The 5 A Day message has been around for a long time and it has been shown that the number of vegetable and fruit portions consumed per day is directly correlated to health and inversely with risk of chronic diseases.
So, it’s great if you are getting 5 or more portions per day (6-8 of vegetables and 1-2 fruit is even better!!) however, even if reaching that goal, many people are consuming the same types of food every day and therefore lack diversity in their diet.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with food choices, for example picking the same items in the weekly shop, eating the same breakfast and lunch every day or eating a very restricted diet. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate a diet of vegetables, nuts and seeds, meat and fish; the composition of their diet changed according to availability and seasonality. When they had meat available the whole animal would be consumed (“nose to tail”) providing a wider variety of nutrients from both muscle and organs. Thus they ate a highly diverse diet. Research supports the importance of increasing food sources in order to maintain diversity and avoid phobias around certain foods.
Limited diversity is seen most prevalently in developing countries where sources of food can be scarce and as a result, there may be micronutrient (as well as macronutrient) malnutrition. This is associated with stunted growth in children, poor resistance to disease and premature death.
Amazingly, even across the globe as a whole, diversity is limited, particularly when looking at grain intake, where just three grains, rice, wheat and maize, provide more than 50% of the world’s plant-derived calories. In the UK wheat is the predominant grain and this single food provides more than 75% of people’s fibre intake!
Although most people in the western world are not deficient in caloric intake, many of them are still under-nourished when it comes to micronutrient intake. Improving the variety of foods which are consumed can help improve the availability of micronutrients and therefore be more protective to health.
Children can be particularly at risk of having reduced variety in their diets, with fussy eaters becoming more common in today’s society. Studies have shown there is a high incidence of one or more nutrient deficiencies in children in the western world.1
How diversity supports health
Studies have shown that a diverse diet, which includes “all major food groups” (fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat, nuts, seeds and wholegrains) is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It has also been shown to lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality.2
When we talk about diversity it is important to include all major food groups as much as possible, depending on your requirements and beliefs, however the most important (and possibly easiest) aspect to increase diversity is in the choice of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables come in an enormous variety of colours, shapes and sizes. Plants of similar colours contain similar phytonutrients; choosing a variety of different colours provides a range of different phytonutrients with specific benefits to health, hence why we talk of ‘eating a rainbow’.
Phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables include carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols, these have multiple actions in the body including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects; immune support and modulation; and they also act as prebiotics to support the digestive microbiome.
In nutrition we are constantly considering the health of the digestive system, particularly the microbiome and there is now a plethora of research to support its importance. Although it is not healthy to have excessive numbers of bacteria within the gut and we also don’t want high levels of pathogenic bacteria there either, a high diversity in the gut microflora is associated with improved health outcomes. What supports high microbial diversity??? A diverse diet!! This is due to the fibre and polyphenols found in certain foods, known as prebiotics, which bacteria in the gut love to eat, and in doing so they improve the environment within the gut around them.
The bacteria Akkermansia is found at low levels in individuals who have metabolic syndrome and tends to be found at higher levels in lean individuals. There is evidence to suggest that improving Akkermansia populations within the gut may help to combat metabolic syndrome and support weight loss. Akkermensia has been found to flourish in the presence of polyphenols found in red berries such as pomegranate, raspberry and cranberry.3
Polyphenols, flavonoids and fructo-oligosaccrides all act as prebiotics (food for gut bacteria) and therefore can support diversity of the microbiome. However, this is not their only action in the body, they also possess other properties which may be beneficial to health.
Examples of phytonutrients available in different colour foods:
Examples of the health benefits of these specific nutrients are indicated below:
|Nutrient||Example of health benefit|
|Alpha-carotene, beta carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin||Converted to vitamin A, therefore supporting immune and eye health. Also all act as antioxidants7,8|
|Lycopene||Antioxidant which is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. Levels of lycopene are increased by heating and are found at higher levels in cooked tomato products6|
|Lutein||Shown to reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, also possesses antioxidant properties4,9|
|Zeaxanthin||Shown to reduce risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration9|
|Ellagic acid||Research shows it may be protective against cancer due to anti-proliferative and antioxidant properties, also prebiotic for some types of gut bacteria10|
|Hesperdin||Antioxidant reducing inflammation in the body to help prevent chronic disease11|
|Catechins||Found in green tea has been demonstrated to have tumour suppressive and anti-inflammatory properties12|
|Quercetin||Immune modulating capabilities and has been shown to be useful against atopic and allergic conditions, particularly hay fever4|
|Resveratrol||Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory13|
|Glucosinolates||Possess anti-inflammatory properties and modulate apoptosis, have been demonstrated to have cancer protective qualities14|
|Allicin||Demonstrated to lower cholesterol and blood pressure15,16|
|Anthoxanthins||Polyphenol which acts as a prebiotic and also shown to reduce beta-amyloid aggregation17|
|Anthocyanins||Possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, research suggest may protect against certain cancers 18|
How can we increase diversity?
Increasing diversity in our diets can be a challenge as it involves extra planning of meals and shopping lists, particularly if we are used to preparing the same meals every week, it can be more costly and some research shows it can increase caloric intake.
Here are some easy ideas to increase diet diversity:
- Opt for an organic vegetable and fruit box delivery – they deliver different fruits and vegetables each week, provide recipes and introduce you to a variety of produce that you may not have tried before
- Choose at least 2 new foods that you do not normally try in your weekly shop. Opt for local, seasonal foods to minimise costs
- Add herbs and spices to cooking
- Try a new recipe each week, maybe make a special dish on a Saturday night
- Make smoothies for breakfast – you can add loads of different vegetables and fruits. For example, add frozen berries (mixed berries will give more diversity) along with some of the following ingredients: leafy greens, avocado, apples, celery, cucumber, ginger, lemon or lime juice, nuts and seeds. You can download our Smoothies booklet with a few recipe ideas here
- Try some wild game, it is not farmed so tends to be healthier and generally leaner; organic organ meats are also a good choice and less costly
- Add a variety of nuts and seeds to porridge, natural yogurt or fruit
- Try fermented food such as sauerkraut, miso, kombucha and kefir, this also supports the diversity of your microbiome
- Challenge yourself – during one week can you consume 50 different foods? You can use 50 food challenge – diet diversity blog this chart to help you. Only count each food once – so bread and pasta would count as one food as they are both wheat. You can download a chart to help you here
- A diet lacking in diversity can contribute to micronutrient deficiencies and poor health including low immune function
- Research shows a diverse diet including vegetables, fruit, protein from plant, and animal sources, fats from plant and animal sources and wholegrains reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes and improves longevity
- Vegetables and fruit contain different phytonutrients depending on their colour, type and where they are grown. It is therefore important to include a wide variety of types, colours and sources of vegetables and fruit to obtain a wider range of phytonutrients
- Phytonutrients have many benefits for health including immune modulation, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. They also act as prebiotics which support the microbes in the gut
- Challenge yourself to eat 50 different foods in a week, increase diversity by adding in herbs and spices, increasing vegetable intake, trying different protein sources such as wild game or less popular fish such as sardines and herring and including soups and smoothies in your diet (where you can add a large variety of different foods). You can download a chart to help you here
If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by phone or email at any time.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 01684 310099
Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team
- Akkermans MD, van der Horst-Graat JM, Eussen SRBM, van Goudoever JB, Brus F. Iron and Vitamin D Deficiency in Healthy Young Children in Western Europe Despite Current Nutritional Recommendations. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2016;62(4):635-642.
- Conklin AI, Monsivais P, Khaw K-T, Wareham NJ, Forouhi NG. Dietary Diversity, Diet Cost, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in the United Kingdom: A Prospective Cohort Study. PLoS Med. 2016;13(7):e1002085
- Anhê FF, Pilon G, Roy D, Desjardins Y, Levy E, Marette A. Triggering Akkermansia with dietary polyphenols: A new weapon to combat the metabolic syndrome? Gut Microbes. 2016;7(2):146-153.
- Ames BN. Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2018;115(43):10836-10844.
- Chen P, Zhang W, Wang X, et al. Lycopene and Risk of Prostate Cancer. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015;94(33):e1260.
- Song B, Liu K, Gao Y, et al. Lycopene and risk of cardiovascular diseases: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017;61(9):1601009
- Beta-Carotene. National Library of Medicine (US); 2006. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30000966. Accessed December 3, 2018.
- Ames BN. Prolonging healthy aging: Longevity vitamins and proteins. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2018;115(43):10836-10844. doi:10.1073/pnas.1809045115
- Bernstein PS, Li B, Vachali PP, et al. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin: The basic and clinical science underlying carotenoid-based nutritional interventions against ocular disease. Prog Retin Eye Res. 2016;50:34-66. doi:10.1016/j.preteyeres.2015.10.003
- Landete JM. Ellagitannins, ellagic acid and their derived metabolites: A review about source, metabolism, functions and health. Food Res Int. 2011;44(5):1150-1160. doi:10.1016/J.FOODRES.2011.04.027
- Rizza S, Muniyappa R, Iantorno M, et al. Citrus polyphenol hesperidin stimulates production of nitric oxide in endothelial cells while improving endothelial function and reducing inflammatory markers in patients with metabolic syndrome. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011;96(5):E782-92. doi:10.1210/jc.2010-2879
- Xiang L-P, Wang A, Ye J-H, et al. Suppressive Effects of Tea Catechins on Breast Cancer. Nutrients. 2016;8(8). doi:10.3390/nu8080458
- Gambini J, Inglés M, Olaso G, et al. Properties of Resveratrol: In Vitro and In Vivo Studies about Metabolism, Bioavailability, and Biological Effects in Animal Models and Humans. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:837042. doi:10.1155/2015/837042
- Fuentes F, Paredes-Gonzalez X, Kong A-NT. Dietary Glucosinolates Sulforaphane, Phenethyl Isothiocyanate, Indole-3-Carbinol/3,3’-Diindolylmethane: Anti-Oxidative Stress/Inflammation, Nrf2, Epigenetics/Epigenomics and In Vivo Cancer Chemopreventive Efficacy. Curr Pharmacol reports. 2015;1(3):179-196. doi:10.1007/s40495-015-0017-y
- García-Trejo EMA, Arellano-Buendía AS, Argüello-García R, et al. Effects of Allicin on Hypertension and Cardiac Function in Chronic Kidney Disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:3850402. doi:10.1155/2016/3850402
- Lu Y, He Z, Shen X, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effect of allicin on hypercholesterolemic ICR mice. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:489690. doi:10.1155/2012/489690
- Pate KM, Rogers M, Reed JW, van der Munnik N, Vance SZ, Moss MA. Anthoxanthin Polyphenols Attenuate Aβ Oligomer-induced Neuronal Responses Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. CNS Neurosci Ther. 2017;23(2):135-144. doi:10.1111/cns.12659
- Dangles O, Fenger J-A. The Chemical Reactivity of Anthocyanins and Its Consequences in Food Science and Nutrition. Molecules. 2018;23(8):1970. doi:10.3390/molecules23081970
Last updated on 9th February 2023 by cytoffice