It’s National Nutrition Month®, so it’s a good time to evaluate your diet and how it impacts your health.
This is the 50th anniversary of National Nutrition Month, which was started in 1973 to build awareness of good nutrition and help people make more informed choices about the foods they eat. This year's theme is “Fuel for the Future,” focusing on sustainability and eating in a way that is good for you and our planet. Its goals include:
- Enjoy more plant-based meals and snacks
- Purchase foods with minimal packaging
- Buy foods in season and shop locally when possible
- Start a container or backyard garden to grow food at home
At Gaia Herbs, we’re all about plants and sustainability. To honor National Nutrition Month, we offer some great ideas on how to add our herbal supplements to your plant-based diet to make it even more nutritious.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
If you’re new to a plant-based diet, the first thing to know is that it doesn’t have to be vegetarian or vegan. A plant-based diet is one where you get most of your nutrients from plants: leafy greens, vegetables, legumes, roots, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and spices. However, you can still eat fish, poultry, red meat, dairy, and eggs — just less often and in smaller portions than the plant-based food on your plate.
If you eat meat and poultry in a primarily plant-based diet, you should choose unprocessed options that are 93% or more lean meat. All food should be unprocessed or minimally processed to avoid unhealthy fats, sugars, salts, and chemicals.
Basic science and clinical research studies have proven that a plant-based diet can reduce inflammation in your body, oxygen free radicals, oxidative stress, and LDL cholesterol levels.REF#851 When you commit to a plant-based diet, you give yourself the best chance of avoiding cardiovascular disease.
The key to a healthy plant-based diet is the proper balance of nutrients, including:
- Macronutrients: Your body requires four major food groups — protein, carbohydrates, fiber, unsaturated fats to grow and function efficiently. It can’t make them, so you need to consume them.
- Micronutrients: For macronutrients to do their job, they need the help of vitamins and minerals in smaller quantities. There are around 30 micronutrients that are considered essential, including vitamins A, B1, B2, niacin, B5, B6, folic acid, B12, C, D, and E, calcium, chloride, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and sodium.
- Phytonutrients: The natural compounds that give edible plants their color, flavor, and smell, provide antioxidant properties that capture and remove oxygen free radicals, reduce oxidative stress, and maintain healthy blood flow. Only a small number have been studied for their health benefits, but these studies indicate that consuming the right amount of phytonutrients helps reduce the risk of chronic disease.REF#852 Some of these phytonutrients include polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, and carotenoids.
Different medical groups propose different daily macronutrient ranges depending on age and gender. The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends thatREF#853:
- 10 to 20 percent of calories are protein
- 45 to 65 percent are carbohydrates
- 20 to 35 percent are fats (with saturated fats being no more than 10 percent)
An easy way to ensure you’re getting a proper balance of nutrients is to use the Healthy Eating Plate system, designed by experts at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. It is similar to another system created by the USDA called MyPlate, but provides better direction on the healthiest alternatives. (You can read a comparison of the two here.)
You fill over a quarter of your plate with healthy vegetables, just under a quarter with fruit, one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein.
Fill Your Plate with Color
While more studies are needed to determine daily requirements for phytonutrients, one way to ensure you get enough is to use the concept of “eating the rainbow.” Fill your plate with foods from all the different color groups: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The more colorful your plate, the greater variety of micronutrients you’ll be consuming.
If you don’t feel you’re getting all the micronutrients and phytonutrients you need from your diet, adding supplements to your recipes is a great way to consume them.
The 5 Best Gaia Products to Support Your Nutrition
Not all Gaia Herbs supplements will enhance food, but several can be used in a range of preparations, from smoothies to salads to grain salads.
Before sprinkling your food with powders or extracts, it’s important to know that there is no conclusive research on whether heating nutrients alters their composition. Different vitamins, for instance, have been shown to degrade when heated, such as vitamin C. Whereas the antioxidant lycopene (which is found in high amounts in tomatoes) increases when heated. Different cooking methods also seem to affect alteration. In the case of vitamin C, more of the vitamin is lost by boiling than by microwaving.REF#854
You’ll likely still benefit from a supplement when it is cooked in a recipe. But if you’re concerned about the loss of benefit, only use supplements in recipes that use raw ingredients and aren’t heated.
The Gaia team has five favorite supplements we love to add to recipes for variety. Available research suggests they offer the same nutrition level you’d get from taking the supplement alone (plus all the other nutrition you get from the food itself).
1. Black Elderberry
Black Elderberry Syrup and Black Elderberry Tonic support your body’s immune system and help you maintain good health.* You can add a recommended dose to a wide range of recipes. We wrote an entire blog post on 15 Simple Ways to Incorporate Black Elderberry Extract. Some of our favorite options are:
- Add it to a blueberry smoothie.
- Mix it into plain yogurt.
- Drizzle it over your oatmeal.
- Make it into ice cubes and add the cubes to lemonade.
- Make a Hot Toddy Mocktail.
2. Ginger Root
- Green tea
- Hot water, honey, and lemon
- Sparkling mineral water
- Pineapple smoothie
- Ginger miso salad dressing
- Whole grain salads
- Energy bars
Maca gives you caffeine-free support to help you feel energized all day.* Gaia Herbs offers two forms of Maca powder that make great additives for recipes: Maca Powder and Maca Boost Cacao Ginger. The latter is already flavored for a delicious and soothing drink on its own. But both powders can be mixed with other ingredients to add zip to favorite foods. Depending on whether you’re preparing something savory or sweet, you can add a recommended dose of one or the other to enhance:
- Hot chocolate
- Lentil soup
- Energy bars
4. Peppermint Leaf Extract
Peppermint supports better digestion and adds wonderful flavor to all kinds of healthy and not-so-healthy treats.* (Sometimes, you have to indulge a little.) A few ideas for adding Gaia’s Peppermint Leaf extract to recipes include:
- Green tea
- Mint smoothies
- Ice cream
- Virgin mojitos
- Hot chocolate
- Energy bars
Turmeric root has been used in alternative medicine and cooking worldwide for centuries. It is now recognized in the West as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that helps build immunity and vitality.* Gaia Herbs’ Turmeric Boost Restore and Golden Milk supplements in powder form can add nutrients and flavor to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Turmeric Boost Restore combines Turmeric with Holy Basil, Ginger, Cardamom and other Ayurvedic herbs and spices for a tasty addition to sweet and savory dishes. Golden Milk combines Turmeric, Ashwagandha, cardamom, dates, and vanilla and works well in warm and cold drinks. Use one of the other to add beneficial nutrients to:
- Chai tea
- Overnight oats
- Chia pudding
- Tropical fruit smoothies
- Fried rice
- Whole grain salads
- Vinaigrette dressing
If you’re interested in learning more about cooking with supplements, click on Recipes on the menu bar of our blog, Seeds of Knowledge. Also, join Gaia Herb’s newsletter at the bottom of every page of our website and receive links to new recipes as they are added to the blog.
- 1. Frank B Hu, "Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2003. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000291652203355X?via%3Dihub 1 1. Frank B Hu, "Plant-based foods and prevention of cardiovascular disease: an overview", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2003. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000291652203355X?via%3Dihub
- 2. Deanna M. Minnich, "A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow", Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, June 2, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7770496/ 2 2. Deanna M. Minnich, "A Review of the Science of Colorful, Plant-Based Food and Practical Strategies for “Eating the Rainbow", Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, June 2, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7770496/
- 3. , "Appendix E-3.1.A4. Nutritional goals for each age/sex group used in assessing adequacy of USDA Food Patterns at various calorie levels", . https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2022-01/Appendix-E3-1-Table-A4.pdf 3 3. , "Appendix E-3.1.A4. Nutritional goals for each age/sex group used in assessing adequacy of USDA Food Patterns at various calorie levels", . https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2022-01/Appendix-E3-1-Table-A4.pdf
- 4. Seongeung Lee et al, "Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables", Food Science and Biotechnology, December 12, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049644/ 4 4. Seongeung Lee et al, "Effect of different cooking methods on the content of vitamins and true retention in selected vegetables", Food Science and Biotechnology, December 12, 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6049644/