Why is Food Variety important?

Updated at: Jan 17, 2013
Why is Food Variety important?
Ishi Khosla
Exercise & FitnessWritten by: Ishi KhoslaPublished at: Jan 17, 2013

Variety is indeed the spice of life, and it cannot be more true when it comes to a nutritious diet.  Eating a variety of food ensures that the body gets all the nutrients it needs.

Five main food groups

The food pyramid divides foods into five broad groups –cereals/pulses, fruits/vegetables, dairy, fish/poultry/meat, nuts/seeds/fats/oils/sugar. It is important to consume all the food groups as well as maintain variety within the food groups.

A recent report describes the findings of a survey conducted in the 1970s involving more than 10,000 people; aged 25 – 74. Respondents were asked to track how many of the five food groups – grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats – they had included in their diet. Fourteen years later; researchers found that the fewer the number of different food groups in the diet, the higher the rate of death. Those who ate the least variety, including only one or two food groups in their diet, were 50 percent more likely to have died.

No single food group can supply all nutrients

This is not surprising, as no single food group can supply all the nutrients. While, milk provides a variety of nutrients; it lacks vitamin C and iron. This is can be made up by taking citrus fruits and dark green vegetables.

Choosing a variety of foods within each group also ensures that you will get the variety of nutrients you need, besides making meals more interesting. Some vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamin C (citrus) and vitamin A (papaya), while others are high in calcium (figs) or iron (water melon).

This means our search for the best fruits/vegetables/grains/oils/nuts are unwarranted. Rather, attempt to choose as many different foods, which may be more interesting and pleasurable. Multigrain breads, brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, yogurt, cheese and milk/soy milk, variety of oils and nuts & seeds form the basics of a healthy diet.

Eating a lot does not equal to eating right

It is possible and often observed that you may be eating plenty of food, but your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Inadequate intake of nutrient-rich foods and excesses of low nutrient calorie-dense foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies and promote weight gain. Eating a variety of nutrient dense low calorie foods along with appropriate number of servings provides fiber, vitamins and minerals, and helps in prevention of obesity.

  • Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber — and they are low in calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight and your blood pressure.
  • Unrefined whole-grain foods contain fiber that can help lower your blood cholesterol and help you feel full, which may help you manage your weight.
  • No single oil provides all the fatty acids in appropriate amounts. Combining oils, nuts and seeds helps achieve the recommendations.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week. Recent research shows that eating oily fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, black pomfret, hilsa, mackerel, trout, and herring) may help lower the risk of death from coronary artery disease.

Plate-watch your food

The plate method is also useful. It helps you visualize what your meal should look like.

For example, fill one half of the plate with vegetables and fruits, such as broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cauliflower; and the remainder may be shared with a combination of whole grains or starchy vegetables, such as pasta or corn,  pulses and low fat protein such as lean meat, fish, poultry, tofu and low fat dairy (curd, paneer, milk). When selecting fruits and veget...


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