This blog is the first of a three-part series on meal planning. For anyone looking to create more organization and improved quality of their weekly meals, it's important to have a solid place to start from. Have a colorful plant-based list of foods that all of the meals each week will be based around. The list below will give you enough color, variety, and flexibility to choose from seasonally. These staple ingredients are part of a Mediterranean diet, the most well researched diet, showing benefits for many of the chronic diseases the Western world faces today, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and mental illness. Keep reading to see examples of how to apply the science into a weekly meal plan.
As it turns out, the vibrant colors projected by berries don’t simply exist to add a nice blue, purple or red hue to our plates. The attention-grabbing color of fresh berries can be attributed to their plant pigments, termed anthocyanins, which are also known for their incredible cancer-fighting and heart-protective capabilities. Blueberries, specifically, are known as one of the most antioxidant-rich fruits readily available in our country. In fact, these pigments are so powerful, scientists are currently researching how we can use them in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
Sweet Potatoes & Other Orange Foods
If you’ve ever heard the term, “eat the rainbow”, it’s because there is plenty of science proving the wide range of benefits that each color can provide. Carotenes, the yellow-orange pigments giving foods such as sweet potatoes and carrots their color, have anti-inflammatory capabilities. These orange foods are so powerful that they can actually stop pro-inflammatory genes from expressing themselves! By making these foods a regular part of our diet, we are taking simple steps toward promoting our overall health and preventing diseases of inflammatory causes.
Broccoli & Other Cruciferous Vegetables
A staple in any healthy household, these vegetables can be easily incorporated into meals. They are known for their ability to prevent an array of different cancers and reduce markers of inflammation. The compounds in this class of veggies have even been shown to effectively detoxify the body from environmental pollutants, making them increasingly important.
Garlic, onions, and other alliums: the perfect accompaniment to the flavors of any dish. Beyond their ability to provide pungent flavor, they boast extensive health benefits, including anticancer, heart protective anti-inflammation, antimicrobial, and neuroprotective. In other words, these foods are working overtime to ensure your body fights off unwanted germs and disease.
Nuts & Seeds
An easy, healthy, and filling snack that even serves as a way to protect our brain health – the healthy fats and other compounds found in nuts have a positive effect on our mood and keep our brains healthy as we age. Eating both nuts and seeds can also have a heart protective effect and reduce inflammation.
Whole Grains (Wild Rice, Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet)
Whole grains are no secret to the health community – boasting characteristics such as decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, and prevention of chronic diseases including diabetes – characteristics that cannot be said for their refined-grain counterparts. Quinoa has even displayed antioxidant capabilities!
Legumes (Beans & Lentils)
These fiber-filled, plant-based protein sources can transform into creative and easy meals, all while protecting us from a number of chronic ailments, including heart disease and diabetes. Legumes help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, and prevent high blood pressure, giving them a heart-protective effect on the body.
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices have long been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practices for their powerful effects on human health, much of which is attributed to their phytochemical and antioxidant properties. This allows herbs and spices to naturally defend the body from oxidative stress and inflammatory responses. Simply adding herbs and spices to meals, provides another means of preventing disease and maintaining overall wellness.
PUTTING THE SCIENCE TO THE PLATE
Meal ideas for these top 8:
Berry smoothie with greens, cinnamon, chia, hemp, and flax seeds
Individual egg cups with greens, onions, thyme, and roasted sweet potatoes
Arugula salad with chickpeas, fennel, beets, avocado and a citrus dressing
French lentil soup with spinach
Black bean bowl with brown basmati rice, avocado, and cabbage slaw
Pan seared lemon chicken with sauteed garlicky greens, and roasted squash
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Huang, W., Zhang, H., Liu, W., & Li, C. (2012). Survey of antioxidant capacity and phenolic composition of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry in Nanjing . Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 13(2), 94–102. http://doi.org/10.1631/jzus.B1100137
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