- Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and nutritionist
By taking her lead (read: adding more plants and culinary diversity into your diet), you can stand to benefit by way of greater joy from eating, better gut health, and ultimately improved outcomes for longevity.
4 ways expanding your palate can promote longevity
As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life—but according to Feller, variety is the nutrient that supports life. Here are a few key ways in which dietary diversity can lead to major improvements in lifespan.
1. You’ll achieve greater gut diversity
To start, a diverse gut is a healthy one, and eating a variety of plants can help you achieve exactly that. “Patterns of eating that are rich in a variety of plant sources—including starchy vegetables, legumes, beans, and seeds—help to increase the diversity of colonic bacteria in the gut,” Feller says. Indeed, findings from the American Gut Project demonstrate that people who eat over 30 different plants per week have more diverse gut microbiomes than those who eat 10 or fewer varieties.
“We know that the gut is the largest immune mediator in the body and that there are significant links between the gut and the brain, the gut and the endocrine system, and more,” Feller continues. “When these systems are in homeostasis, we are less likely to experience metabolic dysfunction, which contributes to longevity.” Simply put, when your gut’s in good shape, it promotes a cascade of beneficial outcomes for your digestion, mind, mood, hormones, and then some… all of which can yield perks for your overall health and well-being over time.
2. You’ll consume more nutrients with ease
If you eat the same thing every day, it's likely that you're missing out on a world of yummy foods packed with good-for-you nutrients. (This applies even if your go-to meals are healthy and balanced enough, but especially if you rely on fare that’s nutritionally void.) You may also put yourself at risk of developing a full-blown nutrient deficiency, which can complicate your health prospects both in the present day and in the long run.
Expanding your palate—whether that be in the produce aisle, your spice rack, or across different cultures—is a foolproof way to load up on diverse nutrients. “As we look at food cultures around the world, we see a wide variety of flavors coming from vegetables, herbs, and spices,” Feller says. “Those foods are rich in nutrients, including polyphenols and phytonutrients. There has been compelling research looking at spices and their antioxidant properties as they relate to health and health outcomes.” For instance, she cites the use of turmeric and black pepper (the latter of which boosts the bioavailability of curcumin, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory constituent, by 2,000 percent) in Indigenous cultures.
3. You’ll savor a wider variety of flavors
Speaking of herbs and spices, these small but mighty additions to foods and drinks undoubtedly enhance how tasty a given item will be—all the while complementing a pro-longevity eating plan. According to Blue Zones expert Dan Buettner, each of the five hotspots for healthy aging credit flavorful food as one of the keys to a longer, healthier, more rewarding life.
Moreover, it’s wise to do a bit of cross-cultural culinary exploration for your taste buds and body alike. “By including global flavors in our pattern of eating, we are expanding the nutrients that we are exposed to,” Feller adds. “Along with flavor, we are supporting whole-body health.” If you need some inspo to lead the way, Feller suggests a few culinary lineages to check out.
“By including global flavors in our pattern of eating, we are expanding the nutrients that we are exposed to,” Feller adds. “Along with flavor, we are supporting whole-body health.”
“North African and Middle Eastern flavors use herbs, spices, seafood, and ancient grains as mainstays. Islands throughout the Caribbean often serve wonderful curries, soups, and stews that encourage the inclusion of a variety of vegetables,” says Feller. “As we move through and around the continent of Africa, some patterns of the plate include lots of plants paired with herbs and spices, with animal proteins showing us as the accompaniment rather than the main.” Of course, these examples only scratch the surface of the delicious global fare on offer. But rest assured that by trying new things, rich flavors can make your mouth water and offer impressive benefits for your overall health.
4. You’ll rediscover a sense of joy around eating
Sometimes, the pressure to “eat clean” (cue eye roll) and restrict certain “bad” foods can distract us from the inherent joy of nourishing our bodies. However, expanding your palate with different plants and flavors—as well as exploring new and perhaps unfamiliar cultural cuisines—can step in to invoke the sheer delight that food brings. “Having a plate that is delicious and full of flavor contributes to the pleasure and joy of eating,” says Feller. Unfortunately, these sentiments can get lost when we’re laser-focused on nutrients first and foremost. As important as macros and micros are, Feller reminds us that food is so much more than this. “Nourishment includes feeding the body, but also the mind. When we allow ourselves to reduce shame around food, we can branch out and add more to our plates.”
“Having a plate that is delicious and full of flavor contributes to the pleasure and joy of eating,” says Feller.
To double down on the positive, longevity-enhancing aspects of culinary exploration, consider inviting your friends, family, or community members to join you. After all, bonding while breaking (proverbial) bread with others is another important facet across the Blue Zones—as is practicing gratitude for your meals and for each other.
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