The salad bar at your local grocery store is the closest most of us will ever come to eating like an ancestor. Sorry, Outback Steakhouse. Our not-so-distant ancestors consumed an extraordinary diversity of plants throughout their rounds on the landscape. While meat played a significant role in our evolutionary success, the vast majority of the 50+ essential vitamins and minerals that make us a top predator in this wild kingdom we call earth is only delivered in small nutritious packages from plants.
Modern technology has condensed some of our ancient nutritional landscape into tightly spaced plastic bins and bowls sitting atop crunchy ice. A tidy landscape of such nutrition would have made the toughest of our ancestors weep. And what do most of us do upon stepping up to this diverse bounty? Flinch! And begin filling a clamshell container with piles of a single leafy green and maybe a pinch of this and that.
Over the last few months I have stalked the salad bar — I know, creepy — at my local grocery store and witnessed firsthand well-intentioned folks filling their salad container with water-laden leafy greens and not much else. If we channeled our ancestors for just a moment, we would fill this finite container with less leafy greens and a spoonful of every plant you can stand to eat. If it’s ten plants, then ten it is. If it’s fifteen, then even better.
Building a better salad means diversity. No single plant contains everything you nutritionally need; it’s the combination of physical (think fiber) and chemical (vitamins and minerals) diversity that is more in line with the edible landscape that selected the nutritional requirements of our modern genome.
A greater diversity of plants in your container will likely reduce the water percentage by weight — making you feel fuller, longer. The diversity of this mixed meal will slow down digestion and absorption, also contributing to feeling fuller for longer.
Importantly, each plant at your local salad bar contains a different physio-chemical structure of dietary fiber. With each bite of this diversity, you will more naturally stimulate the growth of good-for-you bacteria living deep in the self-contained ecosystem known as your gut. Yes, good for-you-bacteria break down and grow on dietary fiber — and the more diverse, the better. So try this next time you fill a container at your local grocery store and see how you feel.
And remember, nothing in nutrition makes sense unless in the light of evolution, friendos. Don’t flinch.