A lot of us want to eat healthier, but getting started is the tricky part. It’s challenging to build a new habit. Moreover, there are so many tips and hacks available, making it overwhelming and hard to know which one will work. Further, there are many definitions of what a healthy diet is. So, before you begin, it can be helpful to define what “eating healthier” means to you.
Despite the varying beliefs, most people would agree that eating more plant foods is beneficial to health and that whole-foods are healthier than processed foods.
And this is where the daily dozen list, created by Dr. Michael Greger, comes in handy. It’s a fantastic free tool to help you incorporate more whole plant foods into your diet.
So in this post, we’ll take a look at what the daily dozen list is, how to use it, and how each item on the list helps you live and eat healthier.
So what is the daily dozen list?
It’s an easy and practical tool to help you implement a nutrient-rich and health-promoting diet. The list contains 12 items that you should check off ✅ every day. Ten of them are food groups, along with suggestions on how many servings you should eat of each. The other two points promote a healthy lifestyle.
The idea behind the daily dozen list is that when you tick off every item, it’s very likely that you will have eating lots of healthy foods and that you got all the nutrients you need. *
*This excludes nutrients that often need to be supplemented (f.e. vitamin B12, vitamin D), especially on a plant-based/vegan diet.
Further, the daily dozen list encourages you to eat a varied, balanced, whole-foods diet while allowing you to freely decided which recipes you prepare. Thus, you can make meals according to your preferences.
Moreover, this tool serves as a guide, not a prescription, so feel free to use it in a way that helps you the most. The more you check off, the more benefits you’ll experience, but you are not restricted to the items on this list. You can add other ingredients to your meals as well. The goal is to center your meals around the foods on the list, but don’t let yourself be limited to them.
Of course, this tool is not perfect and can’t offer a guarantee. However, many people, including me, have found it super helpful and feel it takes away a lot of stress overwhelm.
Nevertheless, it is recommended to have your blood tested regularly to monitor for possible deficiencies.
Every once in a while, you may want to keep a food diary and analyze it using a tool like Chronometer or have a (plant-based) nutritionist/doctor do so.
These are simple strategies to double-check for nutrient deficiencies and make adaptations to your diet as needed.
How to use the daily dozen list?
The list is a checklist. Every time you incorporate an item into your diet, you can check it off. The same is true when you tackle a lifestyle-related to-do.
So, for example, it encourages you to eat at least two servings of greens every day. When and how you want to add them to your meals is up to you. You may add one serving of spinach to your breakfast smoothie and tick the first serving off. Later in the day, when you decided to add some cooked kale as a side to your dinner, you can check off the second serving. And that is how you go about all the items that are on this list.
To keep track of all that you’ve eaten so far in a day, you can use the free Daily Dozen App. In addition to allowing you to check things off, it also shows you what foods are a part of each food group and how big one serving is. Moreover, it keeps track of your stats, so you can go back and see how you did the previous weeks/months.
If you prefer a print-out, you can use this printable.
Alright, we are done with the theory. Let’s take a look at what is on this list that we’ve talked about so much. 🙂
How the daily dozen list helps you eat healthier
1. Eat 3 servings of fruit
The first thing the daily dozen list recommends is to eat 3 servings of fruit every day. Fruit contains many health-promoting components. It is usually very rich in vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants, which, among others, supports the prevention of chronic diseases.
Serving size: 1 medium-sized fruit, 120 g or 1 cup cut-up fruit, 40 g or 1/4 cup dried fruits
What’s included (examples): apple, banana, pear, dried apricots, avocado, melons, dates, lemons, pineapple
How to add it to your life (examples): add it to smoothies/oatmeal/porridge, eat it as a snack, make a dessert with it (tart, nicecream)
2. 1 serving of berries
While being a type of fruit, berries get a spot on their own because they are the healthiest fruit and particularly nutrient-rich. Usually, the darker the berry, the higher the antioxidant content. Among others, consuming berries regularly can help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Serving size: 60 g or 1/2 cup fresh or frozen, 40 g or 1/4 cup dried
What’s included (examples): strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, raisins, grapes
How to add it to your life (examples): add it to smoothies/oatmeal/porridge, eat it as a snack, make a dessert with it (tart, nicecream…)
3. 1 Serving of cruciferous vegetables
Next up are cruciferous vegetables, which are likely the healthiest kind of vegetables. This is because they contain the most vitamins and minerals. Among others, they are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, carotenoids, and provide more protein than other vegetables. In addition, they support liver detoxification.
Serving size: 30 – 80 g or 1/2 cup chopped, 1 tbsp horseradish
What’s included (examples): arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radishes, kale
How to add it to your life (examples): as a part of the main dish (f.e. cauliflower wings); as a side (f.e. roasted brussels sprouts, steamed broccoli), add it to a salad
4. 2 servings of greens
Greens are very healthy as well. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber while being low in calories. Eating greens regularly benefits bone health and the immune system. Moreover, it improves digestion and can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Serving size: 60 g or 1 cup raw or 90 g or 1/2 cup cooked
What’s included (examples): arugula, spinach, kale, collard greens, salad greens
How to add it to your life (examples): add to a smoothie; make a salad; prepare as a side; use it as a pizza or sandwich/wrap topping
5. 2 servings of other vegetables
Next on the list are vegetables in general. Mushrooms and Algae also are a part of this group. Vegetables provide many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They tend to be rich in fiber and water. Aside from a few exceptions (e.g., potatoes, peas), they are rather low in calories, protein, and fat.
Serving size: 60 g or 1 cup raw leafy greens, 50 g or 1/2 cup raw or cooked nonleafy greens, 7 g or 1/4 cup dried mushrooms
What’s included (examples): bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, beets, carrots, corn, garlic, onion, pumpkin, squash, potatoes, zucchini
How to add it to your life (examples): as a part of the main dish (f.e. curry, zoodles), as a side (f.e. steamed carrots, roasted potatoes), as a snack (f.e. bell pepper with hummus), add to a salad or sandwich
6. 3 servings of legumes/beans
Sixth on the list are legumes and beans, which are particularly nutritious and super versatile. They are a great source of selenium, manganese, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. Moreover, they are an excellent source of plant protein.
Serving size: 60 g or 1/4 cup hummus or bean dip, 130 g or 1/2 cup cooked beans/legumes/tofu/tempeh
What’s included (examples): black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, peas, lentils, edamame
How to add it to your life (examples): here are a few delicious things you can make out of legumes and beans: hummus, falafel, bean burger, chili sin cane, lentil bolognese, curry, roasted chickpeas
7. 3 servings of whole grains
Grains are probably the most common staple in any diet. They are an excellent source of carbohydrates, proteins, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Zinc and iron are especially abundant in grains. Furthermore, grains contain mainly polyunsaturated fatty acids, so healthy fats.
Serving size: 100 g or 1/2 cup hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta or corn kernels, 50 g or 1 cup cold cereal, 1 tortilla or a slice of bread, 30 g (3 cups) Popcorn
What’s included (examples): barley, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, whole-wheat couscous, oats, whole-wheat pasta
How to add it to your life (examples): use as base for main courses, for example, noodles in pasta dishes, rice with curries and stews, oats for breakfast, bread for sandwiches, tortillas for wraps
8. 1 serving of nuts/seeds
Nuts are characterized by their high content of protein, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, potassium, manganese, selenium, vitamin E, and B vitamins. Furthermore, nuts and seeds are high in fat, particularly in mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Moreover, they can support the prevention of type II diabetes and obesity. Also, nuts and seeds are an excellent omega-3 source.
Serving size: 30 g or 1/4 cup nuts or seeds or 2 tbsp nut or seed butter
What’s included (examples): almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds
How to add it to your life (examples): eat nuts as snacks; add nuts and seeds to smoothies, muesli/oatmeal, and salads; put nut butter on toast
9. 1 serving of flax seeds
While flax seeds are technically a part of the above group, they get their own spot on the daily dozen list. This is because they are particularly healthy, affordable and easy to add to your diet. Flax seeds are a great source of many nutrients, especially fiber, omega-3-fatty acids, and lignans. They can help improve cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Moreover, they are a great source of protein and help keep you full longer.
Serving size: 1 tbsp (freshly) ground
What’s included (examples): brown and golden flax seeds
How to add it to your life (examples): use it in smoothies, oatmeal, salads
10. 1 serving of spices + more as desired
Spices are not just great for making food tastier, they also bring a variety of health benefits with them. Each is beneficial in its way but to generalize we can say that many of them have anti-inflammatory compounds, promote healthy digestion, strengthen the immune system and can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Serving size: 1/4 of turmeric, other (salt-free) spices and herbs as desired
What’s included (examples): basil, oregano, rosemary, curry powder, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, cilantro
How to add it to your diet (examples): spices and herbs are generally already incorporated into most recipes, but you can, of course, add more as desired
11. Drink at least 5 glasses of water/tea
Drinking adequate amounts of water and tea has a variety of health benefits, such as increased overall well-being, improved digestion and kidney function. Moreover, it promotes the elimination of potentially harmful substances.
Serving size: 1 glass 350 ml or 12 oz
What’s included (examples): water, black tea, chai tea, green tea, white tea, matcha tea
How to add it to your life (examples): drink 1 glass of water right when you wake up, always take a reusable water bottle with you, drink 1 glass of water before a meal
In addition to the 11 things you should eat/drink every day, exercise also plays a vital role in a healthy lifestyle and should be a priority. You don’t have to go from no exercise to exercising every day for 90 minutes. Take it slow. Start with 10-15 minutes a few times a week and slowly increase time and frequency.
“Serving size”: 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 45 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity
What’s included (examples): bicycling, dancing, downhill skiing, hiking, housework, ice and inline skating, trampoline jumping, swimming, tennis, brisk walk, yard work, yoga, jogging
How to add it to your life (examples): plan exactly what exercise you’ll do and when you’ll do it; exercise with a friend; walk on a treadmill while watching TV; bike or walk to work if possible
Additions to the Daily Dozen List
The daily dozen list helps you eat healthier and nutrient-rich meals. However, there are a few nutrients that are hard to get on a plant-based/plant-strong diet because they are not available in plant foods.
One of those things is vitamin B12 and it is recommended that you take a B12 supplement regularly.
Moreover, it is a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement in the winter months and also in the summer, if you spend little time outside.
Further, depending on where you live, iodine may also be a critical nutrient, especially if you don’t consume a lot of iodized salt. By incorporating nori flakes into your meals or taking a kelp tablet, you can meet the iodine requirement.
If you feel a bit overwhelmed now by all that you should incorporate into your diet, don’t let it discourage you from giving the Daily Dozen List a try. You don’t have to get started with the list and already check off everything every single day. Just make little improvements as you go. You’ll be surprised by how much you can achieve in a month and how easy and uncomplicated it can be to eat healthier
Summary of how to eat healthier with the help of the Daily Dozen List
How you tried using the daily dozen list? How was your experience? Do you find it useful?