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Tips for Increasing Diversity In Your Diet

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Written by: Audrey Clement, R.D.

What does it mean to have diversity in your diet?

Diversity in your diet simply means consuming a wider range of foods. In a society so fixated on eliminating specific foods from our diets, we actually need to be focusing on incorporating as many nutrient-dense foods as possible to optimize our health. Research has shown an association between those who consume a wide variety of healthy foods and lower risk for all cause mortality (death by any cause). Aim to emphasize diversity of foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and lean protein sources. The focus should primarily be around increasing diversity of plant foods (aka carbohydrates).

What are the benefits of increasing intake of diverse foods?

Every single food contains a different nutrient profile. When we consume a wide variety of foods, we are less likely to develop nutrient gaps and deficiencies. It is not realistic to acquire all the vitamins and minerals we need in one day of eating, but rather do so over days and weeks by varying the foods we eat.

The color hues of different plant foods will also provide specific health benefits. The nutrients associated with these color hues are called phytonutrients. For example, red plant foods, such as tomatoes, are high in anthocyanins and the carotenoid lycopene which promote anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity as well as immune support. While yellow plant foods, such as ginger, are high in bioflavonoids and support gastrointestinal health by promoting gastric motility and feeding the gut microbiome. So if you’ve ever been told to eat the rainbow, that’s why.

Eating an increased and more diverse amount of plant foods is also going to increase our fiber and prebiotic intake. Fiber works to improve overall health by normalizing blood sugar, regulating cholesterol levels, lowering inflammation and optimizing microbial diversity in our gut.

Tips for increasing diversity of plant foods in your diet:

  1. Instead of purchasing one specific fruit or vegetable, opt for products that offer medleys of 2-3 fruits and/or vegetables. For example, if you are planning to make smoothies for the week, choose a frozen mixed berry blend (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) rather than just frozen strawberries. Other examples can include coleslaws, rainbow carrots, salad kits, stir-fry vegetables and tri-colored bell peppers.

  2. Choose different colors to theme the week. This can be a very fun activity, especially if you have kids. To avoid feeling overwhelmed with buying multiple different colors and textures in one week, choose one color and change it each week. For example if you choose the color purple, you might have a blackberry smoothie for breakfast, purple cabbage slaw on top of wraps for lunch and eggplant as a vegetable side at dinner. At the end of the week you can change to another color.

  3. Shop at farmers markets or local grocery stores. This can be a great way to introduce yourself to produce you don’t typically buy. Oftentimes chain grocery stores can lack diversity of produce offered. Do you find yourself buying the same produce each week because it’s all that’s offered and looks good at your go-to store? Adding in a farmers market run could be a great opportunity to try something new! Learn more about shopping at farmers markets here.

  4. Choose meals that are conducive to diversity. You can add more plant variety to any dish but there are a few in particular that make it that much easier. My favorite meals for diversity include:

    1. Smoothies. You can easily pack 5+ plant foods into a small and condense glass. What’s great about smoothies is that you don’t have to worry about your produce going bad. You can freeze produce and use it when you’re ready. Check out my favorite simple smoothie recipe which includes 6 plant foods and 11 grams of fiber!

    2. Salads. Salads can sometimes appear to be bland and boring but they are actually an excellent vessel for diversity and fun flavors. Salads don’t have to consist of only lettuce or leafy green blends. You can make pasta salad, bean salad, or even a grain salad. My vibrant pasta salad recipe has 7 plant foods and 8 grams of fiber per serving!

    3. Soup. What a comforting way to include an insane amount of plant foods. Soups typically include plant foods that you don’t normally think about such as onion, squash, beans, rice, etc. You can almost never mess up a soup recipe. Here is a fun recipe to try.

    4. Stir-fry. Some call it stir-fry, but I call it the kitchen sink meal. This is a great opportunity to take all your produce scraps from the week and clean out your fridge. You don’t even need a recipe, just sauté your produce with a protein, oil and a low sugar stir-fry sauce in a pan. Pair with a carb source such as rice or quinoa.

  5. Think outside the box with carb sources. Rice and potatoes are easy, affordable and always available at the grocery store. Rice and potatoes are NOT a poor nutrition source. An easy way to increase diversity is to swap them out every once in a while with a different carb source. Other affordable carbohydrate options include beans, edamame, lentils and squash.

  6. Garnish meals with herbs. Herbs are an underrated way to elevate flavor and boost the nutritional value of a meal. You can throw herbs in salads, pastas, marinades, dressings, dips, mocktails and more. You can start an herb garden on your porch or in a backyard if you have one!

  7. Try a new recipe 1-2x/month. Trying new recipes is a great way to introduce yourself to new foods that you wouldn’t typically have on hand. Once those new food items are in your kitchen, it will give you an excuse to use them over and over again. Try to choose cookbooks or food bloggers that use an abundance of plant forward ingredients.



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