There is a saying in fantasy football, “Don’t be a ranking slave.” One of our athletes’ favorite TV shows, “The League” has an entire episode based around the concept. The advice refers to choosing players and your team based only on rankings, usually done by a 3rd party that is making educated guesses. Choosing healthy foods should be no different. First, every meal needs to include a protein and vegetable. Obviously you should choose salmon (protein) over cookie dough (sugar and flour), but the real dilemma, and perhaps our most frequently asked question, is which vegetable is the best.
Ten years ago, at the Institute for American Cancer’s annual conference, plant variety was a crucial topic in the prevention of cancer and other diseases. So this need for variety is not a new concept, yet we continue to look for that “fairy dust” solution to make us faster, stronger, and leaner. With new technologies, we are able to isolate food’s nutrient profiles easier but this process has also allowed us to rank fruits and vegetables, perhaps at the sake of diversity.
One of the conference speakers, Dr. David Heber of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, explained that “there are 150,000 to 200,000 different edible plant foods in the world, and most Americans eat only three per day,” said Dr. Heber. “Compare that to existing hunter-gatherer populations eating over 800 varieties of plant foods.”
“We need to stop treating fruits and vegetables as if they were drugs,” said Dr. Heber. “Every vegetable and fruit has a unique profile of nutrients and phytochemicals, and these families of compounds exert beneficial effects on our bodies to prevent disease.”
So rather than leave you with the generalization of just eating a variety of plants, think of pursuing these nutrients by colors (see Sparta Point 12/1/10). Fruits and vegetable colors are generally grouped by the beneficial chemical substances they contain, but most practical way to start is to aim for 5 different colors each day.
I know it is hard for athletes to have the foresight of distant occurrences like cancer, but this variety of vegetables can also keep your blood more basic (see Sparta Point 4/14/10), as well as help nervous system functioning to improve your force production (see Sparta Point 3/1/10).
So eat more plants every day, but don’t be a ranking slave.