What Is An Antifragile Diet?

So if you agree that we need "balanced" nutrition of a certain combination, it is wrong to immediately assume that we need such balance at every meal.
--From Nicholas Taleb's latest book Antifragile

The idea that every meal should consist of, say, a salad, a vegetable, a meat, a piece of fruit and a dessert is pretty much a complete fiction created in just the past few centuries of human existence.

Yes, you need a balanced diet. But you don't need every single one of your meals to be balanced. Moreover, your diet may actually be better balanced if you subject it to imbalances from time to time.

Roll this idea over in your mind and you'll arrive at some interesting implications. For one thing, it supports one of the fundamental pillars of the food philosophy here at Casual Kitchen: you don't need meat at every meal. Over a period of days and weeks, yes, of course, your body has specific protein needs you'll need to fulfill. But you do not need a fixed amount of protein every single day. In other words, consider that your body's protein and amino acid needs can be met flexibly, creatively and far less expensively without a daily helping of high-cost meats.

Further, we can find intriguing support for other central elements of low-cost eating. There's nothing wrong, for example, with building your diet almost entirely on low-cost, in-season fruits and vegetables. Don't worry if you eat mostly tree fruits, leafy greens and summer vegetables in the spring and summer--when, conveniently, these foods are least expensive. And don't worry if you completely switch away from these foods when they go out of season (and their prices skyrocket) in the fall and winter. After all, that's when you'll switch to those seasons' least expensive foods, like healthy cabbage, potatoes and root vegetables.

The idea that a "real" meal has to have a broad range of specific elements--that it must contain things like soup, bread and a salad of mixed greens with three and half grape tomatoes on it--is just an artificial expectation created for us by restaurants, the food industry and by our own presumptions of a proper life of modern convenience.

And of course, basing meals around these artificial expectations costs us an unexpectedly large amount of money, with little nutritional return. Long before the modern conception of a "balanced meal" ever came about, humans survived just fine. Your body will survive too.

We can go still further. There's nothing wrong with completely leaving out certain high-cost elements of our diet that we think we need. Consider your family's daily glass of refined, deoxygenated and overpriced Pure Premium orange juice. The idea that your day should start with citrus juice is nice, sure. But it's also an arbitrary idea created for you by modern society. Orange juice is just one example among many of foods and beverages modern eaters consume, most of which are heavily advertised, high-cost, and promoted to us to the point where we assume they are natural. You can safely eliminate these foods from your diet.

Thinking about food this way can be immensely freeing, not to mention immensely less expensive.

Here's the punchline: dietary variation is a positive stressor for your body and for your health. Try it. And remember: everything in moderation. Including moderation.

Related Posts:
Is Organic Food Healthier? Or Just Another Aspirational Product?
The "Don't Buy" List For A Low-Budget Kitchen
How to Blind-Taste and Blind-Test Brands
Thoughts On High-End Cookware

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Tragic Sandwich said...

I started approaching food this way (in terms of balance, not specifically season) when I started cooking for myself regularly in grad school. I very quickly decided that I didn't see the need for a "balanced meal," but a "balanced day" made sense.

This has continued to be true as I've found that I do better with smaller meals supplemented by snacks. It's too much work to balance every time--but as long as I get a mix of foods throughout the day, I'm doing fine.

Joanne said...

I think we all nee to embrace the idea that living is a balance and not necessarily on a daily scale. Maybe the balance takes place over weeks, months, or even years so being perfect every day is so not necessary!

chacha1 said...

I gotta tell you, getting this organic produce box every other week (for almost two years now) has been SUCH an education in:

when things are in season;
how to cook new things;
what I like to cook;
what is too much damn trouble;
how well some very odd things can go together;
how to put things together according to what I have and not some prefabricated plan.

It's been like getting my own little Chopped basket. I would probably never have tried some of the things I now love if they hadn't come in my door unexpectedly.

Many things that I used to consider staples, I don't even buy anymore. (Orange juice. Pasta. Etc.)

IMO the best way to not be food-fragile, a.k.a. at the mercy of a plan (and particularly *someone else's* plan), is to do exactly what health writers have been saying for years: shop the fresh aisles, avoid the center aisles, and maximize color in your food.

Trying to "balance" every meal ... would be a recipe for repetition and boredom, I'd think.

Daniel said...

Yes, I agree... it actually makes cooking and eating much, much easier if you don't have to worry about a perfect, balanced meal every time. If you make a triple batch of something and end up eating it three days in a row, it's okay.


Sally said...

Today it occurred to me that those "balanced" meals may be one of the reasons that people think it's too expensive, too time consuming and takes too much effort to eat well.

Extra food, especially things like meat or out of season vegetables and fruits, are expensive. Every extra dish one prepares takes more effort, often another pot or pan and/or dish and makes meal preparation and clean-up that much more time consuming.

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