Take a quick glance at a piece of nutrition literature — blogs, web resources, even printed information in the grocery store — and you'll see that most of the writing about why certain foods are "good" tends to be based on specific nutrients: How much of each you need, whether one food has more than another, etc.
Don't get me wrong: I appreciate a good spectrum of nutrients. There's something to be said for being aware of the vitamins and minerals coming into your body, and also ensuring you're getting the variety your body needs.
And yet I struggle to plan my food, or even speak with other people about food, in a way that focuses solely on why eating food X will provide you with nutrient Y. If we look just at the separate mineral components and use those to guide our food decisions, we miss out on an integral part of the eating puzzle.
As evolved creatures, we don't look at foods and think, "manganese, yum!" Instead, we think, "Awesome! The texture/scent/appearance of that mushroom/hummus/fruit looks tremendously appealing. I think I'll eat that."
This is an intuitive sense of eating, knowing what will feel good and fuel you best. It's also the foundation to a healthy relationship with food and a clear way to balance your body and intake to suit the needs unique to you.
Eating is about so much more than tiny molecules of nutrition. When we make a choice about what to eat, thousands of tiny processes and decisions happen without us even realizing. Our minds consider the color, shape, temperature, texture and scent of food before we arrive at the decision to eat it or not. We decide if it's going to feel good, either in the short term (in your mouth and on your taste buds) or the long term (in your body later on, digestively and energetically).
Here are three things you can do instead of counting nutrients to ensure the best food for your body is making its way onto your fork:
1. Ask yourself, "How will I feel in an hour?"
Think of your energy, your belly, your mind and the conversation you have with yourself. Will it be full of accolades for health-supportive choices,or judgment and guilt for a choice you didn't want to make? We can learn to determine which foods feel energizing and which ones make make us need to nap. In doing so, you start to find the individual recipe for your body.
2. Listen when your body tells you what it wants.
Check in with all of your senses before you make a decision. The body has many avenues to communicate what it needs and if we take a moment to listen to its messages, we can more easily give it what it needs.
No counting grams of macronutrients or RDA's of vitamins. When you allow it to, your body will guide you to what it needs from real food. It just takes practice to hear and respond to what it says.
3. Look at the colors of your food across.
Do you see a variety or are your plates monochromatic? That rainbow means a variety of nutrients, no counting or calculating required.
When it comes to choosing foods, focus on what feels great in your body. Because we're designed to desire and use real food, the vitamins and minerals will naturally follow as long as you take the time to listen in.