18 Nutrition Habits You Are Probably Neglecting

by | Sep 29, 2015

Purple Artichokes

 

Going to a restaurant with me is not a normal phenomenon. I’m not impressed by comfort foods that most people love like mashed potatoes and mac’n cheese, and I almost always order the “weirdest” thing on the menu––think crudo (aka raw) platters, seaweed tastings and organ meats.

Just last week, for instance, I took my brother Shay to lunch at Mozza in Southern California, and without even asking him ordered the bone marrow appetizer. He looked at me incredulously. “Bone marrow?”

Me: “Yep, don’t worry about it. I always get it. You don’t have to have any if you don’t want.”

To Shay’s credit he tried it and––like 75% of the “weird” stuff I’ve encouraged him to try––he loved it.

So why am I such a freakshow?

Beyond my general disdain for social norms and conformity, my desire to eat at the fringes of the menu and grocery store stems from my desire to get as broad a spectrum of nutrients from my food as possible.

Healthy eating is about more than avoiding flour, sugar and trans fats. It also requires optimizing your nutrient intake of basic vitamins and minerals, as well as essential fats, amino acids, and trace micronutrients science may still be unaware of.

Nutrition research increasingly supports the “triage theory” presented by the award winning scientist Dr. Bruce Ames in 2006. Triage theory postulates that our bodies divert scarce nutrients to essential functions for short-term survival, such as heart function, at the expense of processes necessary for long-term health, such as DNA repair.

In other words, triage theory suggests that subtle micronutrient deficiencies can selectively take a toll on your long-term health and promote age-related diseases.

It is not hard to imagine that many (if not most) people living in Western culture, who typically eat nutrient-poor foods are experiencing trace micronutrient deficiencies that could affect immediate but more subtle health measures like energy levels, mood and focus, and also long-term health concerns like dementia, arthritis and cancer.

What’s interesting is that some of these negative health effects wouldn’t be limited to people who eat a lot of fast food and soda. “Healthy eaters” who limit themselves to a small range of foods each week would also be lacking some less common, but essential nutrients.

If your typical menu only consists of chicken and steak, and basic veggies like broccoli, spinach and zucchini, it might be time to up your nutrition game and become more adventurous*.

Here are the categories of food that I try to incorporate into my weekly healthstyle for optimal nutrition. This isn’t to say you need to eat something from one these categories every day or even every week, but if you’re only touching on a few of them (or only one from certain categories) you may want to work on expanding your regular menu.

Salad greens

Photo by frangrit

Photo by frangrit

Once I discovered that salads could be more than romaine lettuce, cucumbers and unripe tomatoes my entire world changed. I now eat several salads weekly (all year round), and am sure to choose a diverse range of greens including arugula, radicchio, endive, mizuna, treviso, spinach, tatsoi, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, bib lettuce, and anything else I can find. Even romaine and iceberg lettuces can be refreshing and delicious if you source them from good farms.

Brassicas

Photo by Muffet

Photo by Muffet

Brassicas or cruciferous vegetables also play a huge roll in my weekly healthstyle. Both raw and cooked I love cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and brussels sprouts. Don’t forget that both the roots and leaves are often edible, including turnips, radishes, and kohlrabi. Different brassicas are in season at different times of year, so I try to enjoy them all.

Root vegetables

Photo by Plutor

Photo by Plutor

In addition to brassicas, the other roots I try to enjoy often include carrots, parsnips, fennel, beets, yuca, as well as all the varietals of potatoes and yams. These all offer different benefits, so don’t forget about them.

Alliums

Photo by krossbow

Photo by krossbow

Alliums are a special type of strong smelling and tasting (thanks to sulfur compounds in the plant that make them especially nutritious) roots including onions, garlic, shallots, chives and leeks. The leaves and flowers are typically edible as well.

Nightshades

Photo by timlewisnm

Photo by timlewisnm

Although a small number of people are sensitive to nightshades (these people typically follow macrobiotic diets), nightshade plants can be incredibly healthy and provide unique nutrient profiles. Nightshades include tomatoes, chilies, tomatillos, eggplants, ground cherries, and goji berries. The breadth of chilies alone is enough to keep me captivated.

All the fruits

Assorted Grapes

Apples and bananas are fine, but don’t forget about all the berries, melons, pears, persimmons, pomegranates, and the like. Stone fruits like peaches, apricots, cherries and plums are common in the spring and summer, while heartier fruits like apples and citrus take over in fall and winter. Stick with the seasons and you can’t go wrong.

Mushrooms

Photo by Michael Hodge

Photo by Michael Hodge

It always trips me out when I remember that mushrooms aren’t plants. Fungi have a completely different cellular structure than creatures belonging to the plant and animal kingdoms. As you might expect they also have completely different (and powerful) micronutrients. I love finding unique mushroom varietals such as shitake, maitake, oyster, chantarelle, morel, hen of the woods, pioppino, trumpet, lobster, lion’s mane, porcini, and straw. Yeasts such as nutritional yeast also belong to the fungus kingdom.

Sea veggies

Cucumber Wakame Salad

Cucumber Wakame Salad

A few weeks ago I was at a sushi restaurant in New York that offered a seaweed tasting as an appetizer. There must have been at least 10 different varietals. I was in heaven. My pantry is also chock full of different seaweeds, and I eat some at least 4-5 days a week.

Nori (the crispy seaweed in sushi rolls), wakame (the soft kind in miso soup and real seaweed salads), and kombu (used to make dashi broth) are the easiest to find in Western grocery stores. I also love snacking on the crispy Seasnax that have become incredibly popular. I like to wrap the wasabi flavored ones around pieces of avocado.

Oily fish

Photo by Andrea_Nguyen

Photo by Andrea_Nguyen

This one is tough for almost everybody at first, but once you break through it is easy to get hooked on the deep, satisfying flavor of oily fish. Oily fish are especially good for your heart and brain, thanks to the friendly fatty acid profile, but there are likely additional benefits as well. Sardines, mackerel, anchovies, cod liver, salmon, I love them all.

Shell fish

Photo by planetc1

Photo by planetc1

Don’t stop at shrimp, crab and lobster. Mollusks like clams, mussels, scallops, oysters, octopuses and squid are all rich in vitamins, minerals and other ocean goodness.

Organ meats

Photo by Photographing Travis

Photo by Photographing Travis

If you’re an omnivore you probably eat more than your fair share of muscle meat from animals. But although muscle meat is very nutritious, you’re only getting a fraction of the benefit when you ignore the bones and organs. It’s also more environmentally and ethically responsible to use all the parts of the animal.

Each organ contributes unique nutritional benefits. Bone marrow, for instance, is rich in glycine, which helps balance out the excess methionine most of us get from eating primarily muscle meat. If roasted bone marrow is too hardcore for you at this point, making bone broth (aka soup broth) at home is a fantastic alternative.

Liver is also insanely rich in nutrients, and can be absolutely delicious when prepared correctly (think chicken liver patê). My husband and I try to eat some kind of organ meat twice a week, and are very thankful that the nose-to-tail movement has made this easier in big cities.

Gourds and squash

Photo by Badly Drawn Dad

Photo by Badly Drawn Dad

Both summer and winter squash (with hard shells) come in so many varietals you’ll never get bored. Branch out from zucchini and yellow squash to try zephyr, pattypan, opo, bitter melon, kabocha, delicata (my famous recipe), and acorn.

Legumes

Photo by Veganbaking.net

Photo by Veganbaking.net

Cooked properly, beans and lentils are some of the most nutrient dense foods available. While I recommend everyone explore the many varietals of lentils (e.g. green, red, brown, black) and beans (check out Rancho Gordo, Llano Seco and Zürsun Farms for several heirloom varietals), these delicious foods are particularly beneficial if you don’t eat meat.

Nuts and seeds

Photo by futurestreet

Photo by futurestreet

Also under-appreciated, nuts and seeds are incredibly healthy both for their vitamin and mineral content, as well as their fatty acid profiles. They’re also insanely delicious and a little goes a long way. Don’t stop at almonds and walnuts: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts all have unique benefits, so don’t forget to mix it up.

Herbs and spices

spices21-672x504

Herbs and spices tend to be thought of more in terms of flavor than nutrition, but they are in fact some of the most nutritionally dense foods in the world. That is why their flavor is so strong. Use fresh herbs often and get creative with those like mint, cilantro, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, basil, oregano and marjoram.

Dried spices have also been shown to have myriad benefits, such as protection against dementiacancer, and other common diseases.

Intact grains

Photo by mealmakeovermoms

Photo by mealmakeovermoms

Grains get a lot of flack these days, and in the cases of hyper-processed flours I completely agree. However intact grains remain incredibly nutritious and are a fantastic source of both soluble and insoluble fibers, which are essential feeding material (prebiotics) for the friendly bacteria in your gut.

Brown rice is great, but don’t stop there. Experiment with farro, barley, freekeh, quinoa, gaba rice, buckwheat, and oats.

Fermented foods

kimchi

Photo by adactio

Fermented foods are finally getting some positive press due to the role they play as probiotics. But yogurt isn’t the whole story. There are several strains of probiotic bacteria, and we all respond differently to different types. Probiotic foods can be strong tasting, but don’t let that deter you. Saurkraut, kimchi, ripe cheeses, and even natto can be quite delicious when you develop a taste for them.

Coffee, tea and chocolate

Photo by sapheron

Photo by sapheron

While coffee, tea and chocolate are typically thought of more as treats to be avoided than health foods, they are in fact Real Foods that are incredibly nutritious––so long as you get the real thing. Coffee is a powerful antioxidant and is well-documented to protect the liver. Different teas have been shown to have a multitude of benefits. And real dark chocolate has been demonstrated time and again to impart lasting benefits on humans. Enjoy these all on occasion without remorse.

*It is worth noting that because many of these foods are less common in Western cultures, your natural tendency may be to turn your nose up at their weirdness. This is totally normal, few people are born with a love of chicken livers. The more you try them, however, the more familiar these foods will become and you’ll find their flavors and textures more pleasant. If you need some encouragement, here’s my personal story of learning to like new foods.

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28 Responses to “18 Nutrition Habits You Are Probably Neglecting”

  1. Kevin says:

    Love this post <3

  2. Sandy says:

    Hmmm, interesting article except I have never thought any of these foods were weird😃 . Having traveled to a multitude of places, lived in 5 countries in two different continents, most expats I know are pretty adventurous eaters. The one food I have to force myself to eat is bitter melon😖 Filipinos firmly believe in its blood fortifying abilities so the cooks we had as kids growing up in the Philippines would make it every so often….our mum made us eat it. Then when my husband and I were living in Beijing, our cook there did the same thing😛. Told her I wanted none of it but she was so insistent and adamant about its nutritional value. Anyways I do agree with all of the things above but more than anything, it’s just more fun to eat different foods. I would say the weirdest food my son recently ate were different kinds of bug pupa in China – have no clue what they all were but one was silk work pupa. Oh and btw, the one fruit I will ever eat ever ever ever again is durian….just…..cannot….I can’t even…..

  3. This article is a great reminder for people, especially nowadays. It is easy to get stuck in a routine of eating the same thing everyday and not branch out. Even though we think we are being “healthy”, we are slowly losing important vitamins and minerals. I am going to be much more conscious when I make food choices at the grocery store and eat out from now on. Thanks Darya!

  4. Jerry Robertson says:

    I sure wish the big people wouldn’t have put the fear in me a long time ago that certain foods are bad. Liver is one example.

    Now that I have started to eat it again, I LOVE it!

    Thanks for the great post Darya.

  5. Milo says:

    Awesome list of healthy foods by category. My wife and I try and grow the majority of these types of fruits and veggies at home and buy what we can’t produce ourselves from the store. Variety is the key to health!

  6. Best reason to ignore the ridiculous notion of super foods. Consumers are inundated with sound bite nutrition advice, not always benign. Too many people narrow food choices, eat out of season, or consume excessive amounts of limited foods (think the out of control diabetic drinking acai juice three times a day because it is “good for you”) with the misguided idea that (fill in the blank) provides a bounty of everything. There is no single right way to eat; Ideally each of us figures out an approach to food that works.

  7. John Fawkes says:

    I’m confused about intact grains- don’t they still have gluten?

    • Lisa M says:

      Except for a very small segment of the population that has Celiac’s disease, gluten is not a problem.

      Rather, I would say that gluten-heavy foods — such as refined wheat flour — make up too much of most American diets. Eliminating gluten often makes us feel better because it cuts down on this overdependence on wheat flour, but it really wasn’t the gluten or a gluten allergy that caused it.

      Speaking personally, I tried gluten-free and did feel better, but have gone back to whole grains with no ill effects. I try and avoid foods with flour except as an occasional treat. So no sandwiches in my daily lunch but when I go to an incredible bakery, I’ll still have some fresh, hot bread.

  8. lynda maccagnan says:

    Loved this article! It spurs one on to try, or retry, the diversity of foods we are lucky to have.

  9. Margaret says:

    This is a thoroughly fantastic post! I enjoy most of these foods as often as possible and my kids have now experienced them all. Even if they don’t enjoy them too much yet, I know the exposure to them will have long term positive benefits as they grow up. My eldest teenaged daughter for example has me buy kimchi and she incorporates it into her diet almost daily! Thanks again for a great post.

  10. Tara says:

    I liked the gist of this post but you either live in suburban America or are flattering yourself if you think crudo and seaweed are “weird foods”.

  11. Great article! This makes me realize that I need to start changing up my diet asap! I’ve been stuck in a rut eating the same things everyday and its time for new foods!

  12. Lauren says:

    Great reminder about the importance of variety! Really enjoyed this.

  13. Dee says:

    Great reminder of how to eat – variety from the world of living things…. #lettuce&coffee

  14. Shannon says:

    Such an interesting Article! I love your approach to food – so balanced and fun! You look beyond the (unfortunately) common advice that leans towards restriction and elimination and instead give us a range of options that we may never have thought of before.

    I’m running a blog at the moment which try’s to “debunk” various food myths…we promote balance, moderation and most importantly variety and your approach is definitely falls in line with that! Great Post 🙂

  15. Andrea says:

    Nice article, I’m from Italy an many of these are part of our habits, still some are intriguing.
    Just one note on the fermented food, I have been making my homemade Kefir for over a year, literally a probiotic bomb and in the long term I found myself much better in terms of diseases resistance, energy and I even sleep much better.

  16. Nathan says:

    Hello, Darya!

    I am new in your blog, and im finding your tips very useful. But i just read this article and kind of panicked. I am trying to improve my food health, but to put all these vegetables in my daily habits is overwhelming. How can I start? Not doing this means i can’t be really healthy?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Don’t worry too much, this was intended for more advanced foodists. Start by just making sure to get more veggies in each meal. Perfection is overwhelming and actually impossible, so just aim for a little better each day.

  17. Shelley says:

    Great article! I randomly came across this website while searching for delicata squash recipes and love your whole approach to health and especially food.

    I have certainly relied on processed food for most of my adult life. When I had wanted to eat healthier, I just binged on store-bought packaged salads which was unpleasant and unhealthy, to say the least. My weight has never been a problem, as I’ve been careful about portion control, eliminating snacks and sugary drinks, and sticking to a pescetarian diet, but I knew I could do better. This summer I finally had some free time to actually take up cooking, which I have slowly built up to 3-4 times a week. Exactly as you said: fast food makes me gag now, and most restaurant meals don’t even interest me any more (aside from that bowl of ramen soup, mmmmm). I’ve discovered new favorite foods including tomatoes (turns out that the Olive Garden marinara sauce isn’t the best way to enjoy them, who knew?), spaghetti and delicata squash, fennel, cauliflower, kale, Greek yogurt, and farro, just to name a few! I look forward to exploring your website and recipes!

  18. amanda says:

    I absolutely loved your book and especially the terms “foodist” and “healthstyle”!

  19. Allison says:

    Great article — I love all the variety! The only thing is, I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 10, mainly for ethical reasons, and have no intention of going back. Do you think it’s still possible to get a healthful variety of nutrients with a vegetarian diet?

  20. Arleen says:

    I grew up with Italian cooking and foods like chicken livers. Now I shy away from organ meats and bones as they contain lead. I have thyroid issues which can get worse with heavy metal exposure. Are you sure these foods and many fish are not contaminated? Also, are there recipes or products you recommend using real whole grains to bake bread?

  21. Natalija says:

    Great article – as always! 🙂
    I should definitely eat more organ meats, I do really like liver when properly prepared, but I haven’t done it myself. 🙂

    I do have a question for you Darya. Do you also use spelt? It is supposed to be similar to farro (I can’t find farro in my country, but we have spelt every where). So I was wondering about your thoughts on this grain. 🙂

  22. Natalija says:

    Great article – as always! 🙂
    I should definitely eat more organ meats, I do really like liver when properly prepared, but I haven’t done it myself. 🙂

    I do have a question for you Darya. Do you also use spelt? It is supposed to be similar to farro (I can’t find farro in my country, but we have spelt every where). So I was wondering about your thoughts on this grain. 🙂

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