Have you ever counted the different kinds of foods you eat over, say a month? I have. And it is not many. By “foods”, I really meant the ingredients, minus the minor flavorings.
That still only counts as one! – Gimli, Lord of the Rings
Let me do a quick estimate how many I buy from the groceries:
- ~15 fruits
- ~20 vegetables
- ~15 meat/fish
Am I accurate in my count? I have no idea! Lumping all the fish together as 1 entry does not do each species justice. Tuna has such a different nutritional profile from salmon or tilapia. Nor does chicken give the same nutrients as beef or pork. The protein might be similar but the lipid profile is day and night in difference. And is the butter lettuce identical to a romaine?
Eat the rainbow they say. (Dyes definitely don’t count!) A visual reference to the foods we eat is a fairly decent indication of the nutrients they contain. Using colored cauliflower as an example:
- Purple/Blue contains more anthocyanin
- Green contains more chlorophyll
- Orange/Yellow contains more beta-carotene
- White (probably) contains more Vitamin C/glucosinolates
There is only so much nutrition that a plant can pack into the same volume given the same amount of time, so if something goes up, something must come down. At least that is what I think. “Rainbow” here suggests that we need to get nutrition from as large a variety of foods as possible, so that we get a balanced diet.
Unfortunately, most nutrients would be colorless, so a “rainbow” diet only helps that much. We should use other classifications in our selections. I think simply using the biological classifications is good enough. The further away each species is from each other, the more different the nutritional profile. Think about “mushroom” vs “lettuce”. Or “Cow” vs “Chicken”. In the store, just rely on the senses.
Poultry. Must it always be chicken? How about duck, goose and turkey?
Lettuce. It can be romaine, butter, iceberg or red.
Cauliflower. It can be any of the multi-color hues.
Mushrooms. White, brown, crimini, shitake, trumpet, oyster, enoki….
When it comes down to it, even different parts of an animal can have very different nutrition. I think nothing demonstrates this fact better than a woman having her period. For those feeling dizzy in the mornings, they can try having a piece of liver before sleep to see if that helps. It should and it should also work much better than an iron pill purchased from the store. (So if your wife gives you “the eye” in the mornings that time of the month, definitely give this a shot.)
The problem I see in myself is that I tend to buy the same types of food over and over again. There is this natural tendency for me (& us) to go back and choose our favorites. Especially so when we are working individuals and always in a hurry. Doing so has the obvious unfortunate effect of limiting the diet, subsequently causing a nutritional imbalance. I have to make a conscious effort to force myself to not buy the same things week after week, minus a few select staples. (The same takeout from the same store every day has the same result!)
And so every week, I keep a mental note of what I purchased the week before. If I bought berries last week, I would say buy a pineapple this week and cantaloupes the following. While I can’t say if this really helps, it does make me feel good that I know I am at least getting some form of a balanced diet.
Unless of course a food item is on discount. Who can say no to that? And so here we are, unknowing slaves to the grocery stores’ discount schemes.
So…are you getting enough variety in your life?