I’m sick of nutritional thought-terminating clichés. They are repeated ad nauseum everywhere from morning TV to a doctor’s surgery. One of my pet peeves is “Eat a wide variety of food“. I was not surprised to see this statement in the recent draft of Australian Dietary Guidelines.
What does it even mean?
There seems to be a strange notion floating around regarding our human nutritional requirements. Since we need a wide variety of micronutrients and each food (apparently) only contains a limited amount, we best to stay on the safe side and eat a little bit of everything. This idea is perpetuated by the constant mentions of newly discovered “miracle” compounds in the media.
Reading all these you would be forgiven to think that to obtain optimal health you need a fridge full of exotic berries from Africa, a pseudo-grain from South America, tea leaves grown on a particular valley in Sri Lanka and a vegetable you have never heard of from the Pacific islands.
The ADG draft pitches another argument in support of the variety theory:
“Dietary variety has the benefit of diluting potential toxicants found naturally in food”
They go on to mention the potential vitamin A toxicity from excess liver consumption (most westerners today would gag at the mention of liver anyway) and a potential of mercury poisoning from fish for pregnant women (enough to scare off anyone from consuming any measurable quantities of DHA/EPA. What? Babies’ brains need those?)
This makes no sense (#FFS).
Let’s take ourselves from our first world everything-is-readily-available-when-I-need-it mentality and apply some good old fashioned common sense and a bit of evolutionary logic. Is it really likely that the compound which will turn on some beneficial gene expression in humans world wide just happens to be only found in a berry from Colombia? Hey, evolution, that’s a major oversight! It took the rest of us, non-Colombian population, 2 million years to work out how to build planes and stuff and this perfect nugget of nutrition was sitting there all this time?
It amused me no end that quinoa made it into the list of cereals recommended to be eaten as part of the 5 food groups daily (Guideline 1) in Australia.
“Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups daily: 3. grain (cereal) foods mostly wholegrain, such as bread, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, cous cous, oats, quinoa, barley”.
But enough about South American wonder foods. What about a humble blueberry? All those anthocyanins and phenolics repairing the oxidative damage inflicted by the food group number 3. Has to be good for you, right? And lucky for us, health-conscious consumers, blueberries are available all year around courtesy your friendly local supermarket giant.
I still remember picking wild blueberries in a Russian forest as a child. We looked forward to a month-long blueberry season, doing a few forest trips around July to check if berries were ready for picking. Some super keen villagers would go a few days early just to beat the crowds, their payback for keenness was a few extra hours of forest-wandering. The official start of the season would see whole families venture into the woods, each person laden with a ten litre bucket, me, a child, proudly carrying a one litre container. People would gorge on blueberries for a few short weeks, sell the excess, make mountains of blueberry jam. Every kid would be walking around with a dead giveaway of blueberry gluttony: purple lips. And then it was over for another year.
Think of it next time you buy your punnet of blueberries in the middle of February.
In the world where most fruit, vegetable and berries are farmed and/or transported across the planet we have lost a concept of seasonality. Even a 100 years ago these foods were not available everywhere all year round. Is there any scientific evidence to suggest that eating food out of season or out of your area is harmful? Nope. But I don’t see any sense in chasing variety for variety’s sake.
“The most recent dietary survey data available for Australian adults – the National Nutrition Survey 1995 – showed an increasing number of foods being consumed by adults in that year compared with 1983 . It is expected that the variety of foods consumed has continued to increase since 1995. This is largely as a result of cultural diversity in the population arising from waves of immigration from European countries after World War II and Asian and African countries since the 1970s [99, 100]. Initially, new varieties of fresh fruit and vegetables, grain (cereal) foods and different types of meat and legume/beans became available. Increasing demand for convenience and/or fast foods – also as a result of changes in social and economic conditions – has led to the availability of approximately 30,000 different types of foods and drinks . However, many of these – particularly snack and fast foods and drinks – are energy-dense and nutrient-poor, so care is required to choose diets consistent with the Guidelines . ” (the draft of ADG)
(my bold italics)
30,000 types of food? Looks like our diet is varied enough. And it’s not just the snacks, fast foods and drinks. Ask your grandmother if she knows what cous cous is (forgo this step if you grandmother is from North Africa).
I am not for a minute suggesting that you should stick to the boring bland diet of steak and 3 veg (of which one is potato, the other is corn, the third is beans). But the concept of “you will develop a secret micronutrient deficiency unless you eat a huge variety of foods just in case” is dubious at best.
Once again they missed the mark, mistaking quantity for quality.