Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to your food. There is no one silver bullet food, so in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals we need to keep our bodies running and nourished, it’s important to eat different foods prepared in different ways.
A simple way to get variety in your diet is to eat the rainbow. Each color is made up of different phytonutrients that are also packed with different benefits. Red foods can be high in lycopene and carotenoids which can fight free radicals and prevent disease. Orange and yellow foods can be made up of alpha or beta-carotenoids, lutein or zeaxanthin, which can support immune function, eye and skin health. Green foods can be high in lutein or zeaxanthin, which is also beneficial for eye health. Blue and purple foods can be high in resveratrol, flavonoids or anthocyanins, which can help with inflammation, fighting free radicals in the body, and lowering your blood pressure. Brown, tan or white foods can be high in glucosinolates, which can help with inflammation and are high in antioxidants.
Why Preparation Matters
As you start to eat more of the rainbow, it’s also important to see how you’re eating the rainbow. Getting in a balance of raw and cooked foods will allow you to get in more nutrients than just eating all raw or just cooked foods. The heat from cooking can reduce the nutrients in some foods, and in others it can increase certain vitamins and minerals.
How you cook your food can also affect the nutrients as well, from steaming, boiling, baking, slow cooking or pressure cooking. For most foods, steaming and pressure cooking can retain more nutrients than boiling and slow cooking. While it can be different from food to food, the more important takeaway is to have a variety of raw and cooked foods to get a variety of nutrients.
To figure out where you need to add in some variety, start by taking stock in what you’re eating right now. Keep a food journal for the one to two weeks, just to get an idea of what you’re eating and how it’s prepared (raw vs cooked). If you’re more of a visual person, snap a photo of each meal instead of writing it down.
After that time, look at your list or photos and notice if you see the same vegetables, fruits or proteins. The longer you track it, the more you can get an idea of what your go-to foods are. Also look at how the food was cooked. Are you eating mostly cooked food? More raw food? An even split of raw and cooked?
Now that you know what you’ve been eating, you can adjust your weekly menu and food choices in incorporate more of what you need.
Eat with the Seasons
Each season brings a lot of different colored fruits and vegetables. When produce is in season, it will be the most nutrient dense, since that’s it’s natural time to grow. In addition to that, the produce will also taste better, as well. What’s available to you will depend slightly by your location, but overall you can refer to these guides to find the seasonal produce for winter, spring, summer and fall. By eating mostly what’s in season, you’re guaranteed to get variety, since most produce isn’t in season all year long, unless you live in certain states.
Start with a one to two new colorful foods each week and see what you like and what you don’t. Make sure you’re switching your foods out to keep the nutrient mix going. To make sure you’re getting enough variety, set a requirement with each meal to have at least 3-4 colors or kinds of foods, even if they’re similar shades.
Keep documenting your meals if that helps you keep track of the kinds of foods and how often you switch them out.
If you need to add more raw foods to your diet, add in salads or raw vegetables with a dip each week. You can also add raw garnishes, like julienned carrots, nuts or sauerkraut to your meals to give it some crunch. Smoothies are also great ways to pack in a lot of raw fruits and vegetables. If you need to add in more cooked foods, try making pureed soups, roasted or sauteed vegetables as side dishes or add-ins to your raw meals.
No matter how you choose to add variety to your meals, enjoy the challenge of getting different nutrients and how colorful your meals become.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Main Photo Credit: monticello/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit & Third Photo Credit: sheff/shutterstock.com