What constitutes a healthy diet?
This can be a heated, confusing and controversial topic. That’s why we made The Rainbow Plate.
The outdated food pyramid that most of us know is cumbersome and ineffective. It’s time for a makeover! In making the plate we took a different approach. Hopefully you’ll find it straightforward to understand.
The Rainbow Plate is designed to help people live healthfully, easily.
The basic premises of the Rainbow Plate are:
- Start meals with staple sugars or starches (fruits, whole grains and legumes)
- Eat legumes (at least) once per day.
- Add fruits and vegetables from the rainbow at least once each day
- Eat one serving of healthy fats (nuts, seeds or avocado) with nutritious additions every day
- Consume at least one serving of mushrooms each week
- Drink at least 6 glasses of healthy fluids each day (e.g. herbal tea and water)
- Get 15 minutes of sun exposure every day
- Limit meat, dairy, eggs, mock meats, white bread, refined sugar, oil and junk foods
Still confused? Well let’s try and break things down further.
1. Staple Starches and Sugars
First things first, load up your plate (or smoothie cup) with healthful carbohydrate-rich foods. Don’t be shy! Load it up!
The base of your diet should be fruits, whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes. Place an emphasis on legumes – legumes are packed full of nutrition. I’ll talk more about legumes in the next section.
Having starches and sugars (in the form of fruit) as your staple simplifies your diet. It gets you started with a boatload of beneficial nutrients.
These healthy foods are cheap and easily available. Having cheap staple foods allows you to follow a healthy lifestyle without hassle. There’s no need to spend a fortune on being healthy. Being healthy on a budget is more than attainable – it’s easy.
Whether you want to have meals of fruit, meals of potatoes or meals of whole grain bread and pasta, it doesn’t matter – just ensure this represents the bulk of your diet. It’s okay to have meals consisting entirely of fruit. I do sometimes! Fruit is healthful just like the other carbohydrate-rich foods in this category.
Fruit or whole grains? Whole grains or potato? Potato or sweet potato?
It doesn’t matter. Really.
It’s not important what’s better. It matters what’s healthful.
Don’t get caught up on what’s best. All these foods are healthful. Wholesome high-carb foods do not need to be limited or restricted.
Instead, ask: what’s practical?
While sweet potatoes offer more nutrition than white potatoes, it can be difficult to base a diet around sweet potatoes. White potatoes can easily fit into meals. Whereas there are fewer recipes for sweet potato.
That’s not to say that you can’t eat both! But the purpose of this base staple group is to be cheap, tasty and easy to obtain. If for you this means sweet potato, go for it! If sweet potato isn’t affordable or easy to integrate into your meals, go for white potato!
It’s the same case for all other foods in this group. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the overall colorful picture.
2. Eat Legumes (at least) Once Per Day
It’s true there’s no best staple starch or sugar. Sweet potato, brown rice, banana, black beans…they all offer different benefits, nutrients and flavors. They can serve different purposes, too.
But there’s one type of staple that you should eat at least once per day. That staple is legumes.
Legumes come in all different shapes, sizes and flavors. Here are some examples of legumes:
And that’s just the beginning.
Legumes are important for many reasons. One is that they’re packed with fiber. Fiber is healthy, encourages weight loss and helps you feel full. Those who regularly eat legumes tend to weigh less.
Another reason is that they’re full of nutrients, which helps you be the healthiest you can be. They’re one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.
There are tons of ways to include beans into your meals. I aim to eat legumes three times per day.
Mix legumes and fruit to make a filling and sweet morning smoothie. For lunch, have whole wheat bread with hummus and veggies. Dinner could be refried beans and rice, baked beans and barley, a lentil loaf or tempeh tacos. There’s no limit to eating legumes.
This leads us to our next step…
3. Nutritious Additions
This group consists of a range of fruits and vegetables representing all varieties of colors.
It includes capsicums, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, cabbage, leafy greens, bok choy, beetroot, berries, eggplant, etc. These fruits and vegetables are extremely nutritious. Hence they should be added to your staple starches and sugars.
Nutritious Additions fruits are less calorically dense than Staple Fruits. Staple fruits may include bananas, mangoes, dates, oranges and peaches – they’re filling and can provide the base of a meal. Nutritious Additions fruits include strawberries, blueberries, cherries and lychees. Nutritious Additions fruits are less filling and you’d be hard-pressed basing a meal out of.
For example, it’s unreasonable to eat a meal of strawberries (though they can be a tasty snack!) because they’re just not going to fill you up. You can however easily add some strawberries to your delicious banana smoothie! That’ll be much more practical than strawberries alone.
Emphasize orange and green vegetables, especially leafy greens. Try a stir-fry with bok choy served on brown rice. Carrots or zucchini can be tastefully added to many dishes. Don’t forget about the other colors too. Add in capsicum. Cover your dish in a tomato-based sauce.
Foods from this rainbow should be included into your meals at least once per day. If you add them more than once, even better!
[color-box color=”yellow”]Don’t forget the alliums! Onion and garlic are examples of alliums. They offer their own unique nutritional benefits. Try incorporating them into your meals as often as possible.[/color-box]
4. Healthy Fats
Fat has become an extremely controversial subject.
Carob Cherub advises to follow a low-fat diet. The majority of your calories should be coming from your staple carbohydrates.
But don’t fear the fat. Nuts, seeds and avocado provide many health benefits. They even increase absorption of nutrients.
Aim for at least one serving per day. A handful of nuts or seeds or a half of an avocado is enough.
Try and eat these healthy fats with orange or green vegetables from the Nutritious Additions group. This’ll maximize the nutrients you get from your meals.
Add in a handful of crushed walnuts to your salad. Or toss in some avocado. Maybe try sprinkling some ground flax seeds on top of your pasta in tomato sauce.
I love flax! Out of all of the healthy fats, I prefer seeds like flax, chia and sunflower. Flax are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which balances out the omega-6 fatty acids in other foods. This balance keeps my brain and body functioning properly.
5. Mushrooms (and Fungi)
This is an important group.
Typically thought of as vegetables, mushroom actually fall under the category of fungi. Mushrooms and other mushroom-like fungi (like tree mushrooms) provide nutrients that aren’t present in other food groups.
Add some mushrooms to your meals at least once per week. The more the merrier.
6. Drink Water
This is very important. It’s often the first weight loss tip I recommend.
Drink lots of water!
It’s so simple, and yet many of us aren’t drinking enough water.
If you have trouble drinking plain water, how about adding some flavor with hibiscus or green tea? Aim for a minimum of 6 glasses of water per day.
Juicy foods and other drinks can contribute to your water intake. Fruit is full of water. A fruit smoothie can definitely be counted to your water intake. 100% fruit juice, black coffee and non-dairy milks are also hydrating.
Alcohol, soda, and sugary drinks aren’t healthy. Most Starbucks drinks (or other coffee shops), sports drinks, iced teas and other fruit drinks don’t count towards your water intake.
7. Get Some Sunshine
This isn’t just to get you active and out of the house. It’s also to provide you with the essential Vitamin D!
Show some skin. Get sun exposure for at least 15 minutes per day. Don’t stay out too long unless you apply some sunscreen. While too little sun is unhealthy, too much sun can be dangerous.
In the winter when it’s cold and you’re all covered up I recommend a Vitamin D supplement. An alternative to supplements is sitting under the warmth of a sun lamp.
8. Limit Processed and Junk Foods
When you eat healthfully you won’t have any room for junk foods.
You’ll be too full!
Junk foods either:
- don’t add any meaningful amounts of nutrients to your diet, or
- provide many detriments.
Junk food includes:
- Meats (like red meat, chicken and fish)
- Dairy (like milk and cheeses)
- Mock meats (like seitan and other mock meats)
- Refined products (like white bread, white pasta and sugary cakes)
- Oils (like olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil and flax seed oil)
Not all junk foods are equal. They’re not all necessarily bad. For example, soy actually has health benefits.
These are simply foods that you need to either limit or avoid. They don’t fall into other healthful components of the healthful Rainbow Plate.
Don’t make junk a regular component of your diet. Treat them as treats. These foods are non-essential.
If on occasion you’d like to add in some mock meats like seitan, go for it! Just make sure they’re not the centerpiece of your diet. Remember what I said at the beginning about focusing on the overall picture?
So long as you follow the principles listed in the Rainbow Plate, you’ll be healthy. The little details don’t matter so much. Eating chocolate doesn’t make somebody unhealthy any more than does eating broccoli make somebody healthy.
It’s the holistic lifestyle that’s important, not the individual foods.
I considered many factors when designing guidelines for The Rainbow Plate.
There isn’t a perfectly ideal one-size-fits-all plan that works for everyone. The Rainbow Plate isn’t designed to replace well designed specific diet plans for individuals. Rather, provides a general overview. It’s easy for everybody to adapt and become more healthful.
A key to living healthfully is keeping life simple. Simplicity reduces unwanted stress. There’s no point theorizing about the health benefits of broccoli if you don’t eat it. You have to eat foods in order to get the nutrition. There’s no health benefit in looking just looking at food.
Hopefully the Rainbow Plate accomplishes its goal: making healthy living simple. The guidelines are easy for anybody to follow. I don’t want you to just browse through the theory of nutrition. I want you to actually eat healthy, great-tasting food!
If you have any questions, concerns or ideas for helpful improvements, please let me know! We’re all in this together to accomplish our goals of being healthy and happy.