Food variety is important for overall health. Knowing how to provide variety in food choices is not always easy. For some individuals, having a predictable diet that can be accommodated with a short shopping list seems like the easiest way to save time and money. However, money saved in the short term by eating “mono-diets” may not be beneficial in the long term. Mono-diets are not beneficial because individuals will not obtain nutrient variety. Unless medically indicated, we want to avoid eliminating food groups from our diets which will lead to decreased food variety in our meals. We also want to avoid nutrient deficiencies from our diets with low variety food choices.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020 identifies under consumed nutrients; some are of public health concern. Micronutrients like potassium, calcium, choline, magnesium and iron are listed along with vitamins A, D, E and C . Consumption of dietary fiber; both soluble and insoluble are also below recommended levels. Fiber is recognized as one of the most important items on the list. While fiber is not a nutrient in the way we think of proteins or carbohydrates, it is a very important component of our diets that we obtain from carbohydrate rich foods; mostly from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Among the benefits of fiber are cholesterol reduction, blood sugar regulation, bowel regulation and weight control.
The under consumed nutrients can be obtained from increasing the variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grain included in the diet. Processed foods contain less fiber and may contain more salt, sugars and fats than foods prepared from scratch with fresh foods. Knowing what goes into the foods during preparation and also knowing the nutrient quality of the food; whether nutrient dense versus energy dense, also helps in enhancing the variety of foods that can be included in the diet and the shopping choices for obtaining increased food variety for our meals.