Lesson 2: High Net-Gain Nutrition
Previous Lesson Review:
Our first full lesson showed you the link between diet and stress. You learned that you can reduce stress’s ill effects by incorporating tasty, healthy choices into your routine.
Hello again! I hope you’re as excited as I am to share your second complete lesson in the Thrive in 30 plan—your one-month introduction to a stronger, healthier you.
Last lesson we talked about how dietary changes can help reduce stress. In this lesson, you’ll learn a lot more about how healthy, whole, natural food can ensure you’ll get all the essential nutrients you need to help you grow a younger body.
Your optimal health begins with whole foods. Why eat whole foods? Because foods that are closest to their natural form are rich in nutrients. In contrast, processed foods are so modified—with cooking, preservatives and other artificial means—they get stripped of most of their nutritional content.
It isn’t just basic nutrients that get lost in processing—processed foods are also stripped of natural enzymes which are important to how you digest what you’ve eaten. When you eat foods devoid of these enzymes, your body has to produce them. Producing enzymes that would naturally be present in whole foods (and aren’t available in processed foods) drains your body of energy and causes additional stress. Food in its natural form is always highest in nutritional value.
Doing more with less—or getting more “bang for your buck”—is an idea commonly pursued in our culture, yet strangely, when it comes to food choices, the typical North American diet eschews this principal in favor of empty calories which offer little value in terms of nutrition. Nutrient density describes the ratio of calories to the nutrition your body gets from consuming them—a critical concept in eating to thrive.
Choose foods with the highest nutritional value and your body will thank you. While the caloric value of food is important, there is too much emphasis placed on calories in versus calories out—calories are almost irrelevant as long as your body receives the nutrition it requires. Give your body what it really needs and you eliminate food cravings which are essentially your body telling you it is not getting sufficient nutrients.
Eating nutrient dense foods reduces the stress response and allows the body to conserve energy that can be used as fuel and building blocks.
High Net-Gain Nutrition
Directly tied to nutrient density are what I call high net-gain foods; this describes nutrient dense, easily assimilated foods that leave the greatest amount of energy and valuable nutrients in your body once the food has been digested. High net-gain foods are easiest to digest, so your body doesn’t use as much energy in the digestion process.
High net-gain foods are the cornerstone of the Thrive Diet. Here are some tips on how you can identify them; look for:
- Whole foods—the less that’s been done to it, the better the return to you
- Raw or cooked at low temperature
- Naturally alkaline forming foods to balance your body’s pH levels (we’ll look at this more closely in the coming weeks)
- Superfoods, rich in nutrients your body can easily use
Essential Nutrients and Vitamins
In your introductory lesson, I pointed out some of the myths of the plant-based diet. The most pervasive myth?: that plant-based diets lack the nutritional completeness of a meat-eater’s diet—especially where calcium, iron and B12 are concerned. This notion is completely unfounded! In fact, the calcium, iron and vitamin B-12 found in plant-based sources are generally more bio-available than those derived from animal products (which means your body can absorb them easily).
You can get more than enough calcium, iron and vitamin B-12 from these commonly available foods:
- Leafy green vegetables (e.g.: kale, chard, arugula or romaine lettuce—also rich sources of other important vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients—not to mention fiber!)
- Tahini (sesame seed paste)
- Unhulled sesame seeds (also high in iron)
- Spinach and leafy greens
- Pumpkin seeds
- Legumes (especially split peas)
- Chlorella (a microscopic, freshwater green algae from Japan—this is the best source of B-12!)
- Nutritional yeast
Fiber-rich carbohydrates (vegetables!) are the foundation of a stress-reducing diet that will enable you thrive. Of these, you should put the most emphasis on leafy greens and colorful vegetables. With lots of variety to choose from, you’ll never tire of nutrient-dense options like:
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, red cabbage, brussels sprouts, turnips, etc.)
- Leafy greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, etc.)
- Bell Peppers
- Daikon or radishes
- Sea vegetables (includes dulse, kombu and wakame seaweed)
As you age, your body is exposed to free radicals found in your environment (pollution, pesticides and cigarette smoke are common culprits). Free radicals are unstable molecules that bond with the cells in your body, causing cellular damage and oxidation that can lead to illnesses like cancer.
While you can limit your exposure to free radicals somewhat (by not smoking, for example), even the healthiest lifestyle can’t eliminate them completely. But not to worry—that’s where antioxidants come in…and choosing a diet rich in antioxidants is something you do have power over!
Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging your body, which is good news; the better news is that antioxidants are easily added to your diet through the healthy, delicious foods that you’ll love to indulge in anyway! Naturally occurring, crucial antioxidants include vitamins C and E, the mineral selenium and carotenoids (the compounds responsible for color in vegetables).
Antioxidant-rich foods you’ll want to eat more of include:
- Berries (blueberries and blackberries especially!)
- Colorful vegetables
- Cold-pressed oils (hemp-seed oil and flaxseed oil are good sources)
- Fresh herbs and spices (such as oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric, etc.)
Nutritionally speaking, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of a balanced plant-based diet—you’ll still get all the vitamins and essential nutrients you’d otherwise get from animal-based foods, plus the long-term rewards of the healthier, cleaner body you seek.
- Incorporate some of the nutrient dense foods recommended in this lesson. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Add some pomegranate arils or blueberries to your daily salad habit—it’s a delicious way to up your antioxidant content!
- Increase your energy with B-12 by trying a chlorella supplement. Look for a brand that pressure-cracks the cell walls—I prefer ChlorEssence, which contains no additives and is high in growth factors
- Test a fiber-rich vegetable you haven’t tried before—sea vegetables are easily found in any Asian market and are a tasty addition to many dishes
- As you incorporate these new foods, listen to your body and see if you notice a difference in your energy levels and mood—write down any changes as you feel them so you can track your progress over time
Focus on inclusion, not exclusion—once you eat enough good foods you won’t have room for the bad ones (and I guarantee you won’t feel deprived!)
Next Lesson Preview:
You’ll learn even more about nutrition as we discuss some of the misconceptions about protein, carbohydrates and fats.
To your good health!