This article is composed by Pavelka Expert Sue Camp.
Why is variety in our diet so important?
Despite many of us having access to a wide range of food from many different cultures, very often our meal planning lacks diversity. We know what we like and we often don’t venture far from our standard culinary routines and standard grocery shopping baskets.
Eating a limited and more repetitive diet can result in potentially missing out on a range of health benefits. Even the so-called superfoods don’t provide all the nutrients we need, so a varied diet can help to achieve a balanced and more optimal intake of vitamins and minerals.
Individual nutrients are essential but another crucial aspect is nutritional synergy. Many nutrients require synergistic actions with other molecules to provide their benefits. When we’re eating a variety of foods we are ensuring a range of phytochemicals acting together to provide health advantages that are greater than simply provided by the individual foods.
Feeding our microbiome
Diversity in the diet feeds diversity in our gut microbiome and given the role of optimal digestive function in overall health, this is very important. Perhaps the most influential factor on our bacterial composition is our diet, and a variety of vegetables and fruit helps to feed different bacterial strains and provide good levels of fibre.
Lowering risk of food allergies and intolerances
When we eat a repetitive and limited diet we are increasing the risk of developing a food intolerance or allergy to one or more of those foods. Research has shown for example, that an infant diet consisting of high levels of fruits, vegetables, and home-prepared foods is associated with less food allergy by the age of 2 years (Grimshaw, 2014).
Inflammation is the underlying process of many chronic conditions. A greater variety of fruit and vegetable intake has been shown to be associated with lower inflammation. The study showed that a range of produce was more important than the quantity. (Bhupathiraju, 2011).
When planning your meal aim for half your plate to be leafy vegetables (grown above the ground), 25% protein, and the rest with whole grains or starchy vegetables with a small portion of essential fats or oil.
Anti-inflammatory eating plans include the Mediterranean diet, low-carb diets and vegetarian diets have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Reducing oxidative stress
Another common process in the progression of ‘dis-ease’ is oxidative stress or the production of free radicals. We need antioxidants to neutralise these free radicals, and consuming a range of
fruits and vegetables daily, is one of the best ways to obtain them. Botanical diversity has been shown to be an essential factor in lowering lipid peroxidation and DNA oxidation. Smaller amounts of many phytochemicals are more important than larger amounts of fewer phytochemicals (Thompson, 2006).
Some tips to start:
- Challenge your colleagues to see who can try the most types of new foods
- Replace your standard ingredients with novel ideas: i.e. spaghetti with courgetti
- Aim for a rainbow of colours on your plate to increase your diversity
- Try foods from different cultures to taste new ingredients
- Buy some different herbs and spices to try novel taste sensations
- Visit your local farmers market or order an organic veg box and try a new food/vegetable you haven’t tried before
- Enjoy the nutritional adventures!
Bhupathiraju, S.N., Tucker K. L., (2011) Greater variety in fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower inflammation in Puerto Rican adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jan;93(1):37-46. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2010.29913.
Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21068354
Grimshaw, Kate E.C. et al. (2014) Diet and food allergy development during infancy: Birth cohort study findings using prospective food diary data
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology , 133:2, 511 – 519.
Thompson, H.J., (2006) Dietary Botanical Diversity Affects the Reduction of Oxidative Biomarkers in Women due to High Vegetable and Fruit Intake. The Journal of Nutrition,136: 8, 2207-2212. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.8.2207