Humans require three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and you can get all your delicious macronutrients from just the produce aisle no need for meats, dairy, and processed foods!
Each of these macronutrients provides energy in the form of calories. The best ratio is 20% protein, 20% fat, and 60% carbs, or as we call it 20/20/60. There are many health benefits associated with getting these macros from fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient-rich, low-calorie, and packed with fiber. The variety and density of nutrients of fruits and vegetables leave little room for nutrient deficiency— including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Soluble fibers and prebiotics found in plants help promote a healthy gut and while insoluble fibers promote healthy circulations and control levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Diets like those found in the Mediterranean region are especially rich in these nutrients.
The great thing is that you can find many of these macronutrients right in the produce section where most foods are found in their most natural, unaltered state. There are many healthy produce section items that can satisfy these needs. For healthy fats, you can eat avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, chia seeds, and natural oils.
As for proteins in the produce section, these are a little harder to find but not impossible! Plenty of veggies from the produce section provide plenty of protein. Edamame, nuts, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, and a few others pack enough protein to keep you satisfied. It’s important to eat a variety of fruits and veggies as they all contain different levels of macronutrients and additional minerals. Most people know the basics of proteins and fats in veggies but tend to get confused when looking at carbohydrates. This is mostly because not all carbs are created equal, there are simple and complex carbs and they matter!
Most fruits and vegetables are rich sources of complex carbohydrates. They tend to be low in fat and calories but are incomplete protein sources. Simple carbohydrates are foods like sugar, white flour, many breakfast cereals, and high fructose corn syrups. They are broken down for energy by the body very quickly because of the simple way they are bonded chemically and leave you with cravings and hunger sooner than complex carbs. Simple carbs often lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar which causes a higher insulin production from the pancreas. Over time this cycle leads to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes and/or obesity.
Complex carbohydrates have a good amount of fiber which helps digestion, keeps blood sugar stabilized, and causes longer satiety (the feeling of satisfaction after eating). Because complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than simple or refined carbs (the ones found in the middle aisles) they tend to have a lower glycemic index. This means that complex carbohydrates, cause lower blood sugar and insulin spikes after ingestion than simple or refined carbohydrates. This is good since there are adverse behavior effects often associated with sudden blood-sugar and insulin spikes as well, like more frequent hunger episodes, overeating, unhealthy food addictions, and sudden mood changes like lethargy.
Fruits and vegetables are considered an incomplete source of protein because individually they provide some but not all essential amino acids. However, when they are eaten in variety and are coupled with other foods they help complete the puzzle of a balanced diet. The incomplete protein profile of fruits and vegetables is not an excuse to avoid them, in fact, most Americans need to eat more produce, not less. Fruits and veggies are also low-calorie, which is ideal for weight management, one of the most widespread health issues in the United States. Produce is considered nutrient-dense, meaning it provides larger amounts of nutrients per calorie. So, make sure you include healthy, complex carbs like sweet potatoes, Oatmeal, Muesli, Strawberries, Okra, Wild rice, Oranges, Cabbage, Brown rice, Yams, Celery, Multi-grain bread, etc. into your diet. Next time you go shopping try to get all your delicious macronutrients from just the produce aisle, to make fruits and vegetables a large part of your diet, maybe you can make alternate it with regular shopping and make a lasting change.