We’ve been hearing it for years. I can even remember back in the 90s watching Happy Harold from the Life Education van banging on about it.
But how important is including a variety of different foods in our diet?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we
The Japanese Dietary Guidelines take the idea of variety even more seriously, recommending that people “eat 30 or more different kinds of food daily”.
It might sound a little strange, but when you consider that the average Australian only manages 15-18 different foods in a week (!!!), it’s clear to see many of us aren’t finding the right balance, and are probably relying on staples far too much.
Here’s an example of what a diet lacking in variety might look like:
Breakfast: White toast with butter and vegemite, orange juice (3 foods)
Snack: Apple (1 food)
Lunch: Toasted cheese sandwich – white bread and cheddar cheese (1 (new) food)
Snack: Cheese and crackers (1 (new) food)
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce (4 foods)
Total foods: 10
But why should we eat so many different foods?
Different foods offer a diverse range of nutrients. A banana contains different compounds than a bunch of grapes, so to fully benefit from the different vitamins, minerals and protective phytonutrients in wholefoods, it’s important to vary the foods we eat.
And it’s not just plant foods. While lean red meat is a good source of iron, protein, zinc and vitamin B12, general consensus is that most Australian’s need to eat less of it. When eaten in excess, red meat has been correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer, so it’s recommended to keep things interesting – maybe try some seafood, poultry, eggs or legumes for a change.
30 sounds like a lot!
Increasing the variety of your diet might not be as difficult as it sounds. The idea is to bring more diversity to your meals – don’t have the same thing each day. The easiest way to boost your food selection is to aim for more plant foods.
- Add different fruits to your breakfast. Rather than just Weetbix and milk, try Weetbix (wholegrain is best) with milk plus a dollop of Greek yoghurt and fruit of your choice. If you’d usually choose peanut butter on white toast, opt for a grainy bread with natural peanut butter, sliced banana and ground cinnamon.
- Go nuts. Make your own trail mix with different nuts and seeds – walnuts, pepitas, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds – and portion out into snap lock bags, perfect for snacking throughout the day. Nuts and seeds are also great added to porridge, stir fries and salads.
- Experiment with beans and legumes. I strongly believe that canned goods like kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are underrated. Economical, shelf-stable and seriously nutritious, these fibre-filled beauties make for a satisfying addition to many meals, enough to please even the most serious of meat eaters. Try them out in salads, soups, pasta sauces and casseroles.
- Add on the aromatics. Herbs and spices are so much more than just natural flavour enhancers. Adding a handful of herbs like basil or oregano to a salad can enhance the antioxidant activity by up to 200%. Spices like cinnamon and chilli are known to have compounds that reduce inflammation in the body, and are a great way to add flavour without loading up on salt.
- Meat and two veg? Why not 4 or 5? Or more? It’s not difficult to use more vegies. Recipes like stir fries, curries and casseroles are a great way of upping the vegies.
So perhaps we should take note of the current Japanese recommendations, and focus on variety rather than worrying about how many pieces of fruit or serves of vegies we’re eating. After all, Japan boasts one of the highest rates of centenarians in the world!