It is not unusual these days to see headlines in the news about how almonds can prevent heart disease, oily fish can help with arthritis and whole grains are good for diabetes – you may have seen similar claims where one food type is promised to heal your ailment.
Whilst many foods do contain plentiful nutrients and therefore may confer health benefits, we should not take these headlines too literally. Instead it may be better to take a more balanced approach and consume a wide variety of healthy foods, not concentrating on any one food type, but instead aiming to get a diverse mix of foods.
For example, walnuts are a healthy food containing protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium. For sure, walnuts are a healthy food, however if the only nut you ate was walnuts, you might be missing out on the selenium in brazil nuts and the B vitamins, molybdenum and copper in pistachio nuts, the plant sterols in pecans and the folic acid in peanuts. And if it was the only plant-based food you ate, you might be missing out on the beta-carotenes in sweet potato, the anthocyanidins in blueberries and the glucosinolates in broccoli, to name but a few.
Aim for variety in your diet! That goes for vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, beans, legumes, herbs and spices. The same is true for animal sources of foods. Chicken, red meat, organ meats, fish, eggs and dairy are all great sources of protein, but contain different types of amino acids, fats and minerals, meaning that it may be beneficial to have different types of animal sources of foods too. These should not be consumed in the same quantities as plant-based foods, but are certainly part of a healthy balanced diet.
Another reason to aim for diversity (and especially in plant-based foods) is that our gut microbiota (the populations of bacteria that live in our guts and confer so many health benefits on us) thrive on variety. It has been shown that people who eat a wide variety of plant-based foods have a healthier gut microbiota balance, and in turn, healthier overall, than those whose plant-based foods are more limited.
If you are used to the same varieties of vegetables and fruits, then try adding a new one to your shopping trolley each week - very soon you will be eating from a much wider spectrum of foods.