When you think back to what you ate today, yesterday, three weeks ago or even last year, how different is the food on your plate? Some people naturally include a wide range of diverse food when choosing their meals, but for many of us, it is easy to fall into a trap of eating the same foods day in and day out.
Did you know that by not consuming a diverse range of foods, you are missing out on the potential for many health benefits? Despite the promotion of superfoods, no single food contains all the necessary nutrients for overall health and wellness. By eating a balanced diet filled with a wide range of foods, it is easy to ensure that you consume adequate amounts of all essential nutrients. This not only reduces the risk of nutritional deficiencies; it also provides numerous health benefits.
1. Diversity = Stability
There is a theory that states biodiversity correlates to stability. If foreign invaders come in to the ecosystem, it is easier to adjust, even if one species disappears from the food chain. This principle applies on two levels in relation to choosing a diverse diet. On one level, you create demand for a variety of food that ensures a wider range of crops is continually produced for a more varied, and thereby, a stable, ecological community. On a more personal level, it also means you have continual access to a wide supply of vitamins and nutrients. If for some reason your supply of a particular nutrient is interrupted from one source, you have plenty of other sources from which to get that particular nutrient, making it easier to retain homeostasis, or stability.
Dr. Bruce Ames developed a theory known as the Triage Theory, in which he details that short-term survival out wins long-term survival. Thus, when there is an insufficiency or deficiency of essential nutrients, the body functions that are necessary for life take precedence over other, non-survival functions. Long-term insufficiency might lead to chronic disease.
2. Healthy Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is incredibly important to your overall health, and it is best to have a varied population. The best way to achieve this variety in the gut? Consume a diet filled with assorted foods. Studies have found that the types of food you consume have a strong influence on the gut. One study found that the microbiome in strict vegetarians living in England differed from those living on other continents, demonstrating the specific foods, not just the type of diet, matters. Another study that compared the microbiome in the elderly concluded that the strongest influence on the microbiome is the diversity and composition of the diet rather than a person’s residence.
3. Lower Risk of Food Allergy and Intolerance
When you eat the same food again and again, you increase your risk of developing a food intolerance or allergy to that food. Researchers determined that a decrease in food diversity at 6 and 12 months of age had an association with allergic rhinitis and asthma. Another study found that infants consuming a diverse diet rich in vegetables and fruit, as well as meals prepared at home, had fewer incidences of food allergies compared to children who consumed a less diverse diet.
4. Nutrition Synergy
Numerous studies reviewing high intake of fruits and vegetables find correlated health benefits, including preventing heart disease and cancer. However, when studies have looked more closely at the individual antioxidants, they have found the opposite effect. For example, one study found that supplementing with beta-carotene actually increased incidences of lung cancer. Another study found that vitamin E supplementation actually increased the risk of prostate cancer. While these results may seem counter-intuitive, it may be that these nutrients require synergistic actions with other molecules to provide their beneficial effects. When you consume a variety of food, you gain from thousands of phytochemicals acting together to provide you with many advantages to your health, some of which have yet to be identified.
5. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation is associated with several chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. One study found that a variety of fruit and vegetable intake was inversely associated with lower amounts of the inflammatory biomarker, C-reactive protein. In this study, consuming an assorted range of produce was more important than the quantity. Although the study did not conclude any direct associations with a reduction in cardiovascular and other disease risks, reducing inflammation is important for the prevention of several chronic diseases.
6. Combat Oxidative Stress
Another common factor in many diseases is oxidative stress. This area of health has become the focus of many studies on antioxidants, since these compounds work by neutralizing the free radicals to reduce oxidative stress. One study looked to see if consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables, a source of antioxidants, reduced lipid peroxidation and DNA oxidation. Their findings stated that both low and high biodiversity diets had an association with reduced lipid peroxidation, but only the high biodiversity diet reduced DNA oxidation. Thus, botanical diversity is an important component in providing these antioxidant effects, which provides further substantiation to the point that it is advantageous to consume many different phytochemicals, even in smaller doses, than consuming higher levels of a few in a low diversity diet.
On top of simply mitigating deficiencies, a diverse diet also ensures you benefit from the complementary actions of phytochemicals and mitigate some of the contributing factors to chronic diseases, such as dysbiosis, inflammation, and oxidative stress. So, now is the time to start getting out of your rut and incorporating new and different healthy foods into your diet! Take a look below at some ideas below for fun ways to begin. You might just find a new favorite.
If you want to jump start your path on variety and diversity in your food choices, you may want to check out my Whole Detox book, which has lots of different recipes.