Nutrition-wise blog

Why variety matters

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. March 31, 2017

Several things happened in the past few weeks that got me thinking about the importance of variety.

A recent article in the journal “Science” presents hope for a tastier tomato. Researchers analyzed the genes of nearly 400 varieties of tomatoes and identified flavor compounds that consumers liked. It came as no surprise that modern commercial tomatoes don’t have the flavor of older varieties.

The recent movie “The Founder” chronicles the building of the McDonald’s fast-food empire. What started as one restaurant in California with speedy service has evolved into more than 36,000 restaurants in over 100 countries around the world.

With millions of customers served daily, it’s easy to believe that McDonalds is the single largest purchaser of beef, pork, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes in the world. The U.S. preference for meat, potatoes and sweet drinks — a meal that doesn’t have much variety — has gone global.

Finally, I listened to a rebroadcast of an interview with Simran Sethi, author of the book “Bread, Wine Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love.” In the interview, she highlights some startling facts about our global food supply:

  • The world is moving toward a global diet — one that is standardizing around wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and palm oil
  • More than 90 percent of the world’s calories come from 30 species
  • Three-quarters of the food we eat comes from 12 plants and 5 animal species

When I was studying nutrition, one of the three main principles for a healthy diet was variety (along with balance and moderation). No single food can supply all nutrients in the amounts you need.

We’re seeing the effects of lack of variety caused by the global standard diet that is calorie-rich and nutrient poor. According to a 2014 study in “The Lancet,” obesity has increased in both developed and developing nations.

It’s also dangerous to depend on just a few crops, because any one of them could be hit by some disaster, such as , pests or even climate change.

Variety has new meaning for me — and gives new meaning to the quote by William Cowper, “Variety’s the very spice of life.”

I agree with Simran Sethi that it’s time to reshape our food supply by changing up our food choices. Start with fewer fast food meals. Cook outside the box — use fresh ingredients and new recipes. When you’re choosing what to buy, look beyond wheat, rice, corn, soybeans and palm oil. Mix it up and try a new olive oil or some heirloom vegetables. Splurge occasionally with craft beer or chocolate, or specialty coffees.



Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D.

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March 31, 2017