Yes, just like crop rotation, food rotation is a thing. Those who tend practice food rotation tend be healthier and live longer. My grandmother lived to a ripe old age of ninety-three and passed away peacefully without a long debilitation illness. She cooked a fresh meal every day without fail. There is always something different especially the vegetables, whether it was bitter melon or a Gottu Koka salad. She ate everything.
Despite having a sweet tooth, surviving breast cancer and being run over by a bus twice she survived. Could it have been her genes? Possibly. But I think it was the sheer variety of food she ate. My mother also has the same penchant, a habit she also gave me. Grandma adopted a cat that walked in one day out of the blue, could sew without glasses and had a garden full flowers, fruits and vegetables. The day she passed away she had a lovely meal, had a little sip of brandy and went to bed. An hour later she was gone. I believe if she has been a just a bit more careful and avoided the sweet things she could have easily made to 110.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people tend to eat the same thing over and over again. This could due to economic conditions, cultural proclivity, working conditions and just plain bad habits developed over a life time of rushing on with life. We eat a meager 200 of the 300,000 edible plants in the World and just three, maize, rice provide half the protein and calories according to this article.
It’s true. We are naturally inclined to gravitate towards foods that we grew up with culturally. My friend from Chicago is a meat and potatoes kind of guy. The Chinese stick to rice, dim sum, steamed or stir-fried vegetables, the Indians to rice and curry, the Italians to Pasta and Pizza, the Mexicans to beans and Tacos. Of course, there is nothing wrong with these foods as long as you rotate your food. Even I got into buying and eating a regular set of vegetables despite the fact my mother gave me the gift of enjoying a huge variety of vegetables. To some extent it was just easier to visit just one supermarket instead of 10 different ones. See how habits form? Sometimes it was just sheer laziness, created from with a pressures of work and family life. Then I started the Keto diet and the food choices became even more restrictive. It worked to lose weight but I wondered at what expense to long term health. At one stage I hit a weight loss plateau despite eating very healthy. On a whim I decided to change completely the vegetables I ate and voila suddenly my weight loss program was back on track. That’s when I realized food rotation was important.
WHAT IS FOOD ROTATION
Food rotation is the concept of changing what you eat every day. That means changing out the meats, vegetables and carbohydrates you eat. Even if you only eat healthy fresh organic food.
In decades past people naturally rotated food as food availability changed with the seasons. They also didn’t’ have refrigerators which meant what was cooked today had to be finished today. With the advent of global food supply chains we have gotten used to getting whatever we want whenever we want. That has led to fixed eating patterns at the expense of our health. This despite having more choices than ever.
The Chinese are great believers in eating with the seasons. Leeks, mustard, cilantro in Spring, cucumber, fish and light meats like chicken in summer, apple, grapefruit and lemon in Autumn and beef, mutton and duck in winter and so forth. They change the diet based on the season and eat a huge variety of food. But they too have succumbed to American food marketing gimmicks. No wonder there are now 100 million diabetics in China.
DANGERS OF NOT FOLLOWING FOOD ROTATION
1) Toxicity Build Up – Even a good thing like Ceylon Cinnamon can be toxic if you overdo it. If you healthy, eating cinnamon once every 4 days is fine. If you are taking it for health reasons and have no choice to take regularly, then take it for 5 days and have a rest for 2 days. Remember Cinnamon creates body heat so it is not ideal for summer when you should have cooling foods like cucumber. What if you need Cinnamon to reduce blood sugar levels? There are plenty of other foods like bitter melon, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds that reduce blood sugar levels. Without unduly increasing body heat. You can eat those in summer.
According to this healthline article even certain healthy foods can be harmful if you eat too much. Too much Omega-3 fatty has a blood thinning effect, tuna may contain mercury, nutmeg is psychoactive, coffee can lead to insomnia and stomach cramps and too much beef liver can cause Vitamin A toxicity and Broccoli can cause bowel irritation and make you gassy and feel bloated.
2) Reduces nutrient absorption - This cheatsheet article indicates things like Quinoa can also reduce nutrient absorption if taken in excess. The issue is not so simple of course. It appears that bacteria is the key to nutrient absorption. If you eat the same over and over again you may lack certain types of bacteria that helps breakdown food and help the body absorb nutrients. For example in this study indicates certain types of gut bacteria can alter the bioavailability of amino acids by the utilization of several amino acids originating from proteins. Conversely certain types of bacteria can block iron absorption as illustrated in this study while low levels of faecal lactobacilli were found in women with iron-deficiency anaemia in south India as shown here in this study.
3) Weight Gain – For example too much coconut oil although touted as a weight loss remedy can eventually lead to a weight gain due to the high calories count. Yes, coconut oil works to reduce to weight by suppressing the appetite, but you must use is it strategically to get the best benefit. This study found that having a wide variety of healthy food may lead to a sustained results in weight loss objectives.
4) Digestive Issues – Our bodies are all different. Some people can tolerate a certain amount of a particular type of food, but go beyond a certain threshold and the body starts producing antibodies. Too much antibodies will then create a reaction as a signal to stop you from eating the food. For example, over 70% of World is lactose intolerant. While they can have an occasional ice cream or glass of milk, if you keep having it every day it will create digestive issues and other side effects. For me it is chocolates. If I have it more than once a month my stomach bloated. Now if I eat chocolate I follow it up with a Cup of Ceylon Cinnamon tea which is fabulous stomach settler.
5) Weakened Immune Function – Some people and animals are allergic to certain foods. When they eat these foods, their immune system responds to these toxins. Constant bombardment from eating foods you may be allergic to, will compromise your immune system. Rotating the types of food, you eat gives your immune system a chance to recover from foods that irritate it.
BENEFITS OF FOOD ROTATION
1) Increases nutrition absorption - If we eat same thing over and over again, the body is less able to extract nutrients. Even a good health food like Broccoli or Swiss chard becomes less effective over time. You could be absorbing from 10 to 90% according to this Scientific American article. They attribute it to the quality of the food, where it was grown, the soil condition it was grown in, timing of the harvest and storage condition. Which proves the point that you should eat in season and change out the food you eat.
2) You won’t get bored – If you get bored with your food you are more likely to stick a healthy diet. Most people do well for the first few weeks of a healthy diet. They eat the same healthy food over and over again and then suddenly the brain has a temper tantrum and in a moment of weakness turn to sugar. But having a diverse range of foods will prevent this boredom and make you less likely to reach for the sweet treats to alleviate it.
3) You may Live longer – A 2002 study of 59,039 woman found women who followed a high variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, fish, and low fat dairy products (16-17 healthy foods) had a significantly lower (42% lower all-cause mortality than women who consumed fewer varieties (0-8 healthy foods) of these foods. Women who reported regularly consuming 16-17 healthy foods had a 42% lower all-cause mortality (95% CI: 32-50%) compared to women reporting consumption of 0-8 healthy foods.
4) May reduce Metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, low HDL cholesterol, high fasting blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes and stroke) – This 2013 study of 5,251 male and female Koreans aged 40-69 years conclude that eating a variety of food was the key reducing metabolic syndrome. An overall 24% reduction of metabolic syndrome risk was achieved by those who followed a healthy regimen with variety.
5) May help with weight loss – This has happened to me personally. While eating a healthy diet of broccoli, mushrooms, yellow bell pepper, fish, chicken, beef combined with low carbs and zero sugar I had a weight loss plateau. As an experiment I decided to throw out the usual vegetables and switched to Bok Choy, Gailan, Okra, Bean sprouts, Bitter melon and Yau Choi and my weight started to go down again. This maybe due to the variety of gut bacteria in your stomach as this 2016 study out of the UK proved. While the study was primarily about how heritable microbes play a role in determining components of obesity, it nevertheless suggests eating a variety for food can help improve microbiota and weight loss.
6) May Reduce risks of Asthma, Type 2 diabetes & Cancer – This study found there was an association with diversity and the prevalence of asthma for children over the age of 12 months. It suggests increased dietary antigen exposure might contribute. Which means greater diversity of food via food rotation might help reduce the risk of asthma. There are also many studies (here is one analysis) that show type 2 diabetics have the wrong type of gut bacteria. Gastro-intestinal microbiome play a role cancer prevention, tumorigenesis and as an anti-cancer therapy according to this analysis of multiple studies. Several studies show Lactobacilli (found in Miso, Tempeh, Kimchi, Sauerkraut) may stimulate host’s immune cells such as NK cells or dendritic cells (DC) or TH1 response, which, in turn, leads to the elimination of cancerous or precancerous cells. The lesson here is eating a huge variety of food to pack your gut with vital and beneficial bacteria.
7) Can affect your electrolyte balance – Certain foods have minerals that carry an electric charge called electrolytes. These minerals are primarily salt (sodium), potassium, phosphate, magnesium, chloride, calcium and bicarbonate. They are vital to your health as electrolytes are needed to regulate the balance of fluid in your body. Examples of food with high electrolytes include Spinach, Kale. Avocados, broccoli, potatoes, peanuts, tofu, strawberries, watermelon, fish, chicken, olives and milk. Now imagine you don’t eat Spinach, Kale or milk and only broccoli and over and over again. In such a scenario you may find the body absorbing diminishing levels of calcium. To compensate you could switch to other calcium rich food such as sardines, salmon and almonds. Again, food rotation is the key here.
HOW TO PRACTICE FOOD ROTATION
There are many ways to practice food rotation.
1) Make a food rotation chart – Based on our experience and other evidence a 4-day food rotation program is probably best for most people. The average person has a 56-72 hours retention rate. That means if you eat beef on a Monday it will take until Wednesday for the beef to completely leave your system. Then allow another 24 hours to completely eject any residual toxins if any.
Of course, it is not always practical or economical to cook something complete different every day especially if you are single. In fact single people, very young adults and especially older adults tend to have some of the most monotonous diets. If you have no choice to but eat that roast chicken for 4 days, but all means do that but rotate out the vegetables and carbs you pair it with. This fits in well with generally how long people can keep cooked food in the refrigerator before it starts to lose its nutrient value or get toxic based on this Foodsafety.gov chart. .
Of course if you have health issue, then one should make an effort to change what you eat every day. The French for example shop everyday so it is possible.
A rotation diet must also be adapted to a specific medical condition whether it is diabetes, specific allergies or cancer. Take a look at this guide from Allergix where they have designed an example diet for a person with an allergy to dairy, wheat and eggs. Use the same principal if you have cancer or type 2 diabetes by identifying the foods you need to avoid (sugar and carbs) and adding a rotating list of very different vegetables.
2) Tailor food to your needs and specific toxicity of each food item – We all know intuitively that one should not eat too much of certain foods. Take too much sugar and you end up with diabetes or cancers. Asparagus is lovely but eat too much and your urine will smell really strong. Some people can handle a lot of chili but eventually their stomach lining will get eroded and strip away it’s protective coating. Cinnamon should be consumed only at a rate 1.2 tsp of powder per day for 5 days with a rest for 2 days or for 6 weeks everyday with a week rest after six weeks. This rule may have to be tightened even further for Cassia types Cinnamon which has high levels of Coumarin which can damage your liver. So perhaps just 1-2 times per week for Cassia type Cinnamon. The idea is moderate and strategic use of all these wonderful foods.
3) Eat in season – Take a page from the Chinese tradition and eat what is in season. Which is why it is better to buy vegetables locally in season. This will allow you to naturally rotate out your vegetables. Those grown in season may have better nutrients as opposed to those grown far away, harvested before they are quite ready and shipped via refrigeration. Of course this rule is not strictly applicable as certain foods that are imported cannot be grown in your region whatever the season. So you have to be sensible about it.
4) Pair foods – According to this NBC article Vitamin C should be paired with plant based iron to improve iron absorption, black pepper helps turmeric absorption, tomatoes and olives work together to help the body’s absorption of the photochemicals, Vitamin D and improves calcium absorption.
As with most things changing our ingrained habits can be difficult. It takes practice. Start slowly. You can start practicing food rotation by visiting different supermarkets. Visit ethnic supermarkets. You will discover an amazing variety of food. I get Marmite from the British store, vegetables like Gailan, Yau Choy and Bitter melon from the Chinese store, cheese from the French store, Miso broth and authentic Wasabi from the Japanese store, Kimchi from the Korean store, Hungarian Paprika from the Romanian store, Indian spices and Ghee from the Indian store. Not all food in an ethnic store is good of course, but you can find a huge variety of really good fresh vegetables, meats, fish and fruit in these stores. Don’t be afraid to try vegetable you are unfamiliar with. I used to hate Ocra because it is so strange and slimy so I fry them. Cooking Sri Lankan Murunga can be a challenge but worth it. Eating seaweed from Japan was strange at first but it is packed with nutrients. I know what my bucket lists is for the next year. Eat every type of vegetable I can lay my hands on.
- Naturally Occurring Food Toxins
- The Benefits of Food Rotation in Your Diet
- Rotate your foods
- Effects of Gut Microbes on Nutrient Absorption and Energy Regulation
- Eating with the Seasons
- What different food and consumed each season and health benefits
- Effects of Food Quality, Quantity, and Variety on Intake
- Rotation Dieting Pt. 1 : What is a rotation diet
- Promoting health during the four seasons