeds, hempseeds, and chia seeds for their omega-3 content
- Tahini, sesame seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds for calcium
We prefer to use our daily dose by blending them into creamy dressings and sauces and pouring them over salads and cooked veggies to help improve absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, to minimize hand-to-mouth overconsumption of these delicious bits, and to maximize concepts illustrated in oxidative priority.
Adding It Up
One of the best parts of the 6 Daily 3’s is that when you calculate all of the nutrients and energy they add up to, there is still plenty of room in a healthspan diet to add in more veggies (it would be difficult to get too many vegetables, really) and to substantiate the diet for satiety and culinary deliciousness with whole grains (e.g. quinoa, rice, oats). Here is one example of a nutrient analysis of a day-in-the-life of just meeting the 6 daily 3’s. Look at all that fiber and other key nutrients!
There are many tasty ways to incorporate these foods and you just need to find your favorite options. Remember to take your vitamin B12 and to test for vitamin D and supplement, as necessary. And here is how to confirm you are diligent about finding your other notable nutrient needs.
Essentially, prioritizing these five food groups will ensure you have a solid foundation for daily nutrition. Note that they can all be magically maneuvered as ingredients in the long list of fabulous foods mentioned above so you experiment and enjoy. We all rotate through an average of 8 to 10 different recipes on a weekly basis. Explore cookbooks and blog posts for healthspan-friendly dishes that you love and then master them so they become simple and second nature.