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National Nutrition Month: Variety is the Spice of Life | Iredell Health System

Have you ever found yourself tired of a certain food or not excited about your meals and snacks? If this sounds like you, you may be in an eating rut.

Feeling bored of eating or cooking the same thing is common. However, meals don’t have to be boring, and an eating rut is temporary — it may just be time to switch things up. After all, variety is the spice of life, but also the key to a healthy diet.

March is National Nutrition Month, and this month’s theme is “Celebrate a World of Flavors.” If you’re tired of eating the same meals, there’s no better time to start adding variety into your diet than now.

There are many different kinds of foods in the world, but sometimes, you may find yourself eating the same easy meals over and over.

“We tend to get in ruts when we are busy. We rush into the grocery store and grab our usual things,” said Amanda Downs, registered dietitian at Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center.

Sometimes, lack of time contributes to an eating rut, and other times, just not knowing what other meal options are out there can play a role in mundane eating habits.

Downs often hears her patients say, “I’m tired of chicken.” When she offers suggestions for variety, patients are typically surprised they can eat different food options and still be healthy.

“There are many perfectly safe and nutritious foods that I see people unnecessarily avoiding, and this can contribute to them getting stuck in a rut,” she said.

Unfortunately, though, getting stuck in an eating rut and lack of variety in our meals can be detrimental to our health.

What are the risks of an eating rut?
Going for convenience and familiarity in your meal choices may mean you are sacrificing some of the critical nutrients your body needs.

“When you are too dependent on convenient foods that aren’t supporting your health — foods that lack lean protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals — then you need to figure out ways to branch out that allow for better quality without compromising taste,” said Downs.

Adding a variety of foods to your diet can help you get out of an eating rut and provide you with several kinds of nutrients. There is no single perfect food that will give you all the nutrients you need.

“Variety is key. The more variety in your diet, the more nutrients you are introducing,” said Downs.

“For example, all the different colors of fruits, vegetables, and grains, can all provide different vitamins and minerals,” she added.

A healthy eating routine includes a variety of foods from the five major food groups. These are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.

“When you eat a variety of foods from different groups, you are getting the nutrients required for each stage of life. But, when you avoid whole groups of foods, you might be at risk of missing out on certain nutrients, and this will affect your health over time,” said Downs.

How can I expand my diet?
To help you figure out which foods you should include in your diet, Downs recommends spending a week writing down everything you eat and then tallying up all of the food groups you ate from.

“You may identify a day where you didn’t eat a single fruit or vegetable. You can then set a goal to include at least one per day,” she said. “After some time, this will become a habit and will offer your diet more variety and nutrients.”

Sometimes it can be hard to know what nutrients your specific body needs added and how to get them. This is where a registered dietitian is beneficial.

“Meeting with a registered dietitian can open up a discussion about the variety in your diet, what nutrients may be lacking, and easy ways to include them,” said Downs.

Downs practices at Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center located at 235 N Main Street, Suite D, in Troutman. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Amanda Downs, speak with your primary care provider about a referral. To learn more, please call the wellness center at 704-878-4556.

Looking for a nutrient-rich meal to add variety? Check out the recipe below.

Lentil Minestrone
Makes 6 servings
Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion (peeled and chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 3 carrots (scrubbed and diced into 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 celery stalk (diced into 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 sweet potato (scrubbed and diced into 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 1 zucchini (diced into 1/4-inch pieces or 1 cup of frozen zucchini)
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium, diced tomatoes (including liquid or fresh tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup lentils (brown or red)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cube low-sodium chicken bouillon
  • 4 cups kale (washed and chopped into 1/4-1/2-inch pieces)

Directions

  • Put a soup pot on the stove over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add the oil. Add onion and garlic and cook about 7 minutes until golden.
  • Add carrots, celery, sweet potato, and zucchini and cook about 10 minutes until slightly tender.
  • Add tomatoes, lentils, water, and chicken bouillon cube and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low, cover and cook 40 minutes.
  • Add the kale and cook an additional 20 minutes. Serve right away or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 2 cups. Amount per serving: 167 calories, 3g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 82mg sodium, 29g carbohydrates, 8g fiber, 3g sugar, 8g protein, 144mg calcium, 4mg iron, 896mg potassium.