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When it comes to nutrition, are baby steps enough?

More and more research shows that nutrition can help fight disease. But many experts say small changes simply aren't enough. Is your diet supporting long-term health?


I started really thinking (panicking, maybe?) about this topic after I wrote The Nutrient-Dense Diet last year. And now, once again, as we’re hurled into 2011 wondering whether we’re doing enough to care for our bodies (and minds). Of course, small changes are better than no changes at all. But when it comes to long-term health, are they enough?

Last year when I spoke with Joel Fuhrman, MD, the brains behind a nutrient-dense ranking food system called ANDI (and our main source for The Nutrient-Dense Diet,) a part of me expected—or hoped—to hear that humble efforts, think tacking on an extra serving of dark leafy greens at dinner and skipping a croissant in favor of rolled oats at breakfast, quickly add up to equal a healthier you. He unabashedly told me something much different.

“We can’t make small, moderate changes to the average diet and expect prevention; we need to make aggressive, radical changes,” he said. So much for every little bit helps. Now it seems opinions (and very, very educated opinions based on years of research) increasingly fall under Camp Fuhrman. 

A few days ago, I was having an inspiring conversation with two-time cancer survivor and disease-prevention cookbook author Meg Wolff when the topic came up yet again. “Drastic changes or baby steps?” I asked her. “I think for the people who are ill and really want to use it as a healing modality, it makes sense to do the whole thing, but it can be tailored to any sort of situation. And I think that even small changes can make a difference for the people that just want to improve their diet.” 

Wolff, after adopting a macrobiotic diet to fight off her second bout of cancer, aims for nine servings of veggies a day, starting with a side of steamed kale to accompany her oatmeal. “Breakfast is the hardest for people,” Wolff said, so she recommends just starting with the oatmeal and working up to something a bit less conventional, like the early morning greens.

Another conversation with a culinarily progressive coworker this morning confirmed that sometimes you have to reevaluate your preconceived ideas to make important dietary changes. He has literally redefined what breakfast is in order to reap more nutritional value out of it, using international cultures as inspiration to create morning meals that look more like lunch or dinner and incorporate greens, whole grains like wild or brown rice, and beans. 

My conclusion, as I enter the New Year? Improving your diet in any way is beneficial to overall health, and that first step is absolutely crucial—especially something like cutting out fast food (take the Fast-Food Free pledge at—if that’s still a part of your diet. Some results of these small changes may be immediate (increasing servings of greens and decreasing sugar intake can close to instantly give you more energy and boost immunity). But the key is to remember that baby steps are only a good place to start. Now that we have research to support it, everyone should be using nutrition to improve longevity and prevent disease. And in order to do that, you must aim for the marathon. Wolff’s recommendations: Nine servings of nutrient-rich veggies a day. Cut out sugar as much as possible. And reduce meat intake. Then maybe try waking up a mound of steamed kale. 

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