Diversity in the diet is KEY
The horrendous mess you see above is my attempt at recreating some quality Mediterranean food. It may not look pretty but this meal is chalked full of nutrition! I thought it was a great way to begin a small discussion about the importance of diversity in the diet, especially in the world of fitness, where monotonous and somewhat boring diets are the norm. Chicken, broccoli, brown rice. Chicken, broccoli, sweet potato. Tillapia, rice, soy sauce. That last one was a favorite of a friend of mine who was a heavyweight bodybuilder.
Let me break down the picture above and explain the difference and the benefits of a diverse nutrition plan...
We have tomatoes, mozzarella organic cheese, avocado, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This is a premium low carbohydrate, medium protein, high healthy fat meal. Take one look at the people of Western Europe who follow this type of diet and you will see lean, fit individuals.
Antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, organic protein source, high quality avocado fats, natural antibiotics and gut flora, natural antifungals, vitamins, minerals galore. This is the recipe for health, specifically the digestive tract. I'm not saying you should just eat this constantly, but here's the point:
The American diet is generally the exact opposite of what would be considered an optimal nutrition plan. We consume nutrient lacking foods, high in refined sugars, sweeteners, flavorings, preservatives...
All of the above would be considered antinutrients, and that is a very important idea to grasp when understanding nutrition.
Here's the analogy I use with my clients about nutrient density. Let's say there is a battlefield between two powerful armies. One army is completely unbeatable, with unlimited resources and soldiers. This army is "the environment" outside of your body. The other army is your body's immune system. Many people would be surprised at the complexity of the immune system. It is not just there to fight off bugs, bacteria, viruses and what not. It also has a massive group of committed soldiers, called antioxidants. The environment will keep coming at you, it cannot be defeated. It will throw battalions of stress at you. Regiments of toxins approach the gates, and pharmaceutical snipers lurk in the distance, constantly picking off your troops.
Every time you ingest food it is a battle. In this day and age, completely avoiding toxins is next to impossible, they are literally everywhere. Our drinking water, 95% of foods, even some organic food is suspect. Even vegetables contain natural toxins for survival. However, our antioxidant system fends off the enemy time and time again, keeping the body running. Without these antioxidants, merely sunlight would eventually kill you by oxidation.
You must replenish the troops. A healthy diet is the equivalent to bringing in tons of fresh troops and specialists, keeping the enemy at bay. However, a chronic lack of nutrition will leave you depleted, there will be deserters, mutiny even. So the question you should ask yourself is, are you replenishing the troops? Or are you slowly losing the battle by attrition, letting toxins overrun you.
Interesting analogy in my opinion, but accurate.
So what to do about it? Self education is paramount, because you won't be learning this in grade school. Or high school. Or college...your masters...PHD... this type of information is simply fringe information at the present moment.
Here's another analogy I found that hits the spot. Gorillas.
They apparently choose their food based off of some ingrained genetic instinct, based off variety of color. We see them eating bananas, but they eat much much more. And on top, they eat essentially zero meat. They eat pound upon pound of vegetation. I'm not advocating a vegetarian lifestyle, but I do think that vegetables and a variety of them is an important part to a quality diet. Unless of course your an Inuit Native American. But that's outside the scope of this article...
You might find this next idea interesting. Our body's digestive system is somewhat primitive. Wouldn't it be great if it was so exact that if we were deficient in something, maybe iron, our body would get a craving for iron? The idea right now is ludicrous, but there's truth in there. In fact it is my opinion that one reason people overeat as they do is that their body senses malnutrition, and knows that food is the answer. So it will obviously tell you to eat more in order to get these nutrients. However, when we don't meet the needs, we get the same craving over, and over, and over.
I always thought it was interesting how pregnant women get weird cravings. People start craving pickles or olives for no reason. It turns out that this may be an internal craving for a specific phytochemical needed for the fetus. Its as if because there is a developing baby, the digestive tract overrides the standard hunger feeling and starts to pin-point specific nutrients. Fascinating.
Getting diversity with foods to me was simple, try new things! Pick up some produce you don't usually buy. Google a recipe and give it a whirl. Strive for more colorful foods. Typically the more vibrant and exotic the color the better. An example would be beets, with their deep purple hue. Carrots are orange. Yellow bananas. Blackberries, cherries, raspberries, avocado. The list goes on! No, fake colorings do not count, like colored candies.
We follow typically in America what is called the "beige" diet. If you put all the most popular foods together you see a common beige coloring. Think about it. Bread. Milk. Soda. Pasta. These are bland colored foods with little variety. Throw chicken into the mix as well. Not that its bad, just that it is not a nutrient dense food.
In a trip to Europe I was astounded by the diversity of foods. Have you noticed that in America after a meal you are offered desert? Do I really need to jam some cake into my gullet after eating a massive plate of pasta alfredo? it's ludicrous how much crap we cram into our bodies. Not in Italy. Every meal is accompanied by olive oil, balsamic vinegar, as opposed to the typical ketchup / mustard duo we glean at most restaurants here. We would do well to study these European diets.
To end this, just try and eat more fruits and veggies. In my opinion, even a GMO veggie may be better than no veggie at all. Again this could be false and I don't advocate GMO's. I'm just saying we eat little to no fruits and vegetables in general, and the amount of nutrition in the food may outweigh the potential toxins.
Think color, experiment, get exotic herbs, spices and other superfoods, and kickstart your health!