The Importance of Variety in Your Diet
by Kristina Moses
© April 2017
Many people get into patterns where they eat the same things day after day. There are a number of reasons why it is important to eat a variety of foods, and for the most part, to not eat the same food three days in a row.
Here are some of the many reasons to vary your day-to-day diet:
Avoid Nutrient Imbalances
Every food has its own nutrient profile, meaning that each is high in certain minerals, vitamins and nutrients and low in others. If you eat only certain foods all the time, you can wind up high in certain nutrients and low in others. For instance, foods like nuts, seeds, tofu, beans and lentils which are used by many vegans as their main sources of protein all have about 5 mg of zinc for every 1-2 mg of copper. That is a rather high ratio of copper. Chicken, on the other hand, has about 14 mg of zinc for every 1 mg of copper, and cheese and beef have virtually no copper but lots of zinc — up to 45 mg of zinc for every 1 mg of copper!
This is one reason that vegans can have imbalances.
But there are other foods with dramatic nutrient differences. Take baked sweet potatoes which contain about 20,000 IU of Vitamin A in half a cup compared to regular baked white potatoes which have only 10 IU of Vitamin A in half a cup.
Another healthful trick is to vary the type of food within a category, as well. If you eat nut or seed butters, change it each time you eat it: eat almond butter one day, then walnut butter the next, then almond milk the day after that, then sunflower seed butter, etc.
Don’t eat the same dairy every time either. Mix it up with raw Parmesan, raw cheddar, sour cream, kefir, different brands of yogurt, etc.
If you are eating grains, try rice one day, oats the next, then quinoa, etc.
Even fermented vegetables should be varied. You can get fermented cabbage, pickles, beets, carrots, etc. and even get different brands. (Note that fermented vegetables should be made without vinegar to be considered a truly fermented vegetable and not just a pickled vegetable. Here is a nice article which explains the difference: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/fermenting/are-pickles-fermented-pickled-vs-fermented-foods-zbcz1505)
You should even vary your cooking methods to improve your nutrient balance. Different nutrients are sensitive to heat, fat, light, air and/or water. For this reason, you should steam (or pressure-cook), as well as bake and saute/stir-fry. Please note: For high-lectin foods, there are special methods of preparation which reduce lectins, and pressure-cooking is always recommended for those foods to further reduce lectins. See Lectins and the Low-Lectin Diet for more information.
For example, potassium, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B7 are unaffected by fat but negatively affected by water. On the flip side, Vitamin A and Vitamin D are relatively unaffected by water but negatively affected by fat. So if you steam leafy greens, you will lose more potassium, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B7 but retain more Vitamin A and Vitamin D. If you saute or bake leafy greens, you will lose more Vitamin A and Vitamin D, but retain more potassium, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B7. The solution is vary your cooking methods.
Don’t Overload on Specific Toxins
Just like every food has its unique nutrients, each also has its unique toxicities, many of which are naturally occurring in that food. The human body is made to deal with a certain degree of toxins that we pick up from the environment and from our food. If you are only eating a small amount of a certain food, or eating it only a few times per week, your body should have no problem dealing with the specific toxins in that food. But if you overeat that food, your body can become overwhelmed with too much of whatever toxins are in that food, and you can wind up building up stores of those toxins which results in a new set of problems.
Avoid Unknown Toxicities
Every once in a while, new research shows an odd and extreme toxin in some food.
For example, in recent years, there has been a kale craze across the nation. Everyone has been eating kale chips, kale salads, kale smoothies…. Then some scientists accidentally discovered high amounts of a toxic metal called thallium in the urine of people who were eating high amounts of kale. This led to more research and it turned out that kale (especially organic kale) attracts large amounts of thallium! So all of these people who thought that they were eating an extremely healthy food were actually poisoning themselves!
Interestingly, even overeating a nutrient can cause toxicity! An example is Brazil nuts. Did you know that Brazil are the richest source of selenium in the world? So if you want to nibble on one or two Brazil nuts a day to supply your daily selenium, go for it! But people who overindulge in these selenium-packed nuts — eating just 7 or 8 per day — can actually wind up with selenium poisoning.
Promote Healthy Gut Bacteria
Your intestines are supposed to be full of bacteria and other organisms that are extremely important for your whole body. They are part of the immune system, hormone system, digestion and more. Different bacteria eat different things. If you are neglecting to eat the food that a particular species of beneficial bacteria need, they will start to get weak and may even die off. Eating a variety of foods ensures that you can have a more balanced environment in your gut to keep those little guys happy.
Avoid Developing an Intolerance to Certain Foods
Eating the same food every day can cause you to develop an intolerance to that food. This is like a “temporary allergy”.
Some people are more sensitive to certain foods than others. For instance, some people can only have eggs every second or third day, and others can have them daily with no problem. Some people can have one or two eggs daily, but if they try three or four daily, they suddenly don’t tolerate them.
Funny enough, you can even develop an intolerance to foods that you have gone a very long time without eating, like grains or dairy. When this happens, you have to slowly reintroduce that food to give your body time to adapt to it again.
These differences in levels of tolerance may be because a person has less healthy bacteria in their gut, or perhaps their intestines are damaged, or perhaps they genetically just don’t produce enough of certain enzymes to handle certain foods (as is often the case with lactose intolerance).
Another cause of intolerances is that when digesting and processing any given food, there are usually some residues from the food that are not metabolized and need to be removed from the body. If you eat the same food every day, you are not giving the body time to remove the residues, and they build up in the body and create an overload. The body then becomes “allergic” to that food. This is one reason it is so important for everyone to avoid overeating on the same food item.
A basic rule of thumb to avoid food sensitivities is to take at least two days a week off of any food you eat regularly. But if you are prone to poor digestion, food intolerances, and allergic reactions or have other food-related issues, you would do better to not eat any food more than two days in a row.
If someone has an extreme intolerance to many foods, we may even recommend a very strict rotation diet, where they rotate foods in and out of their diet on a regular basis.
Foods That Are More and Less Prone to Intolerance
In general, one is likely to develop an intolerance if eating eggs or dairy daily or the same kind of nuts, seeds, legumes and grains. Corn is another common intolerance.
One is less likely to develop an intolerance to vegetables, fats and meats. These foods usually do not need to be rotated as often. But remember that everyone is unique. Some people can’t tolerate any chicken, but do fine with turkey. Just pay attention to the signals your body is telling you.