There are 30,000 edible plants on our planet. How many of those do you eat? If you were to compare your grocery lists from the past few weeks, chances are they wouldn’t vary greatly. They might even be identical. Humans are creatures of habit; we like routine. We use the same shampoo brand, shop at the same stores, and have our regular coffee orders. Food is not an exception.
Most people have go-to dishes that they cook week in and week out. When you find something that works well and tastes good, why not repeat it? By repeating the same recipes, using the same ingredients each week, we’re limiting our food variety. And while there’s no need to try all the plants and foods out there, ensuring that we’re varying our food enough to get all the micronutrients and minerals we need is extremely important for good health.
Limiting our food variety and limiting our nutrient consumption go hand-in-hand. We often do our due diligence to ensure we’re getting the right macronutrients, focusing on eating foods with Omega-3 fatty acids or striving to reach protein goals. But more often than not micronutrients are neglected. We won’t burden you with ALL the details today (we’ll save that for another time), but there are 13 essential vitamins and 16 essential minerals, each of which has important functions in the body, from fighting infection to helping blood clot properly. Getting enough essential vitamins and minerals is crucial to being healthy.
“Nutrient synergy” means that components of different foods work in harmony to provide health benefits greater than the components would provide on their own. The saying “it takes two to tango” applies here. Pairing nutrients that have a synergistic effect can lower risk of many medical issues including stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis. Vitamin C and iron are a perfect example of nutrient synergy. Even when eating iron-rich foods or taking iron supplements, we don’t absorb all of the available iron. Vitamin C is a catalyst for iron, helping our bodies better absorb it. So to get the most benefit from iron, we need vitamin C. In short, in some cases with nutrients, 1 + 1 = 3. Expanding our food palettes improves our chances of benefiting from these nutrient dynamic duos.
It’s well known that overall health is affected greatly by the health of our gut. Our gut microbiome is composed of trillions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria, that live in our intestinal tracts. These microorganisms are involved in many functions that are extremely important for good health. It’s best to have a varied population of microorganisms in our gut. Variety in our gut microbiome and food variety are directly correlated. The more diverse our diets, the more diverse the microorganisms in our gut will be.
Supplements can provide important health benefits and are often recommended. For example, pregnant women need adequate folic acid that can be ensured through supplementation. Most vegans don’t get enough vitamin B12 since it’s found mostly in animal sources, so they can meet their needs by taking a B12 supplement. Supplements can be effective tools to fill dietary gaps. However, overdoing it with certain vitamins and minerals can do more harm than good. For example, vitamin A is found in many natural foods—pretty much anything orange. Too much vitamin A has been linked to increased risk for lung cancer. It’s hard to overconsume a vitamin or mineral if you’re deriving it from food.
And while most people aren’t popping back Vitamin A supplements every morning, the bottom line is nutrients are most effective when they’re derived from food. It’s best to use real foods to ensure there are fewer and fewer of those gaps that need to be filled with supplements.
Here are some tips you can try to help ensure you’re getting enough food variety and the right nutrients from your food.
We’re well aware that it’s not easy to meal plan and prep healthy food. Add sticking to a fitness-friendly diet to the mix and it’s even more challenging. When you’re sacrificing your butter, oil, and sugar intake for a summer-ready physique, it’s harder to make food appealing and enjoyable. So, when you find a delicious mashed cauliflower recipe that tricks you into thinking you’re eating something decadent, it becomes a staple.
In our fast-paced lives, it’s difficult to find the time to focus on macronutrients, micronutrients, meal planning, food quality, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up and still have time for everything else in your life. Even if you’re lucky enough to have the time, you might not know how to prepare certain foods or incorporate less common foods like daikon or green papaya into your diet. The good news is, we can do it for you ☺
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