By Jill Levy
We’re often told that when it comes to sticking to a health-promoting diet, “eating the rainbow” and aiming for variety is key.
Unfortunately, research shows that only about 30 crops supply around 95 percent of the total calories that people obtain from food on a regular basis. And just four different plants — corn (maize), rice, wheat and potatoes — supply over 60 percent of the world’s calories!
Why is food diversity important? Not only does it support your health by exposing you to different nutrients, enzymes and probiotics, but it aids in the stability of the environment, too.
What Is Food Diversity?
Food diversity is all about including a wide range of foods in your diet. This is basically the opposite of eating the same foods over and over again each day.
At Ancient Nutrition, we have the mission “to help restore our consumer’s health, strength and vitality by providing history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world." We believe eating a broad range of foods benefits people’s health in myriad ways, too, including by supporting gut health, which is key to overall wellness.
We also care deeply about sustainability, so we’re dedicated to using sustainable and responsible farming and production methods when producing our supplements, as well as methods that take into account animal welfare.
In fact, our company is so committed to sustainability and regenerative agriculture that we created the R.A.N.C.H. Project, a first-of-its-kind solution aimed at building topsoil, reducing waste and sequestering carbon dioxide, while supporting the company's mission to transform the health of every individual on the planet with history's most powerful superfoods.
R.A.N.C.H. stands for Ancient Nutrition's commitment pillars: Regenerative Agriculture, Nutrition & Climate Health.
We go to great lengths to source our ingredients and to create our products so that they can have a positive impact on our environment.
One way we do this is by emphasizing food diversity, which is an agricultural practice that contributes to greater environmental stability, plus benefits individuals by boosting how many nutrients they consume, and how well they absorb them.
What is cultural diversity in food beneficial for? Here are some of the main benefits of eating this way, for both your body and for the planet:
1. Helps You Obtain More Nutrients
By eating from a variety of different food groups, as well as a bunch of different ingredients within each group, you obtain a greater range of nutrients that your body needs.
Variety in your diet helps to ensure that you’re obtaining various forms of antioxidants, phytonutrients, fats, carbs, probiotics, vitamins and so on.
Here’s something else that’s cool about consuming different dietary nutrients: many have synergistic actions when combined together, meaning the nutrients are better absorbed and utilized when you consume them in the same meal (or at least within the same day). Essentially, the more phytochemicals you eat, the greater the effects you’ll benefit from.
One way to incorporate more diversity into your diet is by leveraging traditional preparation methods, including fermentation — a process that creates completely new compounds and supports bioavailability.
For example, you can combine herbs and vegetables that work together to pack a stronger punch. For example, take turmeric root and black pepper, which together have been shown to support nutrient absorption.
2. Benefits Your Gut Microbiome
Your gut microbiome especially benefits from a varied diet, since this helps introduce a range of microbes (including bacteria, yeast and fungi) and enzymes into your gut that each have unique roles.
Exposure to greater diversity of microbes, especially from local plant foods and fermented/probiotic foods, can help support a healthy immune system, too. Eating this way essentially gets your gut and immune system accustomed to microbial diversity as well, allowing your body to acclimate and helping to support resiliency.
3. Supports A Stable Ecosystem
Another important reason to diversify your diet is because it’s good for the environment and the local ecosystem.
Having different crops grow within one location — called crop rotation— helps to not only ensure that crops are being continually produced, but it also supports healthy topsoil and helps to boost defenses against pathogens that may wind up harming some crops. Additionally, it aids in biodiversity in soil and plant species.
In fact, crop diversity is one of the most important regenerative agriculture methods because it contributes to a balanced, complex web of beneficial microorganisms in the soil. It's what we put into practice at both our Heal The Planet Farm and the Beyond Organic Ranch.
This approach is very different from monocropping, the practice of growing the same crop in the same soil year after year. Monocropping is popular because it’s very profitable for farmers and simplifies the growing process; however, it has many drawbacks, too.
Agricultural practices such as crop rotation help to maintain food diversity and ensure that at least some crops are always available, and that the environment where the crops are being grown is more resilient and stable.
Examples of Diverse Foods
While eating a locally-grown diet is very helpful for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and supporting local farmers, it’s not always possible to consume only locally sourced food.
More than simply shopping locally, consumers can support their health and the larger food supply chain by also aiming for seasonality and diversity in their diet.
For example, while many Americans eat a diet high in factory farm–raised red meat, refined grains and dairy, most experts believe it would be much more beneficial to opt for more plant foods, collagen protein, bone broth, pastured chicken, wild fish, free-range eggs, and plant proteins like sprouted nuts and seeds.
Even the Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the need to broaden your food choices, recommending that you focus on variety within five food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy foods and protein sources.
What are some diverse foods? Below are some examples:
- Leafy greens like kale, spinach, mustard greens, dandelion greens, beet greens, etc.
- Veggies in the cruciferous family, mushrooms and different types of onions, garlic, peppers and squash
- All types of fruits, including berries, citrus fruits, melon and tropical fruits like pineapple, mango and papaya
- Probiotic foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.
- Herbs and spices including turmeric, ginger, basi, rosemary, etc.
- Fresh pressed juices and herbal teas
- Sustainability produced protein sources, such as a mix of red meat, wild-caught fish, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds
- Bone broth
- While not a food, many suggest a protein supplement including collagen and Bone Broth Protein
One of the easiest ways to boost the diversity of compounds that your body is exposed to is to supplement smartly, such as with Organic Supergreens, SBO Probiotics, Multi Collagen Protein and Digestive Enzymes (to support absorption of different nutrients).
SBO Probiotics feature similar beneficial bacteria strains our great-grandparents ingested when they’d pull a carrot straight out of the soil, give it a quick dusting off and eat it right there in the garden. We are made for these microbes, just as the soil thrives in regenerative agriculture systems.
Our digestive tracts require a balanced array of different microbes in the gut to function properly, so adding a probiotic supplement to your routine is one way to support a healthy immune system, promote healthy elimination and much more.
Organic SuperGreens features a blend of superfoods like spirulina, beetroot juice and oat grass juice. Adding a scoop of Organic SuperGreens to your smoothies and drinks is a great way to support healthy detoxification, promote proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and maintain an already healthy immune system.
Finally, you can add more amino acids to your diet by supplementing with Multi Collagen Protein and Bone Broth Protein, both of which supply you with amino acids like arginine, proline and glycine that aren’t always easy to obtain from other protein sources such as meat.
Of course, you should always consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including supplementation.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.