Why Do We Need Food?
Understanding why food is important seems like an obvious place to start.
Food is important as it provides your body with basic building blocks to survive. Your body obtains energy, nutrients and information from food, which then informs all the physiological processes within. Some foods are indispensable to your survival, while others aren't. Certain nutrients in food play crucial roles in your immune system, neurological function and growth needs. For example, iron is the central component of the haeme molecule, found in red blood cells. Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body, which is the main reason why we're alive.
There are plenty of other vital compounds found in food, such as magnesium, choline, vitamin E and B vitamins - all of which have essential functions involved in cellular energy production, muscle function, skin healing, memory and brain health. If you don't eat enough foods that contain these nutrients, your health suffers. For example, you could struggle with fatigue, poor immune function, digestive issues and weakness. The exact quantities of different nutrients will vary depending on your physiology. So, the best thing to do is to enjoy a range of foods that contain a mix of nutrients to ensure you're getting an adequate intake.
Essential Foods To Include In Your Diet
At the end of the day, there's no single food that can provide all the necessary nutrients your body needs. That’s why it matters to make sure you're eating a variety of foods to absorb all the essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants your body needs. The easiest way to cover your bases is to ensure your diet is macronutrient-balanced. This means you should consume foods derived from each macronutrient group: proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these macronutrients and see how you can make healthier food choices and boost the variety of foods in your diet.
Proteins are large compounds formed by smaller amino acids, which can be categorised as essential and non-essential. While the body can manufacture non-essential amino acids, it's the essential amino acids that need to be obtained from the diet. These form the basic building blocks of many different enzymes, immune cells, neurotransmitters and hormones. Getting enough protein in the diet is vitally important for human survival.
Examples of healthy proteins include:
- Meat & poultry
- Fish & seafood
Your individual protein needs will vary, based on factors such as age, gender, activity levels, and other health conditions.
A sufficient intake of dietary fat is necessary for proper brain function, hormone regulation, and reproductive health. We also need dietary fat to help transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) to their target cells. Contrary to popular belief, saturated fat is actually good for you and should form part of a healthy balanced diet. Fat is a protective macronutrient and serves many important biological functions in the body. Eat foods that contain saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, wherever possible.
Examples of these healthy fats include:
- Saturated fat: coconut oil, butter, egg yolks
- Polyunsaturated fat: walnuts, sesame, sunflower seeds
- Monounsaturated fat: avocados, olives
Carbohydrates are sugar compounds and can be small or large according to their number of sugar units. Starting with simple sugars and moving to complex carbohydrates, there are monosaccharides (glucose), disaccharides (lactose) and polysaccharides (cellulose and starch). While simple sugars can be valuable in some instances, it’s not ideal to maintain a diet that’s composed mainly of them. Instead, choose complex carbs wherever possible.
Examples of complex carbohydrates include:
- Wholegrains: bread, pasta, rye, rice, quinoa, corn, noodles, polenta, oats
- Starchy vegetables: parsnips, white potato, turnips, sweet potato, yams, taro
- Fresh fruit: bananas, apples, berries, kiwifruit, melons, grapes
- Dried fruit: figs, apricots, dates, prunes, sultanas
The Importance of Food Variety
Eating a variety of foods helps meet your nutrient requirements.
You may feel very virtuous having nothing but green juices all day, but eating too much of one type of food can sometimes lead to nutrient deficiencies in other areas. It's very rare to find one particular food that is nutritionally complete (although some foods come very close). So, because foods aren’t created equal, humans have evolved to seek a variety of foods from both plant and animal sources.
We all know that oranges contain vitamin C. But did you know that vitamin C is also readily found in spinach? Beef is rich in iron, but so are chickpeas. Salmon is a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids, and so are walnuts.
Eating a variety of foods helps ensure the body is getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients it needs to function optimally. Different types of food contain different amounts of requisite vitamins and minerals, so eating a variety ensures that all important nutrients are consumed in adequate amounts.
Enjoying a varied diet keeps things fresh and fun.
One of the most common complaints about healthy eating is that it’s boring. But it can be so much more than steamed veg and plain rice. As they say, variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to food. Enjoying fresh, healthy and delicious foods, herbs and spices helps keep your weekly meals interesting and fun. Experiment with different salad dressings, like a creamy green goddess dressing. Or try a new fruit or vegetable once a week, and see what you may like to include more of in your diet.
Seeking out new foods also pushes you to try different cooking techniques or exotic cuisines that you may not have yet experienced. Shopping seasonally at your local grocer, pantry supply store or farmers market is also a great way to sample new and exciting foods to increase your food variety at home.
Consuming a diverse range of foods can benefit your digestive system.
Foods that promote microbiome diversity have major benefits for your health. In fact, recent research confirms that a healthy microbiome is dependent on a wide and varied diet. Foods such as almonds, dates, sultanas, blueberries, broccoli, butter and balsamic vinegar all provide fuel for your gut bacteria, which then enhances your brain function, immunity and energy.
Enjoying a broad variety of foods that support good bacterial diversity in the gut will set you up for optimal health throughout your entire life. To get the most from the food you eat, enjoy fibrous fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Switch things up now and then to boost different bacterial strains in the gut. For instance, if you're a chilli con carne lover, try swapping the beef mince for a vegan-friendly option loaded with lentils. This variation in your diet will shift the bacterial profile to accommodate, and you'll reap some health benefits as well.
Eating a variety of foods increases your lifespan and healthspan.
A Swedish study found that including a diverse range of healthy foods in your diet could potentially reduce your chances of developing diseases and ultimately increase your lifespan. Individuals in this study who regularly consumed around 16 to 17 varieties of healthy foods were found to have a 42% lower risk of mortality compared to those who mainly ate 0 to 8 healthy foods. Some of the healthy foods included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and dairy. Furthermore, the researchers found that adding more healthy foods to the diet was linked to a lower risk of death by 5% for each one added.
Eating a balanced diet with foods from all food groups such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats, and grains can significantly improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes. According to a cohort study involving over 23,000 adults, those who regularly consumed foods from all food groups had a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed foods from three or fewer groups. Additionally, consuming a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products had a positive impact on preventing the onset of diabetes.
Make Healthier Food Choices With a Variety of Foods
Choosing a variety of foods is important for a range of reasons. Some key foods to include in your diet that delivers a myriad of health benefits are eggs, wild-caught fish, red meat, nuts and seeds, fermented foods, cruciferous vegetables, fresh and dried fruit and leafy greens. Keeping a wide variety of foods in your repertoire helps support your body, brain and vitality. Try different t types of food and discover creative ways to make nutritious meals more appealing. This way, eating will always be a fun experience.
Chicken Noodle Soup with Bone Broth and Greens
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups chicken bone broth
- 2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
- 2 medium carrots, sliced
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 1 cup uncooked egg noodles
- 2 cups greens (such as spinach or kale), chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional garnish: fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chicken bone broth, shredded chicken, carrots, and celery to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the egg noodles and continue cooking for an additional 8-10 minutes, or until the noodles are cooked through.
- Stir in the chopped greens and let them wilt into the soup.
- Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the soup hot, garnished with fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
Orange and Almond Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream Recipe
- 2 large oranges
- 6 eggs
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or any sweetener of your choice)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
- 1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup for vegans)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 190°C. Grease an 8-inch cake pan with cooking spray or coconut oil.
- Cut the oranges into chunks, removing any seeds. Blend the orange chunks in a food processor or blender until they form a smooth puree.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, almond flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Add the orange puree to the mixing bowl and stir everything together until well combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cake is cooling, prepare the whipped coconut cream. Open the can of coconut milk and scoop the thick, creamy layer off the top into a mixing bowl. Discard the watery liquid at the bottom of the can.
- Add the honey and vanilla extract to the coconut cream and use an electric mixer to beat everything together until it forms stiff peaks.
- Once the cake has cooled completely, top it with the whipped coconut cream and garnish with orange slices or chopped almonds if desired.
Puttanesca with Sardines
- 8 oz spaghetti or linguine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 can (4.375 oz) sardines in olive oil, drained and flaked
- 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
- 2 tbsp capers, drained
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese
- Cook the spaghetti or linguine according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta.
- In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the flaked sardines, diced tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and capers. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let it cook for 5-7 minutes until slightly thickened.
- Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the cooked pasta to the pan and toss everything together until the pasta is coated in the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to loosen it up.
- Serve the puttanesca hot, garnished with chopped fresh parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese if desired.
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