Dietary Diversity  – A Key to Health

Why is it Good to have a Diverse Diet?

The concern about health and diseases is increasing every passing day. The pandemic has proved the importance of immunity to fight against infections. Awareness about precautionary care that leads to a disease-free life should be the utmost priority. Defense to our body is in many forms including our immune system, vaccination, hygiene. Apart from all these, Nutrition provides support for the efficient functioning of our bodily systems including the immune system.

Malnutrition, specific nutrient deficiencies lead to unwanted and frequent health issues. Dry eyes, tiredness, patchy skin, hair fall, gut issues, etc. These might be a sign of vitamin/ mineral deficiency, a low-fiber diet, or any other health condition. There are bigger diseases at play too – long standing obesity, diabetes and heart diseases or cancers are debilitating to life. These have a root in the dietary patterns and can be prevented. To safeguard our well-being, conscious effort to plan your diet, and satisfy your nutrient requirements is imperative.

Planning our meals should not be a choice but a mandatory routine like any other. A balanced meal yes – more importantly a diverse meal, an inclusive meal is what can prevent and offset diseases.

What does diet diversification mean?

The word diet diversification indicates bringing diversity and variety to the meal. It means inclusion of both well-known and lesser known foods onto our plates. Dietary Diversity ensures that all food groups- Cereals and pulses, fruits and vegetables, nuts and oils, milk, meat, and their products are reflecting in our diet. Moreover, there is inclusivity of varied foods under that food group. Why keep away what nature offers us for health.

Let’s take some examples:

  • Replacing some wheat and rice with Millets like Ragi, rajkeera, jowar and Bajra
  • Using all the different pulses – let there be a place for matki (moth beans) and kulthi(horse gram) in our pantry too along with the familiar tuvar dal(red gram dal)
  • Why just peanuts or cashews – can we not include other seeds like garden cress and flaxseeds or melon seeds for that matter! All give a wonderful crunch to the palate.
  • And coming to vegetables and fruits…why not choose dill leaves(shepu) and the red chawli(red amaranth) more often. They are wonderfully nutrient pack yet we go to the all familiar spinach and methi (fenigreek leaves)
  • Among fruits, we can savour the Bor (Indian Plum) and the Tadgola (ice apples) and the Singada(water chestnut) – all power houses of nutrients  

How is diet diversification beneficial?

  1. Diet diversity for nutrition balance: Eating varied diet ensures that we get an adequacy of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. That too the right kind. That is why a mixed meal is very valuable. Small portions of multiple foods in the right proportion helps to maintain our nutritional profile.
  2. Adequacy of vitamins and minerals: All foods do not have all the required anount of viatmins and minerals. That is why we must use multiple foods from various food groups to fulfil our nutritional requirements. For instance, dairy helps in maintain adequacy of calcium but whole grains are required for magnesium. Therefore, intelligent combinations will ensure nutrient adequacy.
  3. Enough availability of fiber: Fiber is a nutrient, though not useful for energy production. Inclusion of multiple unprocessed whole grains and varied pulses and vegetables and fruits in the diet will ensure fiber adequacy across varied age groups.
  4. Using different foods for its complementary benefit: Many nutrients are required to be taken together. The best example for Indians is the inclusion of Vitamin C and iron n the same meal to facilitate iron absorption. That squeeze of lime is what will help the iron be absorbed from Spinach.
  5. Gut health is maintained: What research tells us now is that  intestinal health and having a good population of beneficial bacteria in the intestine is what prevents many diseases. Intestinal health if affected could mean the start of multiple diseases from infections to cancers. A varied diet diverse in many foods will ensure good intestinal health and will act as the fuel for good bacteria to grow.
  6. Making up for the lacunae of nutrients in soil: Our over used agricultural soil shows a variation in the micronutrient content. This is translated into the foods we eat. A dietary diversity could bridge those gaps which may accumulate from eating only a limited amount of foods.
  7. Crucial for growing populations: Growing children, adolescents and pregnant women can hugely benefit from dietary diversity because there is a greater amount of nutrients and health promoting phytochemicals available to the body. Unfortunately, our children and adolescents are moving away from unprocessed and natural foods to processed and refined foods with very little dietary diversity. This can affect growth adversely depriving the body of key nutrients for growth and performance. Similar effects are seen in the elderly population too, with a limitation of the nutrient availability leading to increased susceptibility to disease.
  8. Reduces the carbon footprint: This is a thought that is beyond the focal point of our physical bodies to the point of caring for Mother Earth. A diverse plant-based diet using indigenous, local foods without the emphasis on energy intensive processed foods is what will help the sustainable balance of the planet.
  9. Taking responsibility of our nutrition: Yes! Consciously adopting Dietary Diversity is our way of pledging our commitment to our health. Who else but us for our health!

How can we improve dietary diversity and how to make the home diet diverse?

  1. Make the diet Colourful

Seasonal, colored, and local fruits and veggies should be consumed. 50% of the total diet per day, should be fruits and vegetables. WHO suggests eating at least 450-500 gm every day.

This will provide good amounts of vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the body. These vitamins and minerals provide a push to immunity by participating in the immune response, it helps in immune regulation of the body.

Learn more about the role of vitamins and minerals for immunity building.

Read more about fruits at: Fruits-The basket of natural confectionery

  1. Ensure inclusion of protein foods and combine proteins well

Indian diets are noticed to be very poor in protein. Increasing the sources for protein is crucial for GDM- Growth, Development, and Management. This refers to the overall physical as well as mental growth. Development of the body- muscles, organs, biological components. Functioning and managing the body composition is maintained by protein.  Protein stores turn into a reservoir of energy in times of need.

It is important to combine sources of protein so that we are receiving good quality protein for health. The best examples are combination of grains – rice and dal or rajma and roti – the proteins of cereals and pulses combine together for the best quality. Cereals can be taken with dairy of a non-vegetarian source so that the quality of proteins provided is enhanced

Inclusion of protein sources such as Pulses, Legumes, Dals, Seeds, Dairy products, Eggs, and Poultry.

  1. Use diverse and multiple sources of fats and oils in the right quantity

The oil that our body needs is received from nuts and oilseeds as well as from the oils we use for cooking. We can use multiple oils for cooking not just stick to one. Varied nuts can be used in the diet as a source of healthy fats. Include different types of oils- Olive oil, mustard oil, flaxseed oil, etc. these are rich in fats beneficial for the body. Similarly, Nuts and seeds are to be incorporated in the snacking breaks during the day. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, etc. A handful of these can be consumed throughout the day. 

Read about Omega-3 fats to learn about the therapeutic benefits oils and nuts can provide.  

Sugar-free Nuts ladoos., Coconut-Date Garden cress nibbles are some recipes to try today!

  1. Don’t be partial to a few fruits and vegetables

Nature has given us a plethora of vegetables and fruits for our consumption, so that we may receive the benefits she has to offer. We choose from Nature’s basket only a few gifts.

Next time we go to the market, let us stop to look around for all that is available, not just buy from our conditioned minds. Let us look at lesser known fruits and vegetables, savour its taste and enjoy them as well as nourish ourselves.

  • Be open to try the traditional preparations: Urban life has made us forget many of the traditional preparations. Most of the traditional preparations are those which have been designed to nourish – particular combinations and special ingredients put together for health benefits. Think of the turmeric root pickle or the Rice kanji preparation both wonderful for intestinal health and immunity. We need to go our mother’s and grandmothers’ kitchens and bring back the diverse usage of multiple ingredients all for its varied health benefits.
  • Go with the seasons: Our diets need to vary with the seasons. Each season offers to us what is Nature’s Bounty tailormade for out heath in that season. May it be the goodness of mangoes in summer, of the nutrient dense mustard leaves in winter or the lychees at the start of the monsoon. Including this seasonal produce in harmony with Nature will go a long way in maintaining health and preventing disease.
  • Local and sustainable choices for food: A very important part of dietary diversity is the use of locally grown foods. This reduces our carbon foot print of course and we ensure that we eat what is available from the region that we stay, born from the local climate and soil.

The growth in several fast-food chains has escalated in the past years. Leading to increased consumption of refined, sugary, and processed food items. Somewhere, traditional foods have been neglected. Not just packed with flavors and spices, traditional foods are strengthened with unprocessed, nutrient-dense ingredients. These are organically diverse in preparation with seasonal ingredients and different food groups.

India is a diverse country. From religions, festivals, rituals, traditions, and clothes. We have uniqueness within each variation. Food is one of the major components that sets us apart yet unites us. There are so many Indian recipes that have different names and are cooked in several states of India – all leading to health.

We at Nutritionwithvibha.com believe that the greater the Dietary diversity, the more inclusive we are with foods, the clearer is the path to health.

Would you like to check out your Dietary Diversity Quotient?

Click on button below for your Dietary Diversity score and make the necessary changes and set yourself on the path to health and the path to honoring your Body Temple!

Write in to us with your queries regarding Dietary Diversity and how to better yours to nutritionwithvibha@gmail.com

Happy Diversifying and walking into Health!

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