VARIETY – it really is the spice of life!
Health Champions recently launched our Healthy Food Charter, which is the foundation of what we do. Whether that is the food served in our café or recipes we produce and meals we teach people on our Cook and Eat courses. We believe everyone can eat healthily whatever their food likes and dislikes, budget, cooking skills or facilities.
Our first point is that everyone should “Eat a wide variety of different foods” but why?
Food contain different combinations of nutrients – both micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as well as macronutrients (protein, fat, starches and sugars). No one food can provide us with all the nutrients that we need, with the exception of breast-milk in young babies.
The “Eatwell Guide” shows the different types of foods and drinks we should consumer, and in what proportions, to have a healthy, balanced diet. Foods are grouped together into five main groups and we are encouraged to choose a variety of different foods from each of the groups in order to get the widest range of nutrients the body needs to stay healthy and work properly. For example, some vegetables are a good source of vitamin C (e.g. oranges, potatoes) or vitamin A (e.g. sweet peppers, carrots, broccoli), while others are high in folate (e.g. spinach, kale, dark green cabbage, broccoli) or iron (e.g. peas, beans, lentils). If we only eat one vegetable we could be missing out on other essential nutrients.
A study looked at diversity in the diet of children and concluded that food variety can be used as a simple and quick indicator of the micronutrient adequacy of the diet. A review on the subject of variety in the diet from 2001 concluded that “For now, the old advice to eat a variety of foods, tempered by the new focus on fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, remains important. ” This has followed research on individual nutrients which failed to show the expected benefits. We are also becoming more aware of the potential benefits of so called phytochemicals in our foods – parts of plant foods that have a protective or disease preventive effects. These phytochemicals have long complicated names – more information can be found here (www.phytochemicals.info/). Maybe more on these another day.
So what can you do to have more variety? Maybe try one of the following:-
- Find a new recipe and try that out on the family – we have lots of healthy recipes here for you to try
- Buy a new vegetable each week, or a new variety of that vegetable. My family would live on carrots if I let them (carrots every way you can imagine – boiled, oven roasted, rounds, sticks, grated, chopped or whole – they eat them anyway!!) but I also buy lots of other veg as well to increase variety including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers, leeks and courgettes.
- Try adding a new vegetable to the same meal – for example adding thinly sliced courgette to salad, or grated carrot into a shepherd’s pie.
- Try some new spices and flavours with meals – how about a vegetable chilli or curry.
- Choose a wholegrain cereal or wholegrain type of bread for a change – to help kids accept you can always mix with your original versions.
Remember that it can take all of us time to get used to something new, so don’t give up after the first attempt. You might have to try the same things lots of time before you grow to like it – just keep going.
 Public Health England 2016 The Eatwell Guide available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551502/Eatwell_Guide_booklet.pdf.
 Steyn NP et al 2005 Food variety and dietary diversity scores in children: are they good indicators of dietary adequacy? Public Health Nutrition 9(5) 644-650 available https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/S1368980006001054.
 Tucker K 2001 Eat a variety of healthful foods: Old advice with new support Nutrition Reviews May 20117 156-8 available at https://search.proquest.com/docview/212262412?pq-origsite=gscholar.