DR. GREGER'S DAILY DOZEN
Dr. Michael Greger is an American physician, author, and professional speaker on public health issues, best known for his advocacy of a whole-food, plant-based diet. I personally had the pleasure of hearing him speak at the Plant Stock Conference of 2018 and have read both of his incredibly comprehensive books, How Not To Die and How Not To Diet. He also runs a non profit site Nutritionfacts.org where he posts videos and research debunking nutrition myths and providing support for a plant-based lifestyle.
One of his methods that stuck with me the most was his "Daily Dozen," a checklist of daily foods/ habits that would lead to an optimally healthy day. To some this may seem like a challenge while to others it may seem easy. While this list is not meant to be a MUST DO in order to be healthy, it is a great set of guidelines to strive for to ensure you are getting a varied and balanced diet. Below I have left all of my tips and tricks on how to best achieve the Daily Dozen!
1/2 cup cooked, 1/4 cup hummus
Beans are one of the most nutrient dense foods in anyones diet as they are a great source of fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, and micronutrients. If you have been plant-based for a while you may see no struggle getting in 3 servings of beans a day. However, if you have some digestive problems or are newly eating more plants than this may seem impossible. I would first like to remind you that a serving of beans can be between 1/4- 1/2 cup. Which when you look at it actually isn't that much! The key here is to realize that you don't have to eat just a bowl of plain beans! Beans can be enjoyed in soup, curries, chili, hummus (yes this counts- go garbanzo beans!), salads, white beans in a smoothie (don't worry you can't taste them), and even tofu (soybeans)! So I encourage you to switch up your methods of consumption so you don't get bored. If you have some digestive problems already when consuming high fiber foods like beans try starting very slow. Start with a 1/4 cup a day until you no longer feel any discomfort then, slowly, increase from there. This will farm up your gut to the idea that it should be expecting more fiber. Instead of just bombarding it when you have never eaten beans!
1/2 cup fresh or frozen, 1/4 cup dried
This one should be slightly easier for people as berries are more commonly enjoyed in everyday diets. Berries are one of the most antioxidant rich foods out there that directly fight free radical oxidation! A serving of berries is equivalent to 1/2 cup (or 1/4 cup dry). These can be enjoyed frozen (I like to thaw mine in oatmeal) or fresh as a snack. I really think you guys need no explanation of how to get in your berries. Just try not to use store bought jams and jellies as an equivalent as the processing and sugar content knocks out some of their nutritional value. Also just know that dried are often much higher in calories and should be avoided if you have diabetes.
3. OTHER FRUITS
1 medium fruit or 1/4 cup dried
Once again this may not seem to difficult for some, but here are some of my tips to get in all 3. Have one serving with breakfast. 1 down. Make room in your day for an apple, orange, or banana as a snack. 2 down. Have one serving after lunch or dinner as a desert. Done. Or you could just have a big fruit salad for breakfast! There are many different ways to get in 3 servings of fruit in a day, but work your way up if you don't commonly eat fruit and don't forget that banana you added to your oats counts too!
4. CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES
1/2 cup chopped
What the heck does cruciferous mean? Cruciferous simply refers to a specific family of vegetables that happen to have a very high nutrient per calorie content. Some of these include brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choi, arugula, all of your greens (kale, swiss chard, collards etc.) and more. The key here is to pay attention to serving size. 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables would be a great side with dinner or as an addition to your salad (cooked veggies are the best in salads!). If that still seems like a lot try splitting it up as a 1/4 cup with lunch and a 1/4 cup with dinner.
1 cup raw, 1/2 cup cooked
Greens are again so nutrient dense per calorie they needed their own section. For the greens about 1 cups raw or about 1/2 cup cooked will be a full serving! That means 1 small salad or 1/2 cup steamed as a side, can't be too bad. I know lot's of people like to add spinach to their smoothies but try when you can to eat it as a whole food to get that fiber too! Topping your greens with an acid like lemon or balsamic can actually increase the bioavailability of some of the nutrients, so try that the next time you have some. For me, it honestly depends on my mood. Sometimes I am ready to enjoy a bowl of steamed kale with some nutritional yeast and lemon. Other times I need to shove some spinach at the bottom of my bowl of pasta because I just am not in the mood. Disguise it how you like, but don't forget it!
6. OTHER VEGETABLES
I know you may be a little bit overwhelmed with all of the veggies at this point but remember the amounts aren't that big, the key is the variety. Here you will only need 2 servings a day of 1/2 cup of non leafy vegetables! Potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, squash, peppers, mushrooms, onion, celery, zucchini, eggplant, etc. One of the easiest ways to do this is in a nice vegetable soup. But if soups aren't your favorite a baked potato will actually do the trick for the day. Experiment with how you like your veggies whether you prefer a snack of peppers and hummus or roasted carrots and turnips as a side to dinner.
7. FLAX SEEDS
1 tbsp, ground
This one becomes easier with practice as it is not something people normally do in their daily diets. Flax seeds are one of the best plant based sources of omegas and should be consumed daily. The key here is that in order to get the nutrients they need to be ground as we cannot break them down. The other caveat is that if you try to grind them all ahead of time the fats will go rancid after a few days and no longer be of value! So my favorite way is to simply grind a tablespoon fresh each day in my small spice grinder (takes about 2 seconds!) and sprinkle on top of my oatmeal. I did find that when I wasn't having oatmeal I would often forget to have them so I honestly started just adding them to a glass of water and they go down super easily with no flavor! I think for beginners adding them to breakfast bowls is probably your best bet, or mixing them with nut butters to dunk your fruit in has also been a favorite.
1/4 cup nuts, 2 tbsp nut butter
This is another one I am sure most people will not need help with a nut butters have personally been a staple in my diet even before I went plant based. Dr. Greger recommends either 1/4 cup of nuts or 2 tbsp of nut butters a day. Nuts are high in protein, fiber, and fatty acids that our body needs to function. Not to mention their unique micronutrient profiles, varying with eat nut. In all transparency it is slightly better to eat the whole nut rather than a nut butter, as there is a little bit more fiber and you have less of a chance of over eating it as it is less processed. However, if the only way you could see yourself getting in the nuts is in peanut butter or almond butter than that works too! You can actually make your own nut butters by just blending some dry roasted nuts in a food processor like I have done here with a pinch of salt! I prefer to roast my own nuts as it makes my kitchen smell great and I can customize what I put on them so they aren't covered in oils and salt. Try mixing with some spices like garlic powder and paprika for a nice snack or just dry roasting for something more plain. I love adding walnuts to my oatmeal or chopped almonds to salads. Nuts can really work in any dish!
1/2 cup cooked, 1 slice of bread
Many people don't realize that they aren't actually consuming enough grains! And no that does not include highly refined grains. Pasta, white rice, and white bread should be avoided as they are stripped of their nutrients and fiber that make them so healthy in the first place. Whole grains are loaded with B vitamins and are the perfect slow acting carbohydrate that will keep you fuller for longer. I love getting mine in with a bowl of oats (rolled or steel cut) in the morning or having grain bowls where I will have 1/2 cup of any grain (been loving faro and quinoa lately) with some greens and roasted veggies. If you find yourself feeling bloated or having some digestive problems when you consume whole grains try including just a little bit at a time. Maybe start with just a 1/4 of a cup a day until you don't feel any discomfort, then slowly increase your servings and sizes over time. This will allow your body to warm up to the fiber content and will ultimately benefit you in the long run!
Spices are such an underrated form of nutrients that is often overlooked. Spices have very anti-inflammatory properties that our bodies absolutely love. Turmeric in particular has a compound "curcumin" that when combined with black pepper becomes the ultimate immune system stimulant and antioxidant. Dr. Greger specifically recommends consuming turmeric daily along with your 1/4 tsp minimum of spices. Turmeric may be one of the more difficult pieces of this list to consume due to its strong flavor and smell. My favorite ways to get it in are in my tofu scramble recipe or if I am not having that sometimes I will make a yellow rice or if I am not cooking anything with spices that day then in a turmeric shot. I combine 1/4 tsp turmeric with a crack of black pepper, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and 3 tbsp of water, mix till everything is well combined and just gulp it down. If shots like this aren't really your thing try mixing that 1/4 tsp in some applesauce as it will hide the flavor.
90 min moderate, 40 min vigorous
Yes, we all know that we need to be more active but how much? What types? 90 minutes of moderate activity include walking, house work, light yard work, or anything that requires you to do more than sit! Or you can do about 40 minutes of vigorous in place of this by going to the gym, going on a run, bike ride, yard work, or however you like to break a sweat. The biggest tip that I have learned throughout my time researching lifestyle habits and what types of activity are best for optimal health is to not just do workouts, it is to lead an active lifestyle. Those who get up and move around more throughout the day have been found to be healthier than those who do a hard 30 minute workout then are sedentary for the rest of the day. In the Blue Zones those cultures did not have workout classes that they were doing every morning, they were farming, walking (everywhere!), cleaning, cooking, doing manual labor that helped them stay in good physical condition. See how you can spread your activity throughout the day!
min. 60 oz/ day
Hydration is so vital to your body as we are made up of water. Dr. Greger recommends a minimum of 60 oz per day of fluids including water and tea. Tea has antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties when prepared correctly and can be very beneficial but do not replace your water with only tea. If you struggle to get in enough water each day I like to use a water bottle with the oz labeled on it so I know if I have 4 water bottles, I will have drank 80 oz. Try drinking a full glass of water before your meal and after your meal. Keeping track may also help you- use this checklist to make a game yourself to see how much you are really drinking!
My Favorite ways to take out a bunch of these in one meal!
2 servings of grains (whole wheat tortilla and brown rice)
1 serving of greens (spinach)
1 serving of legumes (beans)
1 serving of fruit/ vegetable (salsa)
1 serving of nuts (cashew sour cream)
Bowl of Oats:
1-2 servings of grains
1 serving of spices (cinnamon)
1 serving of nuts (walnuts)
1 serving of berries (frozen blueberries)
1 serving of other fruit
1 serving of flax (ground)
1-2 servings of legumes (soybeans in tofu)
1 serving other vegetable (I like to use a frozen mix here)
1 serving of spices (turmeric)
1 serving of greens (green of choice)
1 serving of whole grains (serve on whole grain bread or tortillas)
+1 serving of legumes (add black beans)
1 serving of whole grains (brown rice, faro, quinoa, etc.)
1 serving of legumes (kidney beans)
1 serving of greens (massaged kale)
1 serving of cruciferous vegetables (roasted brussels or broccoli)
1 serving of other vegetables (roasted squash or sweet potato)
1 serving of nuts (chopped walnuts)
1 serving of spices (season on the vegetables)
Those are just a few ways you can check off a bunch of boxes in just one meal! You don't need to check every box every single day but it is something to strive for and can help you identify groups where you may be lacking. When I first discovered this list and read Dr. Greger's reasoning behind each category I set his checklist as my phone background and my mom actually put it on the side of our fridge so that we could constantly refer to it. This is a great way to get you started till you feel more comfortable with eating a variety of whole foods. I have included below a slightly more aesthetic/ plain version of the checklist to keep on your phone or computer to refer to if you would like. :)
Check out this article from the American Heart Association for more information about serving sizes!