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Variety is the spice of life

February 26, 2011

Who doesn’t like to have those things that are tried and true? In my house peanut butter is that thing. It goes on toast, bananas, smoothies, dressing . . . you name it. It is such a natural food for us to reach for that we don’t give it a second thought. My children even love it out of the jar. And the reality is that it is a good source of fat, nutrients, and vitamins. So, when I ask them, why don’t you try something else, what I get back is why?

Why indeed? Why should they eat something else? What’s wrong with the same food as long as it’s a healthy choice? I mean, research shows that children like to watch the same television programs over and over, listen to the same music over and over, and play the same games over and over. Of course, we as parents can usually only stand to hear the wheels on the bus about 10 times. After that it’s don’t you know any other songs?

Food, however, is a bit different. First let’s talk about variety. The reality of the situation is that the american diet is not particularly varied. Most of the food we consume is some form of starch and fat; not too many vegetables, other then tomatoes; and limited amounts of fruit. According to “Human Diet: its Origin and Evolution,” by University of Arkansas anthropologist Peter Ungar and co-editor Mark Teaford of Johns Hopkins University, humans have evolved to eat a vast variety of foods. Ungar and Teaford point out that our ancestors, you know the ones–those guys who were barely able to walk upright, and had to adapt to eat what was available to them seasonally and regionally. They roamed and as such this adaptation was required if one was going to survive. Thanks to our ancestors ability to adapt you are here today reading this blog post.

Fast forward to the present, and we only have to hunt and gather at the local market, which is usually only a mile or two away. Not really the same–although those parking lots can be brutal. And now all we have to do is pick up one superfood bar and notice that it contains all the possible nutrients known to man. Or does it?

Our bodies require a variety of nutrients, of which no single food contains. From essential amino acids, to protein, calcium, magnesium, and fats. While it would be nice to be able to get an everything meal, it really is impossible. Can you imagine how heavy the meal would be? The best we can do is eat healthy and make good choices.

This is where variety comes in. In our family, and with the peanut butter, we certainly are getting a great source of nutrition. However, it lacks in many areas. While peanut butter is a great source of niacin, vitamin e, manganese, it is fully lacking in vitamins k, a, c, and b12. And this is the reason variety is needed.

When we eat just one food, whether it be any one of a number of super foods or a piece of candy, we are digesting all the nutrients in that food. But unless we add variety we are missing out on all others. But there’s more. If we don’t get the other nutrients, we may not be able to digest or use the nutrients we do get.

For example, vitamins a, d, e, and k are fat soluble. This means that unless we consume some sort of fat with them, they are not able to be fully digested and absorbed into our body. Conversely, iron and calcium together don’t allow for the absorption of the other. This is why variety is truly the spice of life, for without variety we are not getting all that is required for optimal life.

With that in mind I’m off to grab something new and tasty . . . unless the peanut butter grabs me first.

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