Why You Should Rotate Foods
…Rotating Your Foods Gives Your Health a Boost
There are 3 reasons why you don’t want to eat the same foods every day:
- We need a diversity of food in order to feed diverse bacteria in our gut (our microbiome). Microbiome diversity is indicative of good health.
- Different foods will be high in different nutrients.
- Less risk for food sensitivity reactions.
I’ll break down each of these below. Increasing the diversity of your diet is a fun pursuit. Give yourself time on the weekend to look up 1 new recipe using a food you haven’t eaten before, like rutabaga, fennel, dill, plantain, jicama, or chayote squash. Or, find 1 new piece of produce at the grocery store you’ve never had, buy it, come home and find a recipe to make it. This is not only a great way to improve your health, but also could help you find new healthy foods you love and make the process of eating well more fun and exciting. Research shows that when a food seems “novel”, subjects report greater pleasure eating that food. The more pleasure you derive from your meals the more sustainable your healthy eating will be!
1. Diverse Microbiome
Increased diversity of the types of bugs living in our gut, collectively known as the microbiome, is correlated with better overall health. How do we make sure we have a variety of good bugs? By eating a variety of foods! Studies show that our diet has the biggest impact and that those in long-term care, who eat from a limited, repeated menu, have a significantly less diverse microbiome than those who still live in the community. They found that among those in long-term care, lower diversity meant increased frailty, inflammation, and disease. On the other end of the age spectrum, researchers found that 1-year-olds with less food diversity had increased prevalence of asthma, atopic asthma, wheeze, and allergic rhinitis by age 5.
2. Diversity of Nutrients
Keeping a balance of nutrients is important to keep our bodies functioning optimally. Too much of one nutrient can block absorption of or deplete other nutrients by competing for absorption or use. For example, if zinc and copper get too out of balance, the higher one acts like a toxic heavy metal in the body. Most of our nuts and seeds provide 3x more of our daily value (DV) of copper than zinc, whereas fish and beef provide 2-8x more of our DV of zinc than copper. By balancing animal protein with nuts and seeds, our zinc and copper stay in balance.
In addition, we’ll be more likely to have inadequate intake of something if we don’t get a variety. Many people only eat lettuce and spinach for their greens. However, kale has almost 2x more of Vitamins K and A than spinach. This doesn’t mean we should only eat kale though, as spinach has 7x more folate. It’s all about balance and variety!
3. Food Reactions
This one’s a bit complicated so hang in there with me! 2 of the ways we can react to foods are antibodies and intolerances. Antibodies are created as a way to tag that food for destruction by the immune system.
When the immune system does the destroying, we get symptoms.
There’s more complexity to it and a lot of reasons why we can have our immune system react to something we eat, but suffice it to say that the more often we eat something, the more likely we will become sensitive to it. Therefore, by only eating something a couple times a week or only one week out of the month, the antibodies don’t keep piling up.
Furthermore, we can have an intolerance to a component of the food. There’s all kinds of “personal traits” that foods can have in common, like lectins, oxalates, histamine, and FODMAPs. Foods with hard to digest lectins are things like the nightshade family, which consists of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, among others. Our bodies might only alert us of an inflammatory reaction to these traits once they pass a specific threshold. Therefore, when you eat a wide variety, you’re less likely to overflow this threshold and more likely to stay below symptom detection. Most people know this intuitively: nothing happens with 1 spoon of beans or 1 beer, but bad things happen with 1 cup of beans or 6 cans of beer!
How to Rotate
Ok, so this is what it looks like in the real world to follow this advice. Every time you go to the grocery store, get a different kind of item in a category from what you got on the last trip. If you bought spinach for your smoothies last time, this time get a bag of baby lettuce or spring mix. If you bought a spaghetti squash, get butternut squash. Get a cabbage mix for this week instead of the same Romaine salads. Use strawberries and almonds on your coconut yogurt, then next meal prep top it with blueberries and walnuts. If you just finished up a turkey meatloaf, meal prep chicken for the next couple days. You DO NOT need to rotate oils, seasonings, spices, supplements, or dairy-free milks, as these have relatively low potential for causing issues. So get out there and explore new foods!
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British Journal of Nutrition. 2015 Jan;113 Suppl:S1-5.
Nature. 2012 Aug 9;488(7410):178-84.
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Apr;133(4):1084-91.