In my book How Not to Die, I center my recommendations around a Daily Dozen checklist of everything I try to fit into my daily routine.
In my book How Not to Die, I suggest we try to center our diets around whole plant foods. Some plants are healthier than others, though. Apparently, you can live for extended periods eating practically nothing but white potatoes, for example, and, by definition, that would be a whole food, plant-based diet—but not a very healthy one. All plant foods are not created equal.
The more I’ve researched over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that healthy foods are not necessarily interchangeable. Some foods and food groups have special nutrients not found in abundance elsewhere. For example, sulforaphane, the amazing liver-enzyme detox-boosting compound, is derived nearly exclusively from cruciferous vegetables. You could eat tons of other kinds of greens and vegetables on a given day and get no appreciable sulforaphane if you didn’t eat something cruciferous. Same with flaxseeds and the anticancer lignan compounds: Flax may average a hundred times more lignans than other foods. And mushrooms? Well, mushrooms aren’t even plants. They belong to an entirely different biological classification and contain some nutrients like ergothioneine that may not be made anywhere in the plant kingdom. So, technically, maybe I should be referring to a whole food, plant- and fungus-based diet…but that sounds a little gross.
It seems like every time I come home from the medical library buzzing with some exciting new data, my family rolls their eyes, sighs, and asks, What can’t we eat now? Or they’ll say, Wait a second. Why does everything seem to have parsley in it all of a sudden? They’re very tolerant!
As the list of foods I tried to fit into my daily diet grew, I made a checklist and put it up on a little dry-erase board on the fridge, and we made a game out of ticking off the boxes. This evolved into my Daily Dozen, the checklist of everything I try to fit into my daily routine. In my video Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist, you can see the list, the daily minimum servings I recommend, and examples of foods that go into each category. My Daily Dozen includes Beans, Berries, Other Fruits, Cruciferous Vegetables, Greens, Other Vegetables, Flaxseeds, Nuts and Seeds, Herbs and Spices, Whole Grains, Beverages, and Exercise.
By Beans, I mean legumes, which also include split peas, chickpeas, and lentils. It may not seem like you’re eating beans when you have a bowl of pea soup, for example, or dip carrots into hummus, but you are. We should try to get at least three servings a day. A serving is defined as a quarter cup of hummus or bean dip; a half cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu, or tempeh; or a full cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils. Technically, peanuts are legumes, but, nutritionally, I put them in my Daily Dozen Nuts and Seeds category. Similarly, I put green beans, snap peas, and string beans into the Other Vegetables category.
My Daily Dozen includes at least one serving of Berries a day, which is a half cup of fresh or frozen, or a quarter cup of dried. Biologically speaking, avocados, bananas, and even watermelons are technically berries, but to simplify things, I use the colloquial term for any small edible fruit. So, this category includes kumquats, grapes, raisins, and fruits that are typically thought of as berries even though they technically aren’t, like blackberries, cherries, mulberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
For Other Fruits, a serving is a medium-sized fruit, a cup of cut-up fruit, or a quarter cup of dried fruit, and I recommend at least three daily servings. Again, I’m using the colloquial rather than the botanical definition, which is why I put tomatoes in the Other Vegetables group.
Cruciferous Vegetables include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collards, and kale, and I recommend at least one half-cup serving a day. My Daily Dozen also calls for at least two additional daily servings of Greens, cruciferous or otherwise, and two serving of Other Vegetables, with a serving being a cup of raw leafy vegetables, a half cup for raw or cooked non-leafy vegetables, and a quarter cup of dried mushrooms.
Everyone should try to incorporate one tablespoon of ground Flaxseeds into their daily diet, in addition to one serving of Nuts and Seeds. A quarter cup of nuts is considered a serving, or you can have two tablespoons of nut or seed butters, including peanut butter. Chestnuts and coconuts don’t count nutritionally as nuts.
For my Herbs and Spices category, I recommend a quarter teaspoon a day of the spice turmeric, along with any other salt-free herbs and spices you may enjoy.
To meet my Daily Dozen, you need at least three servings of Whole Grains, and a serving can be a half cup of hot cereal (like oatmeal), cooked whole grains or so-called pseudograins (like amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa), cooked pasta, or corn kernels; a cup of ready-to-eat cold cereal; one tortilla or slice of bread; half a bagel or english muffin, or three cups of air-popped popcorn.
The serving size in the Beverage category is one 12-ounce glass, and I recommend at least five servings a day in addition to the water you get naturally from the foods in your diet. If you’re curious, I explain my rationale in my How Many Glasses of Water Should We Drink a Day? video.
Finally, my Daily Dozen calls for at least one daily “serving” of exercise, which can be split up over the day. I recommend 90 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking briskly (for instance, at a pace of four miles per hour), or 40 minutes of vigorous activity, like jogging or active sports. See my video How Much Should You Exercise? if you’d like more information.
This may sound like a lot of boxes to check, but it’s easy to knock off a bunch at a time. One simple peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-grain bread can check off four boxes, and imagine how many Daily Dozen boxes you could tick off when you sit down to a big salad of two cups of spinach, a handful of arugula, a handful of walnuts, a half cup of chickpeas, a half cup of red bell pepper, and a small tomato. That’s seven boxes in just one salad! Sprinkle on your flaxseeds, add a handful of goji berries, enjoy it with a glass of water, and end with some fruit for dessert, and you just met nearly half of the Daily Dozen in a single meal! And, if you just ate it on your treadmill…just kidding!
Do I check off each glass of water I drink? No. In fact, I don’t even use the checklist anymore. I just used it initially as a tool to get me into a routine. Whenever I sat down to a meal, I challenged myself by asking, Could I add greens to this? Could I add beans to this? Can I sprinkle on some flax or pumpkin seeds? What about some dried fruit? The checklist just got me into the habit of wondering how I can make each meal even healthier.
The checklist also helped with grocery shopping. Although I always keep bags of frozen berries and greens in the freezer, if I’m at the store and want to buy fresh produce for the week, it helps me figure out how much kale or blueberries I need.
In fact, the checklist even helped me picture what a meal might look like. When you look over the Daily Dozen, as you can see at 6:44 in my video, you see that it includes three servings each of Beans, Other Fruits, and Whole Grains, and about twice as many vegetables in total than any other component, when you add up the Cruciferous Vegetables, Greens, and Other Vegetables. So, glancing at my plate, I can imagine one quarter of it filled with grains, one quarter with legumes, and vegetables taking up the other half, along with a side salad and fruit for dessert, for instance. I really like one-bowl meals where everything’s mixed together, and even then the checklist helps me visualize. Instead of a big bowl of spaghetti with some veggies and lentils on top, I think of a big bowl of vegetables with some pasta and lentils mixed in. Instead of a big plate of quinoa with some stir-fried vegetables, I picture a meal that’s mostly vegetables with some quinoa and beans added in there, too.
There’s no need to be obsessive about the Daily Dozen. On hectic travel days, when I’ve burned through my snacks and find myself stuck in some airport food court, I’m lucky if I hit even a quarter of my goals.
If you eat poorly one day, just try to eat better the next.
To help track your progress, volunteers created Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen apps for both iPhone and Android. You can download and use them both for free with no ads and no cost.
My hope is that the checklist will serve as a helpful reminder to try to eat a variety of some the healthiest foods every day.
- All plant foods are not created equal, so although we should try to center our diets around whole plant foods, we should be sure to incorporate the most healthful ones.
- Some of the most special and important nutrients are sulforaphane, which is found almost exclusively in cruciferous vegetables, and flaxseeds with their anticancer lignan compounds.
- The Daily Dozen checklist is the synopsis of recommendations I make in my book How Not to Die, incorporating everything I try to fit into my daily routine and lists categories and minimum servings.
- My Daily Dozen includes Beans (and legumes, including split peas, chickpeas, and lentils), Berries, Other Fruits, Cruciferous Vegetables, Greens, Other Vegetables, Flaxseeds, Nuts and Seeds, Herbs and Spices, Whole Grains, Beverages, and Exercise.
- The Daily Dozen is intended to inspire you to eat more healthful options and look at each eating experience as an opportunity to maximize nutrition.
- To help you tick the Daily Dozen boxes, volunteers created Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen app, completely free to download and use, and available for both iPhone and Android.
This was quite the departure from our regular blogs! Normally, we just share the science from the primary sources in the peer-reviewed medical literature, but I want NutritionFacts.org to be more than just a reference site. I want it to be a practical guide on translating this mountain of data into day-to-day decisions, which is where my Daily Dozen app slips into the mix. It’s available for free on iTunes and as an Android app, thanks to an amazing group of volunteers through our Open Source Initiative.
For more introductory-type videos, check out:
How can you actually incorporate those Daily Dozen foods into your diet? Check out my How Not to Die Cookbook. If you didn’t already know, all the proceeds I receive from that—and all my books, in fact—go to charity.
Michael Greger, M.D.
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