The search for the “ideal diet” is ambiguous and constantly changing. The concept of perfection is as shapeless and undefined as a batch of partly set Jello, influenced by whatever fads and trends it is vesseled within. Therefore, it is not important right now to focus on all the specific ingredients in some health guru’s unrealistic, super-idolized diet, when we should first understand some of the general principles of eating right.
In the following paragraphs we are going to show you how one of the most overlooked elements of healthy eating is actually the most important foundation of any diet. This spicy element is variety, of course... the “spice of life!”
Let's dig in...
Variety, or diversity, is continuously hailed as desirable and advantageous in many parts of our modern culture. We are counseled to “diversify” our investment portfolios by our banking advisors in order to minimize risk. Public services and educational systems strive toward obtaining a “varied” selection of employees or students that more closely matches the multi-cultural demographic of the population. In most cases, the benefits of achieving a wide selection of choices is obvious… but what about in your food?
As consumers of professional opinion, and sometimes non-professional opinions as well, we are always searching for a diet that enables us to reach our best wellness and body image goals. In effect, there are countless dietary trends that serve to answer this call with a “golden rule” plan, a simple absolutist strategy that tries to fix it all with one radical agenda. You can probably come up with a couple examples just by taking a quick second to think about it -- the “carbs are the enemy” mantra from the Atkins system, or “raw is life” from the Raw Food Movement.
One year eggs are good, and the next year they are bad. Examples of double standards abound… coffee, tomatoes, dairy. Every “bad” item can be found to have at least one good element to it. Even the toxic, necrotic, and multi-organ system pathogenesis of cigarette smoking has been linked to “possibly” reducing the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.
Pick your panacea or poison. Even water in excess can injure.
So, what is there to choose?
Think again about variety!
Imagine a hypothetical scenario in which you are stranded on an alien planet with nothing to eat except strange plants, animals, and other unidentifiable “food-stuffs.” How do you know what is okay to eat in order to be healthy? More importantly, how do you know what NOT to eat in order to stay alive?
We have to assume that some things are healing, others may be poisonous, and still others could be neutral, with no nutritional value at all. The absolutist, eliminate-all, diet has a statistically high probability of causing harm in this case -- think Russian Roulette. However, the safest and most risk-reducing way to survive is to select a diverse “variety” of unknown foods, and then eat these bits in small amounts at temperate moderation. Even though some foods may be harmful, the negative effects would be small and balanced out by the other healthier options.
Therefore, when you make plans for your new diet, be sensible, strategic, and informed, but also have fun. Variety is sensational, exciting, spicy... as we have heard time and time again. There is a reason that blandness typically begets boredom -- to discourage excess and the subsequent injury created by wanting more and more!
Where in the grocery store should we start looking?
The best starting place to combat flavor boredom is by opting in to the supersized food group VEGETABLES. Compared to the handful or so meat choices available at the local grocer, such as beef and pork, there are literally dozens of varieties of vegetables in all different shapes, sizes, and (most importantly) flavors!
But vegetables can be so bland and boring, right?
The problem of dissatisfaction with vegetable’s subtle flavors comes from the desensitization of our palate from the overuse of sugar, salt, and fat.
In the average Western diet of fast-food and dining-out, our taste buds are regularly assaulted by the over-stimulating, hyper-pleasurable effects of synthetic additives and super-seasoned foods. Salted butter is delicious, without a doubt! So much so that even a cardboard box, if drenched with enough cups of the golden elixir, would taste good enough to put on a plate… I’m sure.
Strengthen your palate, like you would challenge your biceps at the gym. Lessen the chemicals, sugar, salts, and saturated fats in your normal eating routine. Expand your diet to include at least half a plate of vegetables, in all their glorious variety… and then try not to hit them with a heavy shot of salt. It’s hard to quit all the unhealthy flavoring indulgences cold turkey, so start by simply reducing.
Follow these basic guidelines on varietal selection and you will not only help yourself live longer, and look and feel better, but you will also improve the tasting experience in your daily life. For further enjoyment and freshest flavors, choose vegetables already in season.
What is your favorite go-to vegetable combination?
We would love it if you shared your recipe in the comments below.
If you want to take the next step and see how a personalized selection of food choices can improve your quality of life, schedule an appointment with our Registered Dietitian today.