WHY DO WE NEED DIVERSITY IN OUR DIET?
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash
HOW MUCH VARIETY DO YOU HAVE?
So how do you approach food? Is it a joy every meal time, something to look forward to or are you so busy that you do not even taste the food on your fork?
Many of us have the same breakfast every day of the week, with maybe an exception at the weekend when we may indulge in a brunch or perhaps skip breakfast altogether. Is lunch that same old sandwich every day? Dinner may be a treat at the weekend, something to look forward to and enjoy. During the working week, however, it is more of a chore due to lack of time, other priorities, the lateness of the hour arriving home, no energy, so the ready meal will suffice.
Generally, the variety of foods we enjoy is actually quite low.
Have you ever stopped to count the number of different foods you eat in a day or even week? I know I hadn’t until recently. If you are a creature of habit and who isn’t, it may be very few. We take the easiest fastest option for breakfast, lunch is often habitual too, the good old sandwich, quick and easy to obtain, also handy to eat either at your desk or in the park nor not normally too offensively smelly either.
Dinner may often be a ready-made meal which may contain some ingredients we would not necessarily consider food.
A days meal examples
Breakfast cereal, milk, coffee
Lunch chicken & bacon, mayonnaise, butter, bread,
Dinner Beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, chilli, cumin, white rice
Drinks /Snacks apple, crisps, water, beer,
A total of 16 items, 18 if we include salt and pepper which isn’t too bad for a day’s variety, but if we include the food for the whole week how much variation would there really be?
In 1985 the Japanese government recommended eating 30 different foods a day, so the example above is not too great. (1).For the most benefit to our microbiome, we should try to include 50 - 100 types of healthy unprocessed foods a week, with the emphasis on fermentable fibre.(2) Feed the biome with foods that act as prebiotics. Prebiotic fibre goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon.
This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria associated with health and reduced disease risk.(2)
Prebiotics are foods such as onions, garlic, shallots, dark green leafy vegetables, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and cabbage. Resistant starch is also believed to have the ability to act as a prebiotic. If you love your potatoes, brown rice, squashes, lentils and beans cook them, cool them down and either eat cold or reheat. The starch becomes resistant and is not broken down into sugar, but acts as a prebiotic feeding the good guys. This will also lower the glycemic load which will mediate their effect on blood sugar. Obviously be careful with rice as it is susceptible to bacteria. (3)
What do we mean by diversity?
For this purpose, we are interpreting it to be a nutrient-rich diet based on a variety of whole foods.
Brightly coloured fruit and vegetables that change with the seasons. While the expression eat the rainbow is incredibly overused, it paints a true picture.
Why is diversity important?
Increasing the diversity of the gut is hugely important for the beneficial health of the microbiome.
It helps to increase the quality and quantity of the healthy bacteria and we now all know that the gut bacteria affects every system in our body, from the way our brain makes us feel to gout in your toes. As 80% of our immune system emanates from our gut in order to maintain optimal health we need it to be in peak condition. (4)
Plant foods contain a huge number of beneficial antioxidant phytonutrients, however, many are believed to be still undiscovered. To ensure we enjoy as many benefits as possible we need to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Some believe that the most nutrient-rich foods contain the largest amount of health-promoting compounds. These are foods that are real, alive and unprocessed with names we can pronounce. In their natural state, they provide vitamins, minerals, fibre as well as the bonus of antioxidants. One of the best ways to eat the most nutritious foods is to grow your own or buy locally.
A further problem with our diet relates to the nutrient level of our food. Much of the soil used to grow crops is incredibly nutrient poor. Foods are cheaply mass produced so the beneficial microbes and minerals are in decline. Combined with the packaging, shipping and storage nutrients are rapidly depleted. All before the cooking has started. (5)
Sadly global food diversity has reduced by 68% in the last 50 years. (6)
With over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world, fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. (7)
There are 1,000 types of banana grown worldwide, however, just one variety accounts for 95% of the export market. (8)
The same is true for apples and pears with 2 varieties of pear accounting for 96% of the market share out of an available 2,500. (8)
To obtain the same amount of iron from an orange today compared to the one your grandmother ate you would need to consume eight oranges. While an analysis of potatoes today compared to those of 50 years ago had lost
100% of Vitamin A
57% of vitamin C and Iron
50% of Vitamin B2
28% of calcium
18% of B1.(9)
So we need to help ourselves as much as we can by buying locally or growing our own and enjoying as broad a variation as possible. Whilst we all know the variety of nutritious foods available how many do we actually eat?
If you want to introduce more diversity into your diet take a note of the last time you ate 50 - 100 nutrient dense foods in a week? By the way a brioche is considered to be the same as bread or a croissant, i.e.they are a basic food type so add no variety to the week. In the same way a beef burger may be different to a steak it is still beef. Remember though, herbs and spices count so start to spice it up.
8) Advances in Food Security and Sustainability, Volume 3 p58