Our everyday diets have become very less diverse, although, there is a huge range of edible plant sources available to us. We are mostly dependent on a small number of cereal crops, but there is major concern that our diets are high in energy but low in nutrient value. Most of the people have micronutrient deficiencies these days as compared to energy/protein malnutrition. Such people comprise of atleast 1.5 billion who are at risk of suffering from one or more micronutrient deficiencies. The reason for this is that such diets seem monotonous and have less diversity, which is the rule in several developing countries.
Dietary diversification with increased consumption of a range of whole foods is a beneficial and useful strategy for this. Underutilised crops comprise several species that are currently largely rejected such as cereals, millets, legumes, fruits, flowers, vegetables, roots, seeds and nuts. Onlymyhealth editorial team talked to Shweta Mahadik, Clinical Dietitian, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, about the benefits and how to do diet diversification.
Benefits of diet diversification
1. Preventing diseases
A diverse human gut microbiome is normally a good sign and well correlated with an individual's overall health. In today's world, because of the loss in diet diversity and ‘fad diets’ starting to get famous in the western world limiting our food options, we are seeing that microbes are diminishing in our GI tract. This loss in spice richness can play a role in causing several diseases such as autoimmune, diabetes, obesity, autism, and others.
2. Intake of essential nutrient
Diversifying your diet by consuming different spices can provide certain essential nutrients required by the body for good health. Thus, you should start eating together with staples, founderutilised species can go together and diversify the diet with a range of micronutrients and bioactive compounds important for our health.
3. Healthy weight
There are many studies that have proved dietary diversity can also be beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight. It can help in promoting a healthy eating pattern, which also involves a good intake of plant sources, protein foods, low-fat dairy products, vegetable oils, and nuts and less consumption of sweets, sugary beverages, unhealthy fats and red meat.
How to follow diet diversification?
To do diet diversification, one needs to consume a range of macro and micro nutrients in a day. These include:
1. Amino acids
The important amino acids present in animal-sourced proteins are very much similar to the essential amino acids needed by a human body. To attain the similar amount of essential amino acids from plant-based foods, a combination of cereals and lentils found in all cultures is required. The main foods that can be included are rice and beans, rice and dal, idli, dosa, uttapam, thalipith, thepala with curd etc.
Bioactive plant compounds such as carotenoids, alkaloids, nitrogen containing: compounds and organosulphur compounds that are present in fruits, vegetables, grains and other plant foods. There is evidence to prove that it builds immunity to fight with infection, instead of taking plant-derived supplements or extracts.
There are many green leafy vegetables, red, orange, and yellow fruits and veggies, that are rich in vitamin A consumption through -carotene. The presence of small amounts of fat or oil in the diet improves absorption of -carotenes and vitamin A. These foods include oilseeds, oily fruits and nuts.
A human body needs atleast 18 essential minerals, in which many come mainly through plant sources. Deficiencies in zinc, calcium, and selenium are common in places where the diet is either monotonous or mostly about a limited rangr of foods grown in mineral-depleted soils.
People should have a variety of foods in order to get the nutritional benefits that they provide. Locally available food is a convenient and affordable option that leads to an improved nutritional output without changing anyone's dietary habits. Diet diversification can be done by having traditional meals and using locally available choices. Even small changes in daily food options can enhance nutritional intake in less cost.