Let’s make something clear off the bat. The new “my plate” put forth by USDA as recommended food groups and daily allowances has come a long way from the old food “pyramid.” The new my plate is much more cohesive and appears to be less influenced by large industry. Fruits and vegetables make up 50% of recommended daily food intake. Grains and protein make up the other 50% with additional dairy as a side dish.
While the old pyramid showed pictures of the food groups through images of cheese, apples, steaks, etc., the new plate leaves much to be interepreted as far as specifcially what types of foods to eat within the given groupings. Clearly, there must be more to eating than blindly eating “fruits, veggies, meat, dairy,” right?
Common questions: What kind of veggies and fruits should I eat? Which cuts of meat are most healthful? Is dairy healthy for me? The “plate” put forth by the USDA leaves much to be interpreted.
My real food groups:
1. Green leafy vegetables: Greens contain (most) all the vitamins and minerals you will ever need (magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, fiber to name a few) and are nature’s multivitamin. This means eat anything seasonal that you can find and throw it in your pastas, soups, eggs, and whatever else you cook. You can find seasonal greens year round. Kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, chard & bok choy. Eat 3 cups of greens and you will probably live longer.
2. Sulfur rich vegetables: These are sometimes called cruciferous veggies and they’re absolutely essential for proper brain function, immune support, cancer prevention, detoxification, proper organ function (liver and kidney) and additionally they power mitochondria, the energy powerhouse of every cell in your body. These veggies include onions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and garlic to name a few.
3. Colorful vegetables: You may have heard about phytonutrients, polyphenols, and antioxidants, well eating some colorful veggies will be the ultimate way to ensure you are reaching your daily antioxidant levels. A few of my favorites are bell peppers, yams & sweet potatoes (loaded with potassium, and retinol by the way), tomatoes, carrots, grapes, and lemons (another great detox food).
4. Wild Fish: Fish contain omega-3 fatty acids (another hot one you’ll hear about in the news). There are plant-based ways to obtain omega-3 fats, but they do not contain, DHA, a critical fatty acid that helps develop the brain, jaws, and keep the myelin functioning well to prevent aging and cognitive decline. Important caveat, the smaller the fish, the less likely chance you’ll have to worry about mercury contamination due to bioaccumulation. Stick with wild caught salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring. If you do not have access to fish, then try supplementing with a molecularly distilled fish oil. I once read a bumper sticker in Santa Monica that read: “Eat fish. Live Longer.”
5. Grass fed, pastured meats and eggs: Here is where you will get the bulk of your protein, creatine, conjugated linoleic acid, omega-3 fats, and the loads of iron. Why grass fed? Because the meat industry is a unscrupulous (see Food, Inc., anything by Michael Pollan or Marion Nestle) and it’s probably best to avoid factory farmed meats due to hormones, steroids, and risk of food borne illness. You may even try incorporating occasional organ meat in the diet as it is extremely rich in minerals, creatine, coenzyme q10, iron, otherwise hard to obtain nutrients (See: Mark’s Daily Apple on Offal).
While vegan living may supply sufficient nutrition with extreme care to diet, eating the occasional animal protein remains the surest way to prevent sever nutritional deficiencies and keep energy levels high.
6. Seaweed and sea veggies: There’s a reason the Japanese have an average lifespan of like 150 years old (or 80-something) and they might be on to something by eating loads of sea vegetables in their diet. Why are these so critical? They contain not only iodine, but they are essential for removing toxins from the body (which whether we believe it or not are all exposed to on a daily basis through pollution or otherwise), proper functioning of the thyroid, and insulation of the myelin to prevent cognitive decline. Throw some into a soup, stir fry, make a seaweed salad or even toss some in your eggs.
Noticeably absent: Dairy and “complex carbohydrates.” Dairy inflames the body’s mucous membranes and casein (an amino acid found in all dairy) has been linked to increased cancer and tumor growth (see: The China Study for reference). Areas of the world that do not consume dairy actually have less incidences of osteoporosis and less gastrointestinal cancer rates as well.
On carbohydrates: They are fine in moderation, but the problem being that most are difficult to digest due to the amino acids gluten and leptin and, almost all are genetically modified (wheat, soy, corn). Stick to brown rice, lentils, rye, quinoa, and occasional wheat but these for me are on the outside looking in of my real food groups.
I’ll be delving deeper into each of these food groups via my blog and potentially even crafting an entire book based on the above categories with recipes as well. Go ahead, superfood yo’self!
What are your “real” food groups?
Always going for glory!
Craig E. Steinfeld
cesteinfeld [at] gmail dot com