Variety - the spice of life

A recent poll of 2000 adults showed up some interesting trends in British eating habits. It was commissioned by Arla Foods who market dairy products, so obviously they were hoping to gather information that would help their corner of the food industry, but there were three points that stood out.

1. Six out of ten people usually eat the more or less the same food every day. I can verify this from the food diaries patients give me – and these are people with an interest in improving their health. We are creatures of habit, whether because we don’t have time to cook, or we like to stick with what we know. And yet, for a healthy gut flora and better immunity, lower risk of cancer and probably a host of other benefits, research shows that we should be eating at least seventeen different vegetables and fruits in a week. The diet of present-day hunter-gatherers is far more varied, and that’s the kind of diet our ancestors evolved on; lots of variety, including some things that are not so palatable. Herbs can play a big part here, extending your range and bringing in some of the more unusual tastes and nutrients.
2. Most of us don’t eat enough fibre. This is linked to point 1, in that vegetables are the best source of fibre in our diet. Whole grains are good too, but can be poorly absorbed. So if we fill our stomachs with refined grains and processed foods, we miss out on a big health benefit. And then people compensate by taking laxatives or bulk fibre supplements like linseed and psyllium seed. These are excellent at their job, but it’s not as good as eating plenty of vegetables (with skin on), which is our natural food.
3. More than half the survey said they took supplements. In other words, they felt their diets weren’t giving them enough nutrients. And if points 1 and 2 are to be believed, they were probably right.
Yes, the supplements industry is very good at making us feel insecure, and offering easy solutions, but clearly, we are not getting enough vegetables, both in quantity, in quality, and in variety. If we were, we wouldn’t need to swallow highly processed nutrient pills, and yet more pills or potions to help us excrete what’s left over. In modern life, it can be hard to make time to cook our own food, but the more we come to understand about our own constitutions, the more it seems that if we want to be truly well, we have to adapt our lifestyles rather than sacrifice the need for a good varied diet for the sake of convenience.