Recently, Jennifer Aniston released a secret recipe that she claims kept her slim and trim during the 10-year run of Friends. The key, she says, was eating this same salad every day for lunch…for the entire 10 years. After looking through the recipe carefully, it not only looks appealing but actually contains all of the nutrition one needs to stay in peak condition.
What was especially interesting about this revelation was that the U.S. Department of Health came out suggesting that more variety than this one recipe is necessary to stay healthy. This idea, however, assumes that variety is the ultimate necessity for proper nutrition.
It is not.
In fact, there are plenty of experts who consider too much variety an overcomplicating factor in diets. For many cultures around the world a routine daily diet is a standard practice. Only in the West do we consider a wide variety of foods to be a necessity for good nutrition. If the foods we eat are nutritious enough, adding more outside those needs isn’t really an advantage. It may be more interesting, but it actually wastes time, causes stress for shoppers and food preparers, and doesn’t add anything to the diet itself.
Once a body adapts to a nutritional plan, it can very quickly become highly efficient at processing that particular food routine. That efficiency is where the plan really starts to pay off; and in fact, as in Ms. Aniston’s case, usually only applies to one key meal in a day anyway.
There are other holes in the recommendations of the Department of Health’s recommendations. In addition to suggesting that “variety” is the key to good nutrition, they recommend:
- Basing meals on starchy foods as these give you energy.
- Eating lots of fruit and vegetables (at least five portions) every day.
- Eating more fish; at least two portions a week. One of these should be “oily” fish (mackerel or sardines).
- Cutting down on saturated fat and sugar.
- Eating less salt.
- Getting active outside and being a healthy weight.
- Drinking 6-8 glasses of water every day.
- Not skipping breakfast.
In general these recommendations are a good start. However, recommending basing your meals on starchy foods is misleading. The body views starch the same way it does sugar, so basing meals on pasta, potatoes, or rice is not conducive to a healthy overall diet plan. In fact, saying this, and then saying “cut down on sugar” is hypocritical, because to your pancreas the two are one and the same.
The reasoning behind the “energy” statement regarding starchy foods is simple: sugar and starch burn fast, and you’ll get a kick of energy from these foods. They’re calorie (but not nutrient) dense, so it’s a bit like topping up your fuel tank. What they don’t tell you is that using these foods as your staple fuel supply means you’ll need to eat more of them more often, as opposed to proteins and fats which are slower burning and actually fuel you for tomorrow.
Fruits and vegetables are fine, although the jury is out again on how much fruit there should be. Realistically, the main argument is vitamins, and vegetables are packed with those. Fruit, by contrast, is mainly sugar, so if you’re on a reduction plan you’ll want to keep fruits in check and eliminate fruit juice altogether. It’s actually nothing but sugar and water, and the purported health benefits are counteracted by the sugar content. A glass of apple juice, for example, may have almost as much sugar as a can of Coke.
Fish is fine, but avoid cutting down on salt unless instructed by a doctor to do so. This is especially true if you’re planning on increasing your water intake. Remember that every nerve in your body and every neuron in your brain runs on an electrical charge. In order to jump the gaps between neurons, that charge needs a saline solution. Too often people “water their brains” by drinking too much water (hyperhydrosis), causing these sparks to fail. This gets amplified when there’s not enough mineral salt in the system at the same time. It causes dizziness, loss of focus, muscle weakness, slowed muscle response, memory loss, and even blackouts.
You probably need more water. Start with that, and watch the symptoms. If you have high blood pressure, that’s the time to focus on reducing sodium. But if you’re properly hydrated, chances are you’ll find yourself running at peak neural effectiveness with a well-balanced saline environment.
Jennifer Aniston’s Quinoa Salad Recipe
Now let’s take a look at Jennifer Aniston’s salad recipe (serves 2):
- 1/2 cup quinoa
- 1 cup water
- pinch of salt
- 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley (stems removed)
- 4 Persian cucumbers, peeled in strips, seeded and diced
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 slightly firm avocado, diced
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small saucepan bring water and salt to a boil.
- Stir in quinoa, cover and lower the heat to simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Put quinoa into a medium mixing bowl and cool.
- Add parsley, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocado and oil to quinoa.
- Mix and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Are you kidding?! Let’s take a look at the nutrient profile here for a minute:
Quinoa is, arguably, the most complete vegetable protein source known to man. A complete amino acid complex, combined with fibre, rich vitamin stores, and that all-important starch the D.o.H. is all gung-ho for. In this case, the starch and fibre will go a long way toward keeping you feeling full.
A full bunch of parsley contains massive amounts of system-friendly detoxifying chlorophyll. It also ranks as one of the highest plant sources of key antioxidants, has massive quantities of other essential vitamins, and provides a huge hit of vitamin K, an essential vitamin that is extremely difficult to get in suitable quantities in a salad (in fact, 100 grams of parsley contains 1366% of the U.S.D.A.’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin K!).
Actually, just take this to the bank (per 100g of raw parsley):
- 38% of folates
- 220% of vitamin C
- 281% of vitamin A
- 1366% of vitamin K
- 14% of calcium
- 77.5% of iron
- 5561 mcg of zeaxanthin
- 5054 mcg of beta-carotene
(Source: Nutrition and You)
We won’t go into the details on the value of tomatoes and cucumbers here. You’ve probably heard enough about those already, although you can get those details easily enough at that Nutrition and You.
Adding avocado and and olive oil to this recipe caps out what is probably one of the most nutritionally balanced salads we’ve experienced. These two healthy fats combat all manner of bad things (LDL cholesterol among them), fire up metabolism, and go after free radicals. They fuel your brain with essential fats, and maintain muscle tone, skin tone, and even healthy hair. And best of all they keep you feeling fuller longer, which goes a long way toward controlling mid-afternoon snack binges.
Put quite simply, if she didn’t research this recipe Ms. Aniston has hit upon one of the most astonishing accidental combinations of near-perfect foods (it tastes phenomenal too). The fats, proteins, fibre, healthy starches, and highly bioavailable protein in this salad really cast doubt on that “variety is best / balanced diet” nonsense. In this case, the recipe here is actually a balanced diet. The only thing missing is starchy wheat and sugary fruit.
And for guys in training, our own variation amps up the protein: just add two hard boiled eggs and, if you’re adventurous, a little splash of balsamic vinegar to spike up the flavour. A dash of cayenne pepper to help with inflammation tops off the profile of one of the coolest, easiest, and most complete salad combinations around.