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Do you have a tendency to eat the same foods over and over?
Are you aware that it’s much better for your overall health, mental functioning, and immunity to take in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and seeds? Eating the same limited foods repeatedly increases the chance that you’ll miss out on certain micronutrients, including many that haven’t been identified or studied yet. A nutritionally restricted diet also increases your susceptibility to disease.
Our forager ancestors moved around a lot and ate nutritionally different wild foods wherever they went. With the rise of agriculture, however, our diets became much less varied. Grocery stores now showcase essentially the same foods in every aisle: wheat, sugar, corn, soy, etc.
Even fruits and vegetables have been hybridized over millennia to become the modern foods we see today, and many foods that look different are actually hybrids of a common ancestor. Broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and cabbage are human-created hybrids of the same plant. Humans have hybridized plants to emphasize certain traits, often making them bigger, sweeter, hardier, and easier to cultivate.
When was the last time you ate a wild banana with seeds in it? Do you even know what a wild banana looks like? If not, Google wild banana to take a look.
Upgrading Your Nutrient Profile
A few weeks ago, I saw Dr. Joel Fuhrman at the Health Healing Happiness conference in Las Vegas since we were both speaking there. You may have heard of his well-known book Eat to Live. He spoke about what he calls the nutritarian diet, which means eating a high quantity and quality of nutrients per calorie.
The nutrient density idea was very familiar, and for most people knowledgeable about nutrition, it seems like a no-brainer that you’ll function better if you eat foods with more nutrients per calorie such as fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and seeds. If, however, you populate your diet with low quality items like refined and processed foods, your brain and other organs will suffer for it, and you’ll experience a mental and emotional downgrade.
As many personal growth enthusiasts discover, eating a highly nutritious plant-based diet yields powerful benefits for mental and emotional health, such as increased mental clarity and focus, stronger mental endurance, better memory, higher levels of motivation and ambition, and a happier mood.
Every month at least a few people email me about ongoing challenges with procrastination, chronic negative emotions, lack of focus, low ambition, and other mental problems. They frequently assume there must be a psychological solution or mind hack that will help them, but mind-level solutions don’t yield results if they aren’t taking good care of their physical brains first. When I ask them what their diets and exercise habits are like, the response is almost always a diet low in fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and seeds with little or no exercise. How can you expect your mind to perform well if you aren’t taking care of your brain properly? Drink more coffee to make up for the deficiency?
In Conscious Growth Club, several members are currently doing health and fitness deep dives to explore how such changes affect their overall well-being. They’re maintaining progress logs in the forums to share their results, get feedback, and make improvements as they go along. It’s great to see this kind of activity. So many challenges we experience in life and business trace back to physical deficiencies or excesses that knock our minds out of balance. Our mental and emotional lives can become a lot richer and more abundant when we lay a solid foundation for a healthy brain.
The Catch 22 is that when you fail to feed your brain a healthy diet, you’re more likely to succumb to procrastination, laziness, cynicism, mental fogginess, and other self-sabotaging mindsets. Even so, an all-out push to improve your nutritional intake and exercise habits can yield waves of empowering results, which in turn can give you the mindset and motivation to keep investing in further health improvements.
I recently read the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams of Dilbert fame. He stresses the importance of diet and exercise to maintain high energy levels since this provides the fuel for action and achievement. If you aren’t enjoying high energy days consistently, especially in terms of your mental performance, look to your diet and exercise habits since they’re probably holding you back.
If you’re thinking that you’ll have to eat differently than most people to be smarter mentally and happier emotionally, you’re right. Do you want to be like the average person in your social circle, or would you rather be even smarter and happier? If you do the latter, you’ll soon attract a smarter and happier social circle as well, and this will reinforce and support your positive progression.
Nutritional Variety on Different Time Scales
One takeaway I gained from Dr. Fuhrman’s talk was the importance of nutritional variety across different time scales. He didn’t speak to this point directly, but I picked it up as an underlying message.
While I probably eat 8-10 different fruits and veggies and a few types of greens, nuts, and seeds in a typical day, I have a tendency to eat many of the same foods over and over on a longer time scale.
For instance, I frequently make green smoothies with these same ingredients:
- spinach, mixed greens, and/or celery
- orange or clementines
- blueberries, strawberries, or cherries
- water / ice
Now and then I might blend in pineapple, maca, chia seeds, carob powder, mesquite powder, hemp seeds, or a few other items. But I rarely consider more than 15 possible ingredients.
How many other items could I include in a smoothie though? Hundreds perhaps… just not all in the same smoothie.
For other meals I tend to eat the same items repeatedly too. Lately I’ve been eating a big salad almost every day made with:
- romaine lettuce
- English cucumber
- sun dried tomatoes
- sliced olives (sometimes)
- microgreens or sprouts
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
I love this salad! But of course it’s the same combo over and over most of the time.
For cooked veggies I often favor a pretty limited suite as well: zucchini, yellow squash, bok choy, peppers, onions, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, and a few others. I often make steamed veggies and eat them with hummus.
Over the span of a day or a week, this might look like a lot of variety, but it doesn’t look as varied over a longer time span.
Lately I’ve been applying Dr. Fuhrman’s advice by injecting more variety into the foods I eat. I find that the easiest way to do this is while buying food. If I buy different foods, I’ll likely eat them.
Perhaps the simplest way to achieve more variety is to pay attention to foods you haven’t eaten in months (or longer) and go buy some of them. I recently enjoyed some peaches and apricots, which I hadn’t eaten in a long time.
Another thing you can do is to buy different versions of your favorite items instead of favoring the same versions week after week. Do you buy the same tomato variety every time? How about trying a different type of tomato next time you’re at the store? Or buy tomatoes from a different store or supplier. Then the tomatoes will have a different nutrient profile because the soil and weather will be different.
Did you know that there are hundreds of types of avocados? Seven of them are commercially available in California. How many have you tried? I recently bought some Reed avocados which are 2-3 times bigger than the kind I normally buy. They’re also delicious!
Another thing you can do is vary the ingredients in the meals you already eat. I put some green chard in my smoothie this morning, not just the usual spinach.
Dr. Fuhrman emphasized the value of injecting more variety into the ingredients you use to make dressings and sauces. If you like creamy cashew-based salad dressings, don’t just use cashews for the base every time. Mix it up by combining cashews and sunflower seeds, cashews and walnuts, or cashews and hemp seeds. This gives you a more varied nutrient profile, even when you’re making similar dressings.
Stretch yourself to try new foods that seem exotic to you. If you’ve exhausted the limited offerings of your favorite local stores, branch out into shopping at ethnic stores, farmer’s markets, or elsewhere online.
You may even try a special challenge by going to the grocery store and buying only those fruits, veggies, greens, nuts, and seeds that you wouldn’t normally buy. Then see how creative you can get making meals out of them.
Last year I tried sacha inchi seeds, which I’d never had before. This month I tried some pili nuts for the first time. I’ve also stocked up on a wider variety of nuts and seeds, so now I have all of these on hand:
- Brazil nuts
- pili nuts
- pine nuts
- peanut butter
- hemp seeds
- chia seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- sesame seeds
What’s missing? What else could I add? Oh yeah… macadamia nuts!
Most of these I buy locally, but I often order items from Amazon when they’re hard to find locally or if I want to buy in bulk, such as really raw organic almonds from Spain. I prefer to avoid the pasteurized (dead) almonds from California – I don’t even know why they’re still labeled raw. Really raw almonds are sproutable.
You may have heard the news that Amazon is buying Whole Foods, so who knows what that will affect nutritional variety in the years ahead? Maybe Amazon can help Whole Foods reduce prices, so people don’t have to keep referring to it as Whole Paycheck.
At the very least, I think the trend towards giving people more options will continue. Maybe someday I’ll be able to choose from 100+ different types of avocados and have a flying drone drop them off in my backyard within an hour or two. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could ask a drone to forage some wild foods as well?
How Can You Improve?
Do you see any room to upgrade your nutritional variety? What you can do now to improve? Take the next steps.
Here are a few simple suggestions:
- The next time you buy food, buy at least one fruit, one vegetable, one bunch of greens, one type of nut, and one type of seed that you haven’t consumed in a long time.
- Take a risk and buy at least one item on your next shop that you’ve never eaten – yes, one of those colorful, funky looking things that you’re not even sure how to eat. Surely you can use the Internet to discover how to eat it, right? What if you like it?
- Substitute a different ingredient in a familiar meal. Try almond butter instead of peanut butter. Use a different type of lettuce in your salad. Use a different variety of tomato. Rotate your greens.
- Try shopping at an ethnic grocery store or farmer’s market. Buy a few items you’ve never eaten, or at least buy some familiar items grown on different farms.
The more variety you include in your diet, the stronger a foundation you build for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you combine this with regular exercise (see this video on The Mental Benefits of Cardio Exercise), hopefully you won’t have to send me any emails complaining about your challenges with focus, concentration, motivation, depression, and so on. Instead you’ll be able to share what’s working for you and inspire others to upgrade their brains/minds as well.
If your diet truly sucks though, a major overhaul may be more helpful than baby steps. The good thing about having an atrocious diet to begin with is that you can potentially see huge gains in mental clarity and emotional happiness within just a few days if you do a serious clean-up of your health habits. The downside is that you may need to go through some major detox to get there, as your body finally has a chance to clear out the junk you’ve accumulated from years of abuse.
I know it’s scary to step outside of your comfort zone and eat something new, especially when you know exactly how you’ll feel when you consume your familiar favorites. Be brave! You’ll soon fall in love with the upgraded energy, focus, and happiness.