There's a vast and almost endless supply of food available to us Westerners, both in terms of quantity and variety. With so much to choose from, why are many of us stuck eating the exact same thing every day? When describing a healthy diet, the term "balanced" is thrown around a lot. A balanced diet is one which draws upon a wide variety of foods. Creating a balanced diet gives you access to a wide array of nutrients, each with unique and important healthy benefits.
Vitamins and minerals are known as micronutrients because we need them in very small quantities. Micronutrients are responsible for regulating life-essential functions such as energy metabolism, the immune system and hormone production. The body cannot function properly without adequate levels of all micronutrients.
Since each vitamin and mineral has a unique function, a deficient intake in any one of them leads to negative issues. For example, a low intake of vitamin C causes anemia, decreased ability to fight infections and bleeding gums while a vitamin A deficiency leads to eye problems.
Eat the Same Thing Every Day
Eating the same foods every day has the potential to create vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Let's look at a hypothetical scenario in which we only have to worry about two nutrients: vitamin C and zinc.
If you ate oranges every day (a food very high in vitamin C but low in zinc), you'd easily meet your vitamin C requirements but wouldn't get 100% of your zinc needs. If all you ate was beef (high in zinc but low in vitamin C), you'd have enough zinc but not enough vitamin C. In this simplified scenario, the best approach would be a balanced diet of both beef and oranges.
A real diet is much more complex than two nutrients but the same basic principle applies. Eating the same foods every day, over a long period of time, increases the chances of developing a nutrient deficiency. Since most foods are high in some nutrients but low in others, eating the same meals over and over again ensures a high intake of certain nutrients while creating deficiencies in the ones your food choices lack.
Increasing Nutrient Intake
Eating a wide variety of foods makes getting adequate amounts of all the nutrients a lot easier. In addition to expanding the types of foods you eat, there are other ways to increase nutrient intake.
Cooked vs. Processed Foods. The commercialized processing of raw ingredients into convenience, ready to eat meals makes food easy. Unfortunately, while convenient, this process removes many nutrients. Cooking your own food with minimally processed ingredients increases nutrient content in meals. Home cooked meals are almost always healthier than ready to eat continence foods (including restaurant meals and junk/fast food).
Eat Smart. Pick nutrient dense foods (as opposed to empty calories) such as: fruits, vegetables, legumes, 100% whole grains, nuts, seeds and oils.
Avoid Empty Calories. Processed and refined foods are typically low in nutrients but high in calories. These foods are known as empty calories because they provide a lot of energy but little or nothing in the way of nutrients. Examples of empty calorie foods include: white bread/rice, soda, fruit juice, sugary snacks, baked goods and fast food. Avoid foods made up of mostly empty calories.
Supplements were meant to add to a healthy and balanced diet; they were never designed to take the place of one. Many people take supplements in hopes of creating a healthy lifestyle. Supplements don't replace healthy foods. They have a limited ability to plug small holes in an otherwise healthy and balanced diet but fail to provide a comprehensive alternative to making smart food choices.
The Bottom Line
A balanced diet is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Creating a diet which draws upon a wide variety of healthy foods makes it a lot easier to reach an adequate intake of all the essential nutrients. A diet made up of ready to eat convenience foods makes creating a healthy lifestyle much more difficult.