Episode 60: Why Variety Is Important For A Healthy Diet

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Thanks for joining us for episode 60 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show!

Today we are answering the following question from a listener:

“In an earlier podcast, you said it was very important to have a wide variety of foods in one’s diet. Could you explain why we need variety?”

Do you find yourself buying the same foods at the grocery store week after week and eating basically the same foods day after day? Many of us have a tendency to stick the same foods for the sake of convenience or due to a restrictive diet. We often find ourselves in a food rut as a result.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “variety is the spice of life.” But when it comes to our diet, is variety really that big of a deal?  Join us today as we talk about why food variety is important to health and share how balance and diversity in food choices can cultivate a healthy enjoyment of eating.

Here’s what Laura and Kelsey will be discussing in this episode:

  • How lack of variety in the diet makes it difficult to get the different types and amounts of micronutrients you need
  • Laura’s work with real food recipes for tube feeds
  • How the microbiome is affected by the diversity, and lack thereof, of foods in your diet
  • The other components of plant foods that feed your gut bacteria besides fiber
  • How often you should diversify the foods in your diet to avoid problematic effects on gut bacteria
  • When lack of variety leads to under eating
  • How to add diversity to your diet even within the context of restricting certain foods due to a health condition
  • How eating too much of the same foods can lead to excess exposure of natural toxins and compounds in foods
  • The effect of our current food system on food diversity and how your choices can influence both your health and the health of the environment
  • How lack of variety in our diet can impact enjoyment in eating and thereby enjoyment in other areas of life as well
  • The importance of balance in eating for health and eating for pure pleasure to cultivate a healthy enjoyment of a variety of foods

Links Discussed:

  • KettleAndFire.com – Use the code AncestralRDs for a 15% discount off your first order of Kettle and Fire bone broth!


Kelsey: Hi everyone. Welcome to episode 60 of the Ancestral RDs. I’m Kelsey Marksteiner and with me as always is Laura Schoenfeld.

Laura: Hi everyone.

Kelsey: How are you doing today, Laura?

Laura: Good. Just had a pretty busy weekend with some work on my new branding that’s going to be hopefully coming up in the next…well I’d like to say soon, but it seems every time I talk about it it’s soon. So hopefully this summer at some point I’ll be making that transition. I did a video shoot with a friend of mine and her husband who they’re like amateur photographer, videographers. They don’t have a business or anything, but they’re pretty good at it. So I paid them to help me create a video for my site.

Kelsey: Cool.

Laura: Yeah. It was super stressful because I mean you and I have been doing this podcasting thing for I guess like two years at this point?

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: When we first started doing podcasts it was super nerve wracking and we were really awkward, or at least I was super awkward. I don’t know if you felt really awkward.

Kelsey: We were both awkward.

Laura: There was so much nerves involved. I feel like you just get used to doing stuff and things get easier as you do them more and more.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: And I’ve done a few video interviews, which I’m usually nervous during those as well, but there’s something about having a specific script that you want to portray and trying to do it in a way that’s very succinct and….

Kelsey: Natural?

Laura: Yeah well natural but also like using specific words and not repeating yourself, which is something I really struggle with. I end up repeating myself so many times when I’m just going from off the cuff, or using the same words over and over when I want to use different words. So it was almost like a script the way that an actor would remember a script.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: Yeah, I was super nervous and trying to make it friendly, and inviting, and natural.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Literally the exact opposite of how I was feeling. It really helped that the girl that was basically running the shoot is one of my best friends.

Kelsey: That’s always helpful.

Laura: Yeah, it made me a lot more calm than I would have normally been. I guess it got better as the whole experience went on, but the beginning I was so awkward. So I’m hoping that will come out well. She also took some stuff called B-roll, which is basically background video so it’s not going to just be me talking. It will be me doing other stuff as well. I mean the whole video is me which feels really weird because I’m not the kind of person that’s good at self-promotion, and I’m very camera shy, and I don’t like being the center of attention. So this whole video thing was like a big step outside of my comfort zone.

But basically my goal with the video is to help give people a little introduction to me, and make them feel more connected with me, and not just feel like I’m some random nutritionist who’s just telling them what to do. My goal was to really share my experience and share what I think is some of the problems with the current environment in the health and wellness industry and talk about what my new approach…well it’s not super new, it’s just kind of like what my new brand is going to be and how that’s different than what my current brand is.

I assume I mentioned this before, but if not I’ll just repeat it. Right now I have the website “Ancestralize Me” and that’s been a website I’ve had since grad school. So it’s coming on like four years at this point that I’ve had this website and I originally started it just as like a personal blog describing my experience with doing a Paleo, ancestral type diet.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: It’s actually kind of funny when I go back to the real early posts, I’m like this is really dorky, because I mean it was just like a personal blog, I’m a grad student, whatever. I really didn’t necessarily think of it becoming a business per se.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: As time went on, it just was easy to stick with that. People started to recognize me from that website. It kind of lined up pretty well with what my then focus was, just being very interested in ancestral health and using that framework for writing about nutrition, and fitness, and all that stuff.

And the thing is like I wouldn’t say that my nutrition philosophy has been radically altered.  It’s not like I’m a raw vegan or like following the Food Pyramid now. But I think a lot of what I believe about nutrition and what is truth versus assumption in nutrition has changed and I think that’s come from not only my own personal experience, but also working with clients for the last two years just seeing what works, what doesn’t work, how nutrition does or doesn’t make that big of an impact in people’s health.

That’s kind of the shift that I’m making with my new brand, which my new brand is literally just going to be my name. So there’s nothing…and I know we’ve talked about how you’re going to be doing that as well. There’s pros and cons to using your name for a brand.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: But I’d say the biggest reason that I wanted to do it is because I don’t want to have a brand name that’s going to pigeon hole me about what my interests are because I’m definitely that kind of person that my interests change very frequently and my beliefs are shaped very…this makes me seem super flip floppy. Like I said, I’m not totally off the rails like just thinking something totally different than I thought four years ago. But things change, information changes, beliefs change, and I don’t want to have a brand that makes me feel like I can’t talk about other things other than ancestral nutrition.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Especially because like I said, I’ve experienced a lot of changes in my own life and my client’s lives where focus on other things like community, and spirituality, and positive attitude, and mindset, and all that stuff that isn’t related to ancestral health at all. I mean I guess maybe it is, but not that it’s clearly as a Palo diet or something.

Kelsey: Right, right.

Laura: All of that stuff I feel like is really important to talk about when it comes to talk about total health, and wellbeing, and all that stuff. The goal of changing it to just my name is to really just offer some level of flexibility and freedom in the kind of stuff I write about.

So yeah, there will still be articles about nutrition, and health, and Paleo, and all that stuff, but there may be other things as well. Which I’ve already kind of done some blogs about this, but stuff like vulnerability, and community, and travel, and stuff like that that I really think is a huge piece of the wellness puzzle that with the name “Ancestralize Me,” I don’t really feel like it allows me that flexibility.

I’ll be changing over hopefully in the next couple months to just my name as my brand and trying to focus more on health as a tool to help people live more purposeful lives as opposed to having health be the end goal necessarily.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: That’s a huge topic, but that’s kind of the angle that I’m going to taking with my new site and my new brand. And the video hopefully help drive that point home if I don’t look like I’m like too sweaty or too anxious on that.

Kelsey: I’m sure you look great Laura.

Laura: My friend kept having to come over and fan me because we had to turn the air conditioning and the air movement off because it was making too much noise. And it was 95 degrees out.

Kelsey: Nice.

Laura: I was inside, but it was a warm day.

Kelsey: Yeah. You’re just like melting.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey: Sounds great. No, but I think that’s awesome and obviously I’m sort of working on the same type of deal, rebranding to my name. Like you said, there’s positives and negatives about branding with your name. But I agree, my main goal with that is to really just give some flexibility because I agree, I mean nutrition is not everything. I think especially working with clients for the last, I don’t even know how long it’s been, a few years at this point that we’ve both been working with clients, you learn so much about what is actually important and what isn’t. And I think we’ve both realized over this time that there’s way more to life and health in general than just food.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: And I think it gives us a really good platform to be able to talk about those things and not feel like we’re going totally outside of what people expect from a website called HealthyGutHealthyLife.com.

Laura: Yeah, definitely.

Kelsey: That’s pretty straightforward. I think that’s probably going to be good for both of us to do and I hope people enjoy hearing about other things other than nutrition because there’s a lot of important things in life you guys.

Laura: Are you changing much about your message? Or are you mostly just changing the name of your site?

Kelsey: A little bit of both. I am still going to be focused on people with digestive concerns, but I’m sort of opening that up to, or I guess niching down more to people who have been really restrictive because of digestive issues and their at this point where they realize that that restriction has not been helpful. They maybe have gotten worse or they just haven’t gotten better, and they’re at this point where they’re not eating a lot of different foods, they’re feeling sick, they’re stressed out about the whole situation, and they just need help turning the whole thing around.

It think that’s a group of people that I feel especially connected to for some reason. I feel like there’s so much that can be done in that situation that I really hate the idea of people staying stagnant in that position and suffering. That’s going to be the main group that I’m really talking to. And I think because of the stress component with digestive issues, I’ll be going outside of just nutrition stuff a lot to address that.

Laura: Yeah, I mean I do some of that well. I think that’s defiantly more of your primary focus that it would be for mine. I almost think that my primary focus has ended up being mostly women. I definitely work with men, but I’d say like 90% of my clients are women at a minimum.

It seems like just based the articles I’ve written, some of the summits that I’ve been a part of, I end up just talking a lot about under eating, and over training, and kind of approaching health and nutrition from a very shame or fear based mindset, which I think is really common especially in the health blog world where they’re trying to scare you into making changes, or people make you feel bad about your body, and feel like oh if I was working harder or if I was eating the right way I would have abs like this Instagram model or whatever.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: And that kind of stuff I think is really dangerous for people’s health in the long run and I think it takes a lot of the joy out of life if you’re just constantly obsessed with your diet and exercise plan because you’re like I need to be better, I need to be more attractive, I need to be healthier.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: It can be really broad as far as the reasons that people are eating a certain way. It doesn’t have to just be that they want to be thin or they want to have certain body fat percentage. It can also be something like they have a gut issue, but they’re just so afraid of eating stuff because of all the fear based marketing that’s out there that they just feel really stuck. So my goal is to help give people freedom from that fear and to get them to the point where they feel confident in their ability to make good decisions whether that be healthy food choices or enjoyment choices.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: And feel good about their ability to choose the right things at the right times. It’s funny because I’ve had a couple of sessions with people recently that at the end of it they were like I’m really sorry, we didn’t talk about food at all, I can’t believe we’ve talked about dating, we’ve talking about family relationships, we’ve talked about religion and spirituality. It’s just really cool because I really love getting off the topic of food because I like talking about food, but I’m kind of over it in a lot of ways.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: It’s just so funny because they’ll apologize to me and be like I’m really sorry that we didn’t talk about food at all. I’m like no this is awesome, like I love this stuff. It’s funny because even though we’re dieticians, I feel like you and I are so just not into the whole food obsession and like nutrition all the time.

Kelsey: I think we’ve realized that it in a lot of ways makes people worse to do that.

Laura: Definitely.

Kelsey: To be so obsessed with it.

Laura: Yeah. In my video I call myself a Registered Dietitian and Holistic Health Coach, which I don’t know what a Health Coach even is. I mean I don’t know if I’m making that up because I don’t have some kind of like certification of being a Health Coach, but I really feel like that’s what my job has turned into more is like a Health and Wellness Coach as opposed to a Dietician.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: And I have way more fun doing that than like the super hardcore clinical nutrition stuff.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I’ve been really enjoying working with people who are willing to talk to me about things that aren’t just their diet or their exercise routine.

Kelsey: Yeah, it’s important.

Laura: So I’m excited about it. It sounds like both of us will have some cool changes to our websites coming up in the next few months.

Kelsey: Yeah, soon. We’re not sure.

Laura: Yeah, my website is going a little slow, but it’s okay because I have a really busy summer.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: I don’t even care, honestly. I’m like whatever, if it happens in the Fall, it happens in the Fall. We’ll just keep on talking about it until it actually happens.

Kelsey: It’ll happen eventually.

Laura: Sure will. Cool.

Kelsey: Alright.

Laura: Well I think we can move on to our question for the day, but first hear a word from our sponsor.

Kelsey: Alright. So welcome back and today’s question is:

“In an earlier podcast, you said it was very important to have a wide variety of foods in one’s diet. Could you explain why we need variety?”

Laura: I love this question because I think a lot of people, especially when they’re on super restrictive diets like we were just talking about in the intro, they don’t realize that the variety piece is just as important as getting certain types of foods like getting enough protein, getting enough fat, that kind of stuff. I think it’s really easy when you’re choosing foods to just be like, am I getting some protein source? Am I getting a vegetable? A lot of times people will end up eating the same stuff over and over.

I fall prey to this too because I get really lazy with my cooking sometimes. So there’s days where I’ll just eat like chicken for most of my meat and I’ll make a ton of broccoli and just have broccoli at each meal for three days or something, and that’s not great. I’m going to admit that. That’s not a great way to eat. Unfortunately when you’re living on your own, and you’re cooking for yourself, and your busy running a business, and trying to have a social life, it’s hard to prioritize variety all the time. And the other downside is I tend to let things go bad in my fridge if I try to do too much.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So it’s a learning process for me just as much as it is for other people. But I do think that the variety piece is actually that gets missed a lot with people who are changing their diets to something either more healthy, like if they’re going from a Standard American Diet to a more real foods type diet.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: Or if they’re trying to do like a specific diet for their condition. So an autoimmune Paleo diet, or a low FODMAPs diet, or a GAPS diet, or something like that that really limits the variety available on that diet.

The first thing that I think we should talk about when it comes to variety is micronutrients. Micronutrients are one of those weird food components that you can’t necessarily tell what you’re eating and if you’re getting enough of certain nutrients.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: It’s a lot easier to know if you’re getting enough calories and macronutrients, which still isn’t easy. So if you’re trying to get micronutrients and trying to get enough of certain ones that aren’t super common in our food supply, then it can be really hard especially if you’re eating the same foods over and over because all foods are going to have different types of micronutrients, different amounts, some are going to be super high in lots of micronutrients. Like liver for example is one of those foods that just gives you a lot of stuff. Or maybe shellfish is another one that’s very high in micro nutrition.

But you can’t have liver and shellfish for every meal. So getting a variety of different animal foods and plant foods at each meal is going to help make sure that you’re getting lots of different types of micronutrients. And this is even micronutrients that maybe we’re not super familiar with or it’s possible that we haven’t even discovered certain micronutrients yet.

Kelsey: Right because they’re a lot we don’t know about food.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey: We’re only kind of scratching the surface probably in what is important in all these foods.

Laura: Right.

Kelsey: Micronutrients are the smallest things that we really know of that are important for us to have from food, but there’s definitely a possibility that there are other things or more micronutrients that we haven’t discovered yet. And that’s why real food is really important because we probably, and we do obviously, when we have people on tube feeds and things like that that are all kind of processed food, we give them what we know is important, but they’re probably missing things at this point.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey: And that’s why I think…Laura you did your dissertation or something real food tube feeds, right?

Laura: Yes, I did.

Kelsey: I think that’s a really great place to go for with those people that need to be on tube feeds because there’s just a lot that we probably don’t know that comes from real food that we can’t distill down into some kind of processed tube feed at this point.

Laura: Yeah.

Kelsey: It’s important to really think about whole food as a way to get those different micronutrients, and if you just chose the same food over and over again, you’re only getting the certain micronutrients that are in those foods without mixing it up.

Laura: It’s a coincidence that you brought up my Master’s thesis because part of that thesis was that I created multiple recipes that would provide a standard amount of nutrition for the calorie amount which is basically what you expect to have when you’re using the packaged tube feeds in the hospital or at home or something. So I created different recipes and my goal when I was creating those recipes was to actually provide different foods.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: So one of the downsides with using real food tube feeds if you’re going to be using that for whatever reason is that a lot of people will just use the same recipe over and over and over. So maybe they’ll have chicken and broccoli and butter, and just things that are going to provide what they would need in that formula I guess we would call it.

But I wanted to give a couple of different options so that parents or people who are doing their own tube feeds could mix it up and make sure that they’re getting…the person who’s taking the food in via tube feed that they’re getting a variety of different types of proteins, different types of fats, different vegetables. I think some of them might have had liver in it. I think I recommended possibly using some liver in some of the tube feeds. Which it’s funny because some of the recipes were like sardines and just things that if you think about making a smoothie out of that kind of stuff sounds disgusting. But with a tube feed, you’re not tasting anything.

Kelsey: Right, doesn’t matter.

Laura: But yeah that was a big focus of my work in that paper was to create enough variety in the recipes so that way people who are doing these real food blends that they’re getting more of a normal mix diet as opposed to just having the same things over and over.

Kelsey: Right. If you think about tit that way, if you’re just changing up the recipes you can of course put in as much variety as you want and you did all this great work of just making sure that the varieties that they’re choosing gives them the equivalent of what they need daily.

Laura: Right. And it’s funny because I think sometimes people are a little bit overly concerned about being exact with that kind of stuff and having an exact perfect recipe that provides everything that a person needs. Whereas when we chose foods to eat, we’re not being that anal about it.

Kelsey: Right. Not at all.

Laura: It’s like I need 3 ounces of this and half a scoop of that, or whatever that kind of precision. The only downside is with tube feeds is the person is not eating, they don’t have the same ability to have intuitive eating strategies.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So if you think about the way we chose foods, if you’re eating somewhat intuitively and you know oh I’m kind of like done with this protein, I don’t want any more protein, you can assume it’s because your body doesn’t need the extra protein at that point. But if you’re doing a tube feed, they don’t really have that same ability at all. They just kind of get enough until they’re full essentially or until they’ve got their “calorie needs” for the day. So it’s a little be more important to be precise about getting the right amounts of things. And with those recipes, I think I had some supplementation that was recommended as well. But the thing is the goal for us as nutritionists and for people that want to follow real foods diet, is to be able to get as much of their micro nutrient needs from food as possible.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So that’s where that variety of different animal and plant foods is really going to help improve the ability to get the amount of micronutrients you need with the understanding that maybe modern food supply, modern agricultural methods, that we don’t eat as much calories total as we might have in the past because we’re not as active means that maybe you’ll need to supplement. But really the goal is to make sure that you’re getting so micro nutrition from your food that you don’t really need to supplement most nutrients.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: So that’s I’d say one of the bigger things that I focus on as far as variety is concerned. But since you’re the gut health expert, I know that’s another thing that variety is really important for.

Kelsey: Yeah. With gut health, you have your microbiome in your large intestine. That’s just a collection of bacteria and they really do respond pretty quickly to the different types of foods that you’re eating on a day to day basis. They’ve done studies where people are eating higher fat diet and that really changes the microbiome versus a higher carbohydrate diet, and then different fibers feed different types of bacteria. So generally, we’re just trying to…when you think about the microbiome, a healthy microbiome, you want to be feeing a wide variety of good bugs there because what they’ve shown is that diversity in the microbiome leads to a healthier human being.  So you want to have all of these good bugs and you want to have different kinds of good bugs hanging out in your large intestine.

And really the way to do that, and honestly the best way, the only way that we know how do that this point is to get a really wide variety of foods in your diet because different plants, they have different fibers like I mentioned, they have different phytonutrients which also actually feed gut bacteria. Because you usually just think about prebiotics as fibers or carbohydrates, things like that, but actually just the different types of antioxidants can feed different bacteria as well and they act sort of as prebiotics too. It’s not just fiber, it’s not just carbohydrates. It’s actually pretty much everything about the plants and things that you’re eating in your diet that affect your gut microbiome.

So you really do want to make sure that you’re eating different things and not going too long without changing what’s in your diet. I try to tell people that obviously variety is important, but you don’t have to go crazy with like within one day really getting a huge variety.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey: But I’d say going longer than one week would probably start to become a little problematic in terms of the microbiome. But if you, for example, had like Laura was saying before, she had chicken for most of her meats for one day, but then you probably changed it the next day or maybe two days after that you had different types of food. So within the week you’re still changing it up, but for the first day or two maybe you’re focusing on maybe the same kind of foods, right?

Laura: Yeah, I mean I eat a lot of leftovers, so that’s probably why I end up eating the same things over and over because I just don’t feel like cooking for every single meal. But just from an enjoyment perspective I do not like to eat chicken for every single meat for the whole week, so definitely getting some other things in there.

Kelsey: Yeah, so within a week as long as you’re mixing it up a fair amount, that’s probably fine both from a micro nutrition standpoint and a gut health standpoint. But if you’re going longer periods where you’re just eating the same things over and over again, if you think about sort of a typical “Paleo diet” that’s like chicken and broccoli for a lot of your meals or kind of the equivalent of that, you might start to… if you actually measured your gut bacteria, you would probably start to see that the diversity shrinks a little bit if you do that for weeks on end or months on end.

Or if like for a lot of my clients that have been on really restrictive types of diets for digestive health, you would probably see that their diversity is shrinking because they’re really choosing between a very small pool of foods consistently for months if not years on end. And that has a really negative impact on your gut bacteria, and then of course your health in general.

There’s this fine line I think because people with digestive health conditions, they’re obviously very focused on gut health, but they’re trying to like control bad bacteria and they get very caught up in controlling bad bacteria by manipulating their food and in most cases restricting the variety of foods that they’re eating. And that have a really negative impact on the diversity of their gut bacteria, and in turn that has a negative effect on their health in general.

You have to really try to get as much variety, even if you do have to be somewhat restrictive because of what’s going on. So even if you can only eat certain types of vegetables, I’m going to give a bad example right now, like cruciferous vegetables just because I can think of a lot of different ones in that category. A lot of people with digestive conditions don’t do too well with those, but just think about that category of food for a second. You have a lot of different choices within there. If that’s what you can handle, you want to be switching between broccoli, and cabbage, and things from a day to day basis or at least a week to week basis so that you’re getting lots of different fibers and phytonutrients to help feed the gut bacteria.

Laura: Yeah. I think one that I see a lot of people with gut issues over doing is the leafy greens.

Kelsey: Yes.

Laura: And certain leafy greens like lettuce and kale or something are like the only two that they’ll eat. And even within leafy greens there’s like Swiss chard, there’s collards, there’s bok choy.

Kelsey: Mm hmm.

Laura: I guess those are kind of leafy, I can’t really tell what those are.

Kelsey: I think they might be cruciferous. I can’t remember.

Laura: Are they? I don’t think bok choy has the same effect on…

Kelsey: It can.

Laura: Really?

Kelsey: Yeah, it can be a little tough for some people, like that bottom part of it.

Laura: Oh okay. I guess maybe I’m thinking more like the leafy part.

Kelsey: Yeah.

Laura: See there’s just so many different parts of the vegetables. But, yeah, so I would say that there’s the issue of eating too little variety and not eating enough diversity in the gut health, and then there’s the problem of eating too much of the same things that could cause overgrowth of certian bacteria.

Kelsey: Right.

Laura: Not that we want people to panic and be like oh my gosh I had too much broccoli this week, I’m going to get SIBO or something. But, if you are eating tons, and tons, and tons of broccoli, that could potentially just be feeding a certain type of gut bacteria that could potentially become overgrown.

And actually speaking of broccoli, I feel like this would be a good transition to another issue of not having enough variety is the exposure to certain toxins in your diet. Now when we say toxins, I’m not saying things like poison or cyanide or something that’s super toxic like that. I mean more things that are found naturally in foods that in high doses could potentially cause toxic effects in the body.

So with broccoli, that’s a goitrogenic food so they’re going to contain lots of certain compounds that could potentially affect thyroid function. Now, generally broccoli is very good for you. There’s a lot of good things about broccoli, lots of healthy properties, and nutrients, and all that. But all plant foods have defense mechanisms to help protect them against consumption by animals, or insects, or whatever. So there’s certain toxins in plant foods that in excess could cause problems.

Another example that’s pretty common in the Paleo community is sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are super high oxalate, which again doesn’t really cause a problem if you’re eating a normal amount of sweet potatoes. But if you’re having sweet potatoes at every single meal, every single day of the week, which some of my clients that are trying to increase their carb intake can definitely trend toward that because sweet potatoes are like the only acceptable Paleo carb apparently.

Kelsey:  Mm hmm.

Laura: That could potentially cause some issues with either joint pain, or some people can even be prone to kidney stones if they’re super oxalate sensitive. There’s things in foods, and it’s not just plant foods, I mean there’s animal foods as well. We talked about liver as an example as something that’s super nutrient dense and great to provide lots of micro nutrition into your diet. But if you ate liver every day, you would potentially get either iron or copper overload, or vitamin A toxicity. When we talk about toxins, it’s not necessarily about something that’s all bad.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: Vitamin A can turn into a toxin if you eat too much of it. So I just think when people are overeating certain foods, they’re going to be eating way more of the bad stuff that comes from that food because all foods are going to have positive negatives in general. I guess there’s certain things that don’t have any positives to them like vegetable oils or something. But generally, all natural foods are going to have really good qualities and then some not so good qualities that in excess could cause problems.

Kelsey:  Right, and I think in just sort of the way nutrition in our society has been trending, we get really caught up, or hear a lot about super foods. And a lot of people when they hear about super foods, for example kale, will eat tons and tons of kale just because they hear it’s good for them. And while it is good for you, if you eat it all the time, it potentially can be bad for you too.

So you really just have to…I mean it boggles my mind that at least now we get so caught up in those things and people literally do eat them for every vegetable of every day. That’s just not good for you because you’re getting some of these toxic components which normally would not be toxic. Your body can handle them and detox them very easily in small amounts. But if you’re getting tons of it on a day to day basis, it suddenly becomes a lot harder for your body to deal with.

Laura: Yeah, there is that concept of hormesis where some amount of toxic exposure is actually good for you, and it promotes liver function, and there may be actually some positive qualities to some toxins. And again, some nutrients can turn into toxins if they’re in excess. Vitamin A is super important for health and most people don’t get enough of it, but it is toxic in very high doses.

So just remembering that there’s a bell curve of positivity when it comes to most nutrients in food, and so you get that plateau area where you’re getting enough but not so much that it’s causing problems. Then if you’re over eating certain types of foods, then that’s where you can get the excessive intake of certain compounds which can cause problems. Or I mean there could actually be legitimate toxins in things like, I don’t know, like if a certain type of plant holds onto toxins from the soil more than another one. Then if you’re eating a ton of those, then you’d be getting more exposed to that kind of stuff.

Again, we don’t want to scare people into choosing variety. But I think it’s just important to realize that it’s not just about what you’re getting from the food if you’re eating enough variety, but it’s also what you’re preventing from overdosing on if you’re eating more variety.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: So kind of the other side of the micronutrient coin.

Kelsey:  Yeah, and to be fair, there is a piece of this that has to do with the way that we grow food now. I mean we’ve talked about this in previous episodes where just the way that our food system works right now, we have way less access to variety than our ancestors did. That takes a toll obviously on our gut health, on our micro nutrition, the toxins that we are or aren’t being exposed to, all of these things are affected by that. But it also feeds in to this environmental concern that people have about what’s going on with global warming and everything, and just kind of being concerned with the way we’re growing our food.

Laura: Mm hmm.

Kelsey:  So because people are choosing just a lot of these specific super foods, or just things we tend to like, we grow less variety of food, and of course it’s a vicious cycle. It makes it more difficult to choose variety because over time we’re getting less and less access to variety as well.

Laura: Yeah, that’s a really important point that if we’re not purchasing variety when we’re at the grocery store, or at the farmer’s market, or wherever you’re getting your food, that the farmers are going to respond. I mean it is an economic supply and demand issue where people aren’t asking for the variety, or people are not choosing the more unusual foods, they’re just going to stop selling them.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: Because if you’re not going to make a profit something, then why would you sell it? That goes a little above and beyond personal health, but I think when people choose an ancestral or Paleo type diet, a lot of people are worried about the health of the environment, and how we’re growing food, and how we’re supporting diversity in the ecology around us.

It’s kind of like a nice hand and hand thing where if you’re supporting ecological variety and natural methods of food production, which really depends on lots of variety as opposed to this monoculture type crop development that we have in our country right now, then those are the foods that are going to be available to you. So if you go to a farmer’s market that has people that are using biodynamic or really highly diverse farming methods, there’s going to be some foods there that maybe you’ve never seen before, or maybe you don’t know how to cook, or maybe you would normally buy broccoli and asparagus, but they have some kind of weird variety of cabbage that’s available.

So being okay eating variety and maybe being a little bit less confident about how you’re going to cook something or what it’s going to taste like, because it is actually going to support not only the environment on a small scale, but just generally the global food growing environment.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: That can go for both plants and animals. So with meat, if everyone just wants chicken breasts, that’s kind of a problem. Whereas if people are willing to eat the whole animal, or they’re willing to do different types of chicken, or turkey, or other birds, or maybe like other animals that aren’t poultry, like just the more variety there is, I believe the healthier the environment will be because of it because our earth really thrives on variety and diversity.

Kelsey:  Yeah. That’s why it’s so important to think about this stuff now because it only gets worse over time the less and less we’re choosing variety at the stores or at the places that we’re purchasing our food. It’s not only for your own health, but it is for the health of the earth as well.

Laura: And I’d say the last piece of the variety puzzle, which is maybe one of the more important ones, but we always like to save this stuff for last since it’s not very…well I don’t know if it’s scientific or not…but just the enjoyment factor of foods.

I know Kelsey, you’ve probably seen this a lot with your clients that are on super restricted diets that regardless of the way that it’s impacting their physical health, they just get so sick of eating the same foods over and over. I’ve had people come to me that are like, well this diet seems to be helping my gut health or my autoimmunity, or whatever, but I can’t eat another zucchini.

Kelsey:  Right. Well I get people who just become totally disinterested in food and that I think is really dangerous territory to get into because then at that point it becomes less about even how it’s affecting their whatever condition they’re doing the diet for and it’s just…I mean I don’t want to say it because it kind of sounds bad, but I do feel like it almost reduces their enjoyment of life in general.

And again, totally not scientific here but just something that I feel like I’ve noticed is that if I have a client who tells me that they’re not interested at all in food because they’ve been on a super restrictive diet for a long time, I find that they have a harder time getting enjoyment out of other things in their life too. And I don’t know if that’s totally correlated, but it’s definitely something at least I’ve noticed in my own practice, and you can kind of just tell that they’re a little bit disinterested in a lot of things in life.

Maybe that’s not solely because of their restrictive diet or whatever. There’s probably pieces of a little bit of depression sometimes going on and other things But I do think there’s something to be said about being able to cultivate enjoyment from the foods that you’re eating and how that affects other places where you can get enjoyment out of your life as well.

Laura: Yeah, well even if it’s not causing the disinterest or depression in other areas of their life, it certainly is going to compound it.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: If you’re struggling with a health issue, you’re already going to be dealing with more negative emotions than someone who’s healthy would be experiencing. Add insult to injury with the fact that you can only eat ten different foods, it’s just I think it turns you into a downward spiral of, well my health stinks, and I’m not enjoying my life, and now I have to cook the same meal, and this sucks.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: If there’s more variety in the food, it at least gives them some level of pleasure back in that area of their life. Not that I think food should be like the primary source of people’s pleasure because that’s a whole other topic for another day. But there is something to be said for eating for fuel and not always needing every meal to be amazing and a culinary masterpiece or something.

Kelsey:  Yeah.

Laura: But on the other hand, there’s also a lot to be said for having meals that you enjoy, or that you are sharing with other people and not worrying about if it’s going to bother you, or if it’s the exact right thing that you’re supposed to be eating, or if it’s on your list of foods that are allowed with your current diet.

Kelsey:  Yeah.

Laura: So I think at a minimum we don’t want food to be a burden on people, and really balancing a healthy interest in delicious food with the understanding that some food is just for health purposes and not always for pure enjoyment. Because if we were only eating for pure enjoyment, we’d only be eating like ice cream and cake all the time.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: Whereas if you have a balance between mostly eating because, okay, I know I need these foods to be healthy, and these make me feel my best, but also having a little bit in there where it’s like I’m just going to eat this because I want it and it doesn’t matter how healthy it is. Being able to strike that balance as best as possible I think can really improve people’s overall quality of life.

Kelsey:  Definitely. And at least from my perspective with the kind of clients that I work with a lot of the time, I feel like it’s almost less about being overly ecstatic about the food that you’re eating and feeling like everything is a divine experience, and more about not experiencing this total lack of interest.

Laura: Right, like disgust almost.

Kelsey:  Yeah, exactly. You don’t have to feel like you should be over the moon with every meal that you’re eating, but you shouldn’t be feeling kind of, I don’t want to say repulsed, but just turned off by food in general. It should be an overall pleasant and enjoyable experience when you’re eating.

Laura: Yeah, which I think defianatly impacts people’s health and the way they digest their food. I mean I think it’s interesting with hospitals. The quality of the food at a hospital can make or break their quality ratings when they interview patients. I think it’s called JCAHO ratings. It’s something we had to learn about as dietitians was like basically what is important about food service at a hospital other than just feeding people.

And so it is amazing that when food is really good or enjoyable that people’s overall experience of everything, even health care, is better. So I think that’s something to keep in mind that having some enjoyment of your food and having that be a part of your life that causes some level of pleasure, even if it’s not every single meal, actually could potentially increase the enjoyment of other things as well. So it’s not just frivolous like gluttony to want to enjoy your food.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: There is actually some significant mental health benefits to having some pleasurable food here and there.

Kelsey:  Definitely. Cultivating enjoyment from your food is way more likely when you’re eating a healthy variety of foods. Like we were talking about before, restricting to just a few different foods, you’re just less likely to be happy with your food choices and be enjoying them every single time because you get bored of them very quickly. Whereas if you’re always trying new things or just kind of switching it up from even if it’s week to week like we were talking about before, or day to day if you’re doing a really excellent job, that just helps you enjoy food because your palate is getting different flavors all the time and that’s exciting, and different, and enjoyable for your senses.

It’s really important to remember that food is not just about what is the “healthiest” foods that you should be eating all the time because they’re super foods. It’s about all of these different things that we’ve mentioned today. And when you get that variety, you’re not only getting more micronutrients, you’re getting less toxins, you’re improving your gut health, you’re improving the environment, but you’re also really working on getting the most enjoyment out of your food as possible.

Laura: Yeah and I mean one last thing I’d like to mention about the enjoyment factor is it does kind of depend on what your goals are, but enjoyment can be manipulated weight loss, and also maintaining weight, and also not under eating. For people that have a lot of weight to lose, sometimes dropping the enjoyment factor on the factor for a period of time can help them lose weight because it promotes less food consumption.

Kelsey:  Mm hmm.

Laura: Which is necessary to lose weight if you have weight gain because of over eating. But the big problem I see with a lot of my clients, and of course we have a different niche than maybe the average dietician does…

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: But people that are eating such boring food and eating the same foods over and over, they just stop eating. They just don’t eat enough food.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: And like I was saying earlier with the update, so many of my clients have issues with under eating, that it’s not even that they’re necessarily like oh I need to lose weight, I want to have abs or something, that’s why I’m under eating. There’s so many people who under eat because they’re just so tired of eating the same stuff over and over that they don’t even realize that they’re just not eating enough food because they’re appetite has been shot by the lack of variety.

Kelsey:  Definitely.

Laura: If somebody’s got a lot of weight to lose, maybe it’s not a big deal. Of course that’s not always the case. It’s not always that somebody’s over eating and that’s why they’re holding on to body weight. But for people who are on these long term restrictive diets, they can easily start to get HPA axis dysfunction if they’re under eating all the time because of this lack of enjoyment.

That’s kind of a little bit of a tangent, but I think it is important to remember with the enjoyment factor that our bodies have been designed to enjoy food because it drives us to eat enough to supply the nutrition that we need for our function. It’s not just about whether or not you’re enjoying your food, and if you’re having fun eating, or if it’s giving you pleasure, it also actually drives you to eat enough. That can be a big problem for a lot of people on these restrictive diets.

Kelsey:  Yeah, and we’ve manipulated that again with our food system as it is currently where like we make these severely high palatable foods that really change the way that, or that I guess change the amount that we eat. Because if something tastes really awesome, just think about Doritos for example, not that those taste awesome to all of us now that we’re eating real food, but think about that. There’s so many different flavors, it’s got sweet, it’s got savory, it’s like this explosion of flavor that your taste buds kind of really like if you are starting to eat more and more processed foods.

Then you eat a lot of those things which are of course calorie dense and don’t have a whole lot of nutrition to them. And when you start to eat real food, or if you think about our ancestors who just had access to real food, they like Laura said, were driven to eat enough by the variety that was available to them. But they didn’t have this overly palatable food option available to them that caused them to eat too much. That was an initial kind of push to get us to eat enough, and if we go too far on either end of that spectrum making things too palatable or really not palatable at all because of restriction, we kind run the risk of eating too much or too little.

Laura: Definitely. Well I think that covers this topic. Hopefully that makes a lot of sense to people and they realize that the variety is not just about getting basic nutrition from the different types of food. There’s a lot of other things that can be affected from the amount of variety that you’re picking.

So if you don’t have health problems, but you are concerned that you are getting into ruts cooking different types foods, generally what I would suggest is that next time you go to the grocery store, just take a little longer time, and browse, and see what they have available, and see if there’s things that you haven’t picked in a while or that you’ve never even chosen ever in your whole life. So maybe there’s a plant that you’ve never eating before or there’s a type of meat that you haven’t tried because you’re not sure about it. Just being a little adventurous there and looking to branch out from your typical staples can be really helpful.

And if you do have a significant health issue, then really we always say the best thing to do is to work with someone to help you get that variety back into your diet in a way that’s safe and supporting your best health. But that should really be a goal if you feel like your diet is getting way too restricted and you’re feeling either disinterested in food or maybe the benefits you used to be having haven’t really been there anymore, and seeing about okay, how can I branch out? How can I start to reintroduce foods in a way that’s not going to totally derail my health? I think most people could probably stand to increase the variety. I don’t think there’s that many people out there that have excessive variety in their diets.

Kelsey:  Right.

Laura: It’s something that I know for my own life I need to work on. It’s just a matter laziness on my part.

Kelsey:  Yeah, and it’s hard. I mean honestly it’s something I think everybody can always be working on pretty much because you get into routine and routine is helpful to save time and things like that. So it does take more effort, it does take more time to increase the variety in your diet. But that’s a worthwhile goal, and even though we may not all be examples of perfection when it comes to variety right, it’s always something to strive for.

Laura: Right. I think everyone can always improve it.

Kelsey:  Yeah.

Laura: Even if you think you’re doing a lot of variety, you probably could increase it if you wanted to.

Kelsey: Exactly.

Laura: So it might be something worth trying.

But anyway, that was a good episode. I feel like that’ll be helpful for people, and hopefully you all enjoyed it. And we’ll look forward to having you here next week for our next topic. But if you have any questions that you want to submit to us, feel free to go to TheAncestralRDs.com and go to the contact tab and you can submit your question that way. Anyway, we’ll look forward to seeing you around next time.

Kelsey:  Alright. Take care, Laura.

Laura: You too, Kelsey.

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