By Dr. Mercola
It stands to reason that if different foods offer unique nutrients to heal your body and maintain (or regain) health, it might be a good idea to change up your meals to include as many beneficial vitamins and minerals as possible if you're not doing so already.
Including as many types of nutrients in your overall daily meal plan has a fringe benefit: A little variety in your life really does spice it up, especially in the area of your food choices. Determining which foods provide the most important nutrients is a good strategy to optimize your health.
The reality, however, is that many people eat the same meals over and over, day after day, usually because they feel they don't have time to research which foods they should eat and often end up eating snacks by default instead of real food. It's always easiest to choose what you already know works for you.
If sticking to a set of go-to meals you enjoy eating and take the shortest time to prepare are your main considerations, you may be missing out on delicious options and super easy meal plans that will provide the nutrients you need without a lot of fuss.
A One-Day Meal Plan for Optimal Nutrition?
Many people wonder if it's possible to get all the nutrients they need from food alone, and the answer is generally yes, provided you focus on high-quality foods (vitamin D, which your body produces from sun exposure, would be one exception). According to Harvard Women's Health Watch:
"Experts agree that the best way to get the nutrients we need is through food. A balanced diet … offers a mix of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients (some yet to be identified) that collectively meet the body's needs."
It's not a new concept. Harvard Health explored the premise in 2009 when they reported on a study involving nearly 162,000 postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), with an emphasis on how people could get the vitamins and minerals needed through their diet.1 The study revealed that women who took multivitamins had similar rates of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as longevity, as those who did not, which suggests focusing on dietary interventions may be key.2
When it comes to optimal nutrition, eating foods that will fuel your body and help prevent disease is important, but you need to know what to gravitate toward and what to stay away from. As a reminder, whatever you eat, when it comes to meat and dairy, pastured is best, and for other foods, organic is often crucial to avoid ingesting genetically engineered or chemically treated fare.
Harvard expert Dr. Helen Delichatsios, nutrition educator at Harvard Medical School, suggested a variety of foods to include in a one-day meal plan that would, all totaled, provide the general nutritional requirements for a 51- to 70-year-old woman, which I've adjusted slightly:3
- Breakfast might consist of 8 ounces of raw grass fed yogurt with a handful of walnuts (14 halves) and a cup of papaya and kiwi, along with 4 ounces of raw grass fed milk
- Lunch could be a colorful garden salad containing 1 cup of dark green lettuce, one red pepper, 1 cup of grape tomatoes and sunflower seeds, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar as your dressing and fresh-ground black pepper on top
- Dinner could be 4 ounces of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, topped with a raw grass fed yogurt, lemon and garlic sauce, and a cup of steamed baby Bok choy
While this might not be enough food for some people, the quantities would vary depending on your size, age and health status. Further, it would be wise to include a wider variety of healthy foods in your diet than is listed above. With that in mind, what would you need to eat to get the right amount of vitamins, minerals and other more obscure compounds to feel and function your best every single day, and even improve your mitochondrial function in the process?
My Take On the Harvard Recommendations
I firmly believe that three meals a day is NOT the optimum meal plan. I personally only eat two and I know many people that only eat one meal a day. It is pretty clear from the hundreds if not thousands of papers I have reviewed that time restricted eating or intermittent fasting is the best strategy for health. I personally only eat in a four hour window every day unless I am fasting which I do for five days a month.
'Fat for Fuel' Ketogenic Cookbook: A Superior Option for Your Daily Meals
More than half of all Americans struggle with chronic illness, and 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. is obesity-related. This is a direct result of eating far too much sugar and grains, too much protein and far too little healthy fat.
To reduce your risk of chronic disease, maintain a healthy weight and improve your mitochondrial function (a key to long-term weight management and good health) through diet, the key is to eat in such a way that your body is able to burn fat as its primary fuel rather than sugars. Ketogenic diets are very effective for this, which is the focus of my latest book, "Fat for Fuel."
A companion tool to "Fat for Fuel" is my "Fat for Fuel Ketogenic Cookbook: Recipes and Ketogenic Keys to Health from a World-Class Doctor and an Internationally Renowned Chef," with celebrity chef Pete Evans. It provides you with the delicious, kitchen-tested recipes you can use in your daily life to make the shift to fat-burning.
While the Harvard daily meal plan was an improvement over the typical American diet, it misses some key points, like incorporating healthy fats. Examples of the easy-to-prepare, go-to meals you'll find in my "Fat for Fuel" cookbook are below. Use these recipes to help ensure you're getting the nutrition you need, without all the fuss:
Green Eggs and Ham (for Breakfast) (Serves 2)
- 4 eggs
- Melted coconut, for brushing
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, mint and/or chervil)
- 4 to 6 slices of ham, to serve
- Raw veggies (lettuce, carrot and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes) to serve
- Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to simmering, add eggs and cook for six to seven minutes. Drain, and when cool enough to handle, peel the eggs under cold running water
- Brush the peeled eggs with coconut oil, then roll them in herbs, gently pressing the herbs with your hands until evenly coated.
- Serve the eggs with the ham and raw vegetables.
Fennel, Watercress and Herb Salad with Shallot Dressing (for Lunch)
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and shaved, fronds reserved
- 1 large handful watercress
- 1 handful mint leaves
- 1 handful dill fronds, shaved
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- 1 French shallot, finely diced
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Using a mandolin or sharp knife, thinly shave the fennel.
- Place all the herbs in a large bowl and set aside.
- To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisk.
- Pour dressing over the salad just to coat and gently toss to combine, season if needed.
- Arrange on a platter to serve, drizzling more dressing on if desired. (Leftover dressing can be stored in a sealed jar and refrigerated up to two weeks.
Crackling Chicken (for Dinner)
- 8 chicken thighs, skin intact
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 2 teaspoon coconut oil or good-quality fat
- 2 teaspoons spice mix (like Cajun or Moroccan)
- Lemon wedges, to serve
- Flatten the chicken thighs with a mallet so they'll cook evenly. Season with salt.
- Melt the oil in a large, heavy pan over high heat; place the chicken, skin side down in the pan and season with the spice mix.
- Fry undisturbed for six to eight minutes or until brown and crispy. Flip and fry three more minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
- Serve with lemon wedges and vegetables or salad.
Nutrient-Dense Foods to Include in Your Ultimate Meal Plan
Some of the most nutrient-dense foods to include in your diet, in no particular order, include:
Sardines and anchovies
Crucifers, i.e., cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
Pastured organic eggs, milk and butter
Berries, i.e., raspberries, blueberries and strawberries
Nuts, i.e., pecans and macadamias
Seeds, i.e., sesame and sunflower
Olive and coconut oils
Wild-caught Alaskan salmon
Red onions and garlic
Sprouts, i.e., broccoli and sunflower
Fresh herbs i.e., oregano, rosemary and basil
Dark leafy greens
Some people have decided that, due to time constraints or other inconveniences, taking some kind of one-a-day multivitamin to make up for any glaring inconsistencies in the way of nutrition will do the job. However, Harvard Medical School experts digress. Dr. Clifford Lo, an associate professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says this approach isn't as simple or as foolproof as it may seem, and for a couple of reasons.4
Taking dietary supplements to "fill in the gaps" nutritionally may end up providing more of certain vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients than is good for you. Too much vitamin A, for example, can overload your system and actually become toxic.5 While in some cases a high-quality daily multivitamin can be beneficial, it's important to know what your body needs and what you're not getting through food before including dietary supplements in your routine.
For nutrients that can only come through ingestion, getting them from food as opposed to through supplements is always best. However, if it's a nutrient you can't get through food, it's an essential nutrient. Unfortunately, nutritional deficiencies are becoming more common, and only being informed can help you move toward optimal health.
Eating Well Is Wise, but Other Elements Are Also Important for Health
Eating well isn't the only thing to pay attention to as you make progress in taking control of your health; other aspects of your life are just as important, especially as there are so many unhealthy aspects that make illness and disease more prevalent, such as free radicals caused by exposure to air pollution and chemicals in household cleaners, lawn fertilizers, pet products and beauty products.
Protecting your ability to get eight hours of sleep every night is one consideration toward reaching optimal health, as is avoiding setting your cellphone by your bedside or carrying it near your body, exposing yourself to harmful electromagnetic fields (EMFs). As for putting together a nutritionally based meal plan, getting an array of different nutrients is one of the most important strategies for fighting disease.
Coming up with what to eat for your daily meals is half the battle to eating right, which is why relying on a cookbook like "Fat for Fuel" makes getting healthy so much easier. Make it your go-to source for meal planning and soon you'll have confidence that in at least one area of your life, you actually are taking control of your health.