You hear people saying a varied and healthy diet is the best way to support our mind and body, but why is this?
Your body needs a balanced diet in order to work properly. In order to empower our bodily functions with all the nutrients they need, we need to drink enough water and eat enough food from the following four food groups:
- Carbohydrates – primarily for energy
- Fats – help store energy in body
- Protein - help our body heal and repair itself
- Fibre – helps us digest our food
What are the best foods for each food group?
Ideally we should include foods from each of these groups in our diet on a regular basis. A lot of foods such as meat, fruit and veg tend to cover more than one of carbohydrates, protein, fats and fibre. The following foods are good examples within each of the groups:
- Carbohydrates – foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta
- Protein – Meat, fish, nuts and seeds, cheese and eggs
- Fats – Butter, cheese, oily fish and avocados
- Fibre – Fruit and vegetables
Variety provides all our micronutrients
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals essential for our health and eating a variety of foods helps ensure we cover all our bases as far as nutrients are concerned. Green peppers for example are a great source of Vitamin C but don’t have much Vitamin A. Carrots are the other way around.
The different food groups tend to have different nutrient profiles as well. For example fruits and vegetables contain lots of antioxidants, nuts and seeds supply fat-soluble nutrients, grains and legumes supply minerals. Given variances in source, storage, cooking method and quantity of each food, it is very difficult to know what you’re getting in your diet, and what you may be missing out on, so it is always best to aim for a variety.
Can you get too much of a good thing?
Another reason why you should have a variety of foods in your diet is because in extreme cases you can get too much of a good thing. Nutritionists often recommend spinach for example. Now we all know how great spinach is, but it does contain oxalates. Oxalates can bind to calcium making it difficult for your body to absorb the calcium. If you eat spinach all day, every day, this could in fact make you deficient in calcium.
Brazil nuts are high in selenium, but eating Brazil nuts all day, every day could result in you having a selenium overload which can lead to hair and nail loss, nausea and becoming irritable. Having a variety of nuts instead will help avoid this.
These are extreme examples and doesn’t mean that spinach or brazil nuts are bad, quite the opposite, they’re both excellent foods. However it just highlights the importance of a varied diet to avoid unintentional overexposure to dietary imbalances.