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.