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Musing about diversity of food and health

 
gardener
Posts: 486
Location: Ontario - Gardening in zone 3b, 4b, or 6b, depending on the day
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I am sure I am preaching to the choir here, but I have been thinking of this a lot lately.

I recall, in a grade 7 science class, being taught that humans derived most of their carbohydrates from 7 species, while historically hundreds of species were eaten. I had to memorize them for a test.... corn, wheat, rice, oats, barley.. (I forget the other two ), but it struck me as crazy at the time.

I still think about that a lot.

Recently, the medical community has been finding that gut health and microbiome diversity are incredibly important for general health, mental wellness, asthma, obesity, heart disease, etc.... and that some the ways to increase it was a) eat more fiber and vegetable products and b) eat a greater diversity of food or c) get a transplant of bacteria (fecal matter) from someone else or d) eat more fermented things. Since the process of transplanting things into your gut seems incredibly unpleasant, and wont be successful long term without maintenance anyway... I like the other options  better.

I garden. As a gardener, I eat what grow, and I grow what grows well- whether it is what I would pick out of the grocery store or not. I eat these things because I grew them, and I dont want to wasfe them, and fresh food just tastes so much better. Comparing what I am eating now, before most of my garden has even come into full summer production, with what I ate this winter, is astonishing. Instead of the same mixed salad, English  cucumbers, and roma tomatos, with carrots now and then, and brocolli or cauliflower as a treat...  this week, I have ate the leaves and flowers of two varieties of brassicas, amaranth leaves, eight species (9 varieites ) of herbs, chickweed,  snap peas, an occasional carrot, fresh from the garden. Most of these things I would never purchase. And things change almost weekly as the season progresses.

I have four varieites of cucumbers, 8 varieites (3 species) of squash, 3 varieites of melons, and 10 or so kinds of tomatos. 5 varieties of beans, 3 kinds of carrots, 2 kinds of beets and lots more to come in the coming weeks. Amaranth and a diverse flour corn for carbohydrates, and 4 kinds of potatoes. Even when I am eating the same foods as before, the diversity of types (and likely nutrients) will be far greater.

I suspect this is how humans of the past ate - with even more diversity, probably, as I am just learning early season foods.  My dad went hungry often as a child, and people of his generation can forage and prepare many foods now considered "marginal" and not worth the bother, but then considered a treat.

So I wonder at this bounty of food - which I could never afford to purchase, especially in this quality - how does it affect my microbiome? if everyone ate like this, what would our microbiones be like? What would our health as a society be like? I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on "gardeners microbiome diversity vs. non gardeners"?
 
pollinator
Posts: 405
Location: Vermont, USA
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This is thought-provoking!  I know we need to eat more variety; I like adding wild foods to my diet, figuring there are nutrients that we have not, as yet, even known to add to the garden.  And I wonder what I am missing, although I do eat a pretty wide variety.  My partner, however, would be happy with chicken, brown rice, and broccoli daily with occasional forays into pasta or a burger.  So it does limit what I cook a bit.  

My branching out includes my pasture-raised eggs, lamb's quarters, dock, sorrel, many herbs, wild mustard, garlic mustard, rose mallow (super-deep taproots!) and a few other things I can't remember.  I'm trying my hand at growing Good King Henry (no luck so far), Caucasian Mountain Spinach, and Sea Kale.  Broadening our horizons!
 
pollinator
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada -- Zone 5a
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Yes, I think about that too! I feel that diversity is likely super important. I've always been a relatively adventurous eater, but still felt like I could go farther. A few years back, we made a new year's resolution to try one new thing a month from the produce section at the grocery store--things like celeriac or prickly pear cactus fruit, or anything that we had never bought before. We didn't keep the the once a month thing going, but the resolution kept me open to seeking out and trying new things always. And I've also started foraging in the past couple years... both in the wild and in my garden. And since I'm gluten free, I've been playing with different grains and pseudo-grains (that I buy in small amounts from Bulk Barn)--things like teff and sorghum. In fact, my apple crisp uses both of those, and we absolutely love it. I've played with growing my own quinoa. I always plant many varieties of each veggie--like three kinds of peas, four different cukes, 12 different tomatoes, etc. So yes, I think it's important, and I also think it's fun!
 
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