There is a lot of discussion (and even debating) over the importance (or irrelevance) of having variety in your diet. Some people are just happy with their routine and don’t want to step outside of the “eggs- for- breakfast- sandwich- for- lunch- chicken- for- dinner- and bowl of cereal-during-Law & Order “box. I get it, and I’m fine with it. In fact, I have my preferred dietary routine down, too. I go in phases, generally as the seasons come and go, but with each season or phase there are things I just want to eat everyday at certain times. Let’s say I’m eating coconut everyday during the summer. Dried coconut flakes, coconut chips, coconut milk in smoothies, coconut oil when I’m cooking or baking (or shaving, moisturizing, cleaning wounds), coconut sugar and coconut water… what do you think is going to happen if I keep this up for a week? Four weeks? Six months?
Well let’s see. First we examine the nutrient value of coconut: coconut has about 15g of saturated fat per serving (almost 2oz in coconut meat), 2g protein and 8g carbohydrates. So it’s relatively high in saturated fat, which is good. But if you’re eating it in every form, everyday, then you have likely skidded far off your macronutrient balancing chart. It’s also pretty high in potassium and iron, has a decent amount of B2 and vitamin C, but has no vitamin A, B12 or calcium. All other vitamins and minerals are too low to count and the make up of amino acid profile is not impressive either, but Leucine being it’s primary. So with all that said you have to ask yourself: where am I getting the rest of my nutrients to make up for the ones coconut lacks? And if I’m eating such high amounts of coconut, will other foods balance out? Or am I eating OTHER high-copper, high-potassium, and Vitamin C-rich foods? And if so, how will that effect me, my digestion, the balance in my system, and the absorption of other nutrients and the reaction of the system to not having all of its dietary needs?
SO MANY QUESTIONS!
You may be thinking: I eat a lot of different foods, my diet is balanced, I don’t need to worry about this. But… what if you’re not? And what if you do? Because the likelihood you’re tracking nutrients instead of calories is pretty low. And the chance you know exactly how much zinc was in your diet yesterday verses how many carbs you ate… also very low. Do you have an understanding of the ramifications in having even just a minimal copper-zinc imbalance? It’s huge! Hair falling out? Diagnosed with thyroid disorder, eating disorder, anxiety, infertility, depression, acne, chronic fatigue? What is the root of all that? Oh yeah… been eating 2lbs of coconut for 3 years. Now I have a copper toxicity problem. Ewpsies.
(Keep in mind, coconut is not the only source of copper and there’s dietary exposure, environmental and even water filters and IUDs increase your copper levels)
Not convinced? Let’s use the fitness analogy: for pretendsies, you’re a long distance runner. That’s what you do. You’ve got 3 kids and the only time you get to exercise, you go for a run. You have zero time for anything else such as yoga, resistance training, sprints, or maybe a martial arts class or hell… I’ll throw Zumba in there. So all you do is run.
Are you fit?
If so, explain why. Explain to me how one person who uses the same energy requirements, the same oxygen uptake, breathing reps, muscle movements, ligament and tissue movements, and the same joint impacts… day in and day out for hours and hours a week is a fit person. You can run. And probably much more graceful than a baby giraffe, but what does that earn you? Medals? T-shirts? I think that’s great and would never discourage anyone from partaking in anything that gets them moving… and if you know me, you’ve seen my collection of race bibs and medals (but you’ve also been witness to the physical destruction that nearly occurred as a result of earning all those medals). My point is – and you know this – that doing the same thing over and over only gets you as far as that one thing can take you. It can make you a faster or better runner. But it does not help you increase strength in muscle and fascia, improve flexibility, agility, stability or increase overall health and longevity. Real fitness is a balance of all those things. And let’s take this even further while we’re thinking about this particular activity. Like I stated earlier, endurance running uses the same amount of energy, oxygen uptake, movements and impacts each time. But think about this: it also requires and uses up the same nutrients and amino acids… which means some shit’s being depleted much faster than others… which means you are most definitely sitting at a nutritional imbalance. More than likely you are depleted in many nutrients on a large scale, and over-supplied with others on a medium or higher scale. Think of the power lifter than can’t run 1/2 a mile. The yoga instructor that can’t lift a 20# kettle bell. Or the bodybuilder that can’t even reach down to touch his shins or do a proper lunge. The pilates teacher that can’t do 10 pushups but can hold a plank for 10 minutes. Make sense? This is your body on a routine diet. It has a stable immune system because you might be level on zinc, C, iron, folate etc. But it can’t regulate it’s adrenals and metabolism for shhhhhhit because it has almost zero copper, chromium, pantothenic acid, B12 and L-theanine. Follow?
Okay, you’re still not convinced yet. You’re the type that needs scientific proof. Studies to back dat ass up. Peer reviewed even. Double blind and shit. I respect that.
But FIRST I’d like to point you in another direction and we’ll get to that nerdy crap.
If you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease or disorder, have had trouble losing weight, have increasing digestive symptoms and/or rely on enzymes to help you eat comfortably, have an issue retaining chronic flatulence, or your skin and hair are out of control, then you have a food intolerance due to a food toxicity build-up. This was not there before… why is there now? Food intolerance doesn’t magically appear. You already don’t eat corn, gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, or beans. WHAT could you be intolerant to? I’ll be straight forward here: probably the one thing you eat all the time everyday consistently. Raspberries you say? You can’t be allergic to raspberries. YES YOU CAN IF YOU EAT THEM EVERYDAY. Here’s why: all foods have a level of toxicity. They all do. And I’m not talking about GMO’s, or pesticides (though they count). I’m talking about individual toxins unique to all foods and plants.
Some of the major groups of natural food toxins are alkaloids, bioactive amines, fungal toxins, purines, salicylates, pyrrolizidine alkaloids and carrageenan. For example, carrots have a carotatoxin. Celery has psolarens. And so having a good rotation going in your diet will help you avoid a backed-up plant-specific toxin-traffic jam in your system. When that happens, it aint purdy. Take a vegan who may eat a predominant amount of soy and sunflower seed oil/butter. They will likely begin to suffer due to a toxic level of purine in their diet. And thus, develop intolerance to soy and/or sunflower seed. Take someone who eats a ton of raisins, raspberries and honey. And for some reason they begin having terrible gas and bloating when they eat. Well, it could be for a number of reasons but if the rest of their diet is made up of high-salicylate foods, then they probably have a a salicylate toxicity and have now become intolerant to things like apples, berries, dried fruits, broccoli, sweet potato, nuts, seeds and anything vinegar-y.
So my point there is: based on each food’s unique and natural occurring toxin properties, you will almost certainly obtain a systemic toxicity if you are not balancing and rotating your foods enough to even out the “dose” of each toxin you consume. It would take a completely separate entry to really get deep enough into this topic alone, but I’ll leave you with this. Why is Candida so common? Why do we hear people talk about this so much and why is it so easy to develop and hard to get rid of? Well let’s go back. Remember when I listed out some of the natural food toxins? You’ll recall the category for fungal toxins. Here’s a list of foods with naturally occurring fungal toxin: spices, herbs, tree nuts, fruit, mushrooms, and even meats produced from CAFO feedlots who get infected by the soil and feeds that carry the fungi mycotoxin- which is not biodegradable! Fruits and vegetables, especially non-organic- are easily infected with these fungal toxins. And though they are harmless in small or balanced amounts, they can be incredibly toxic to the liver and rapidly create yeast overgrowth of the gut (Candida). Don’t have to spell it out for ya (but I will). Yeast infections, thrush, skin rashes, eczema, dandruff, athletes foot, jock itch…. all a result of fungal toxicity in the system. Nomsayin?
Did that help you accept the idea that rotating foods is helpful and beneficial to your overall health, performance, energy levels, hormone function, immune function, digestion, strength and metabolism?
Trouble losing weight? Stubborn plateau? You reached your “set point” and dont want to stay there? Well, start rotating your foods and talk to me in four weeks about how much that shifted things for you. Granted, that may not be the only thing you need to do. Health, weight loss, strength, immunity etc… is a joined effort between every system of the body. But this particular issue right here… a huge one. And often disregarded or not talked about enough.
I really don’t want everyone to think that they have to literally pick apart their diets microscopically and panic if they had bacon two days in a row, or if they eat beef jerky everyday. Having favorites and mainstays are perfectly fine! My daughter thinks I need a 12-step program for my jerky “addiction”. Anytime I’m seen publicly, there are three things happening, no fail: sunglasses, dirty bun held up desperately with bobby pins, and a piece of beef jerky hanging out of my mouth. Do I have a purine toxicity? No. Because – to be honest- I eat a lot of purines! But I also eat a lot of everything else, so having a mainstay or favorite won’t kill ya. But if you use your mainstay in everything, and don’t have a good balance of other food groups (proteins, carbs, fats/oils, herbs/spices), you might run into problems. I try to be mindful to do beef jerky, pork jerky, buffalo jerky and rotate them in and out. But man… give me a box of Trader Joe’s original, and I go TO TOWN like it’s feeding time at the zoo.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of a food intolerance or allergy (especially an experience of bloat/discomfort/gas within 5-10 minutes of eating or neurological symptoms within 12 hours) then back off a bit and be intentional to rotate your food. Eliminate the obvious culprits for at least four weeks (I, personally, would do it for 12 weeks) and then after having a good rotation and variety going, slowly add it back into your diet in small amounts and servings once a week, then 2x a week, and keep it steady there.
This same advice goes for anyone struggling with ANY health issues, weight retention, water retention, burn out or fitness struggles. Don’t stress about it. Just be mindful of it. If you like coconut and want to use it on/with/for everything, then just be sure you’re getting a larger variety outside of that to balance the copper and vitamin C etc.
Variety is important in ALL aspects of our lives. Not just diet. No one benefits from doing the same thing day in and day out, the same routine, same food, same workouts, same conversations, same music, same coffee shop. That’s where the definition of “rut” was discovered. Beyond food… go out and do different things everyday. It’s good for your brain, your mind, your soul, your muscles, your lungs, your gut – everything. Any client of mine will tell you that I ASSIGN change on a weekly basis. I never allow them to do the same things repeatedly. That includes a different route to work, trying a new hobby, listening to a new podcast or new music genre, etc. I literally assign homework to step outside the box at least once a week. You can’t grow without change. And you’ll never change doing the same thing.
On to the science and resources (these are good balances dissecting both sides of this argument, if you want more, I got more!):