The Definition and Importance of Variety of Food

Supriya Lal

2022 Apr 08

14 min read

It’s a no-brainer that food gives sustenance energy and promotes good health. Every human can only survive if they receive nourishment from food, and this is why healthy eating is often encouraged. However, determining what foods are healthy is highly subjective and unique to individuals and their current state.

While there are globally and nationally recommended daily nutrients that are considered appropriate for consumption to maintain good health, some people do have an underlying condition (like diabetes). As such, what one person considers healthy foods won’t be the same as another.

This article focuses on food varieties and their roles in providing sustenance and ensuring better health.

Food Definition

Food is a substance that provides nutrition for the body, ensuring sustenance and improving health. Most foods are digestible and offer beneficial outcomes to humans. Foods are divided into components with different functions that could benefit the body and cause certain side effects if over consumed.

There are globally accepted foods that are consumed across different cultures and races. Rice, for example, is one of the popular foods enjoyed by many people. Also, some foods are unique and peculiar to certain populations, and these groups of foods are more paramount than the more generally accepted ones.

Basic Food Components and Their Functions

food variety for diabetes

When considering food varieties, it’s important to start from the basic nutrients and components that define the importance of food. The ability to identify these components determines which type of food is worth eating at a particular condition and which isn’t.

As stated in the sections above, food doesn’t just ensure survival but can play a very important role in giving and maintaining good health. Studies have shown that food is classified into six major basic components in respect to the latter fact. A food must have at least one of these components to qualify as such.

The six basic components of foods are:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins
  • Water

These components are also termed as all the nutrients in food. A particular food containing all of these nutrients is termed a balanced diet. However, the definition of a balanced diet goes a bit above the simple definition of a variety of foods that contain all the identified different nutrients.

Firstly, a meal can only be a balanced diet if it’s a varied diet containing all the right proportions that eventually contribute significantly to the recommended daily value. Also, newer studies have shown that the basic components of foods are up to seven, with roughages, also known as fiber, being a new addition following its unique addition to meals. Roughages generally contribute to weight management and won’t raise blood sugar.

The foods identified as roughages aren’t new additions and have existed for centuries. However, they’re grouped as roughages because they don’t fit as pure carbohydrates. Still, certain schools of thought categorize them under carbohydrates.

The following sections examine in detail the basic components of food:


Carbohydrates are arguably the most popular components of foods. Globally, most meals are higher in carbohydrates than any other type of food. They’re more easily sourced and provide the body with energy for performing tasks.

Other nutrients like fats and some protein sources can also pass as energy-giving foods. However, carbohydrates stand out because their consequences are less heightened than others when consumed equally.

Rice, maize, white bread, bananas, potatoes, junk food, and most legumes are all considered carbohydrates. You’ll easily find carbohydrates as part of major components in an average food.

It’s important to note that there are concerns about carbs’ contribution to raising cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These concerns have generally led to carbohydrates being classified as bad and good carbs.

Fiber—a separate food component—is the major type of good carb. We’ll discuss more on the effect of carbohydrates in the sections to come.


Protein is an essential component and plays a very important role in maintaining the continuous functioning of the body. Protein food sources are responsible for building the body and repairing worn-out tissues.

If you’re interested in gaining muscle mass, then upping your protein intake can help you achieve your goal quickly as it strengthens the entire body improving your overall physique.

There aren’t any significant side effects associated with consuming protein as long as you eat in the right amount. However, the main side effects of excessive protein consumption are intestinal discomfort and gut movements. We’ll treat other major conditions in some other parts of this article.

Many major protein foods do have a good amount of carbohydrates. Those that are mostly or purely protein aren’t main diets and aren’t consumed as much as carbohydrates. Main protein sources include milk, pulses, gram, meat, eggs, fish, chicken, etc.


Fats are like carbohydrates and perform almost similar functions. Fat isn’t a good addition for many people, and the reasons are justifiable. Weight gain is the major effect fats are known for. A deeper look into the function of this nutrient shows that it holds many benefits.

Fat is a good source of energy and can easily replace the function of carbohydrates for a considerable while if a person is struggling with blood pressure. Fat doesn’t convert to glucose as easily as carbohydrates and will provide energy without risking blood sugar spikes.

Good fats also play a major role in maintaining a healthy weight. Namely, lean fats won’t increase weight when you consume them moderately. Moreover, fats enhance the ability of the body to absorb essential vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E, and K.

It’s important to state that fat isn’t a healthy long-term source of energy because it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis — subsequently triggering the same complication that consuming fats instead of carbs prevents (diabetes).

Some major fat sources in foods include fish, butter, vegetable oils, walnuts, and meat.


As stated under the carbohydrate section, fiber is a major food component that does everything right in the body.

This food component is classified under carbohydrates. However, due to its significantly different function from normal carbohydrates—especially in improving a person’s health—it’s usually termed a good carb.

In other words, fiber is carbohydrates that aren’t digestible by the body. When eaten, they settle as a thick mix in the body. It’s in this state that they play their role.

Consumed fiber cleanses the digestive system and reduces the risk that other carbohydrates would typically cause. Namely, it takes along with it those impurities not needed by the body when leaving the body. This helps reduce the symptoms of constipation that come from consuming too much food.

Fiber also reduces the effect of high glycemic carbohydrates and subsequently controls a rise in blood sugar — a very important function for people with diabetes and prediabetes.

Fiber can be found in fruits, beans, legumes, peas, vegetables, nuts, and many whole grain products.


Vitamins play a very important role in rejuvenating the body. Namely, they help close up both the internal and external injuries sustained in the body and provide high nourishment. The major foods with very high vitamin concentrations include nuts, leafy vegetables, eggs, meat, oily fish, soya beans, plant-based oil, and dairy products.


While they aren’t exactly a major focus when people think of a balanced diet, we can’t underestimate minerals’ functions. Minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium contribute to a healthy and stronger body. Additionally, they build up the bone teeth and improve blood formation and circulation.

Many foods contain minerals one way or the other. Some major ones where you’ll find important minerals like phosphorus, iodine, potassium, magnesium, and chloride are fish, cereals, meats, vegetables, nuts, and fruits.

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Water’s basic importance is well known. Humans can’t survive without water as it accounts for 60% of our bodies. Water aids digestion and increases the rate at which waste is eradicated from the body.

Experts have stated that water plays an important role in ensuring the body’s proper functioning and also enhances bowel movements when needed.


In optimal health, where a person doesn’t have an underlying condition, carbohydrates should be the major quantity in food. However, this isn’t the case in reality, as some struggle with certain conditions. If you have an underlying condition (such as diabetes), contacting a food expert to help you plant the right food is very important.

What Is Food Variety and Its Relevance?

woman looking at the recipe on the laptop

Understanding food variety isn’t difficult as the name already suggests what it is. Food variety is simply a term that describes all types of food represented by their respective components or nutrients.

Based on the definition of food components already considered, we can coin the definition of food variety to be all the different food groups that are so categorized based on their respective components. For example, a carbohydrate food source and protein source are two different varieties and hold different benefits for the body.

There are many important benefits associated with food variety, and the most obvious one is that a varied diet opens people to better nutrient gains. Generally, different food National Institutes and experts advise that people eat different types of food to gain important nutrients.

On the other hand, concentrating your diet on the same food group will leave you short on certain nutrients. If you have no real justification to avoid the one you cut out, such deficiency could lead to a lack of proper functioning of your body. So, this means that the goal isn’t just to eat different foods but to eat those with varying nutrients for the best benefits.

Many people barely put real thought into the effect of food varieties, which isn’t ideal, especially if you have an underlying condition. Properly ensuring variety in your diet can become incredibly beneficial in improving your recovery rate and drastically reducing your dependency on drugs.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are solely based on varying foods. A healthy person with no underlying condition can continue to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle by following the instructions provided in the recommendation.

For people with underlying conditions, their health practitioners depend on food variety and other management and treatment methods to improve recovery. For example, a person with diabetes will generally be asked to avoid foods high in carbohydrates and glycemic index to prevent a spike in blood sugar.

People who experience blood sugar spikes are expected to slash their intake of certain foods (such as sweet potato and many cooked legumes). Instead, an alternative side dish filled with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and lean protein would dominate their entire diet. Following this plan in the long term will minimize the crisis associated with diabetes, allowing patients to live a life close to normal.

For people looking to gain weight, their health experts are likely to recommend more fat-filled food, with the best selection made by a dietician or a digital health/meal planner app. This selection is done to minimize—to the barest minimum—the consequences that come with choosing such nutrient concentration.

It’s important to note that the definition of food varies across different National Dietary Guidelines. Notably, the definition by The American and Australian Dietary Guidelines differs significantly from those in the Middle East and Asia countries.

More significantly, what the public perceives as variety in foods is also quite different. Many people wrongly assume a variety of food to mean different types of foods rather than the different nutrients in food sources.

The next section highlights some significant definitions of variety in modern times.

Different Definitions of Variety

Unlike the more popular definition of food variety being the different components by which all foods are classified, different but similar definitions of food variety vary across different countries.

Research has shown that several health experts and people significantly consider variety as the mix in a particular meal or plate at a time. In this case, variety is determined in terms of the entire meal.

A carbohydrate source is likely to have a quantity of some other nutrients and won’t be considered as just a single variety. Hence the best way for people to determine if they’re eating enough of every nutrient is to consider the nutritional value of every meal throughout that day. If the total meal consumed meets their country’s standard daily requirement, it’ll be considered an optimal varied diet.

In other countries, people perceive food varieties in terms of their different physical characteristics. This means that countries with this idea would consider two major carbohydrate food sources as different varieties because they differ in flavors, appearance, smell, and texture. This definition is considered strange in western countries because it could lead to excessive consumption of one particular food nutrient, negatively affecting health.

Another example of this definition is seen in two high sugar-concentrated cakes (strawberry and chocolate flavored cakes) being considered different varieties because they taste and look different.

For this definition, people will therefore need to be more direct with their terms when looking to create a diet plan that has different nutrients for healthy living.

In the United Kingdom, how variety is perceived is determined by each person. The dietary guidelines of the UK rely on people to employ their discretion when choosing a meal plan. Generally, people with underlying conditions will contact a health expert to help them craft a diet with the nutrients that will improve their overall health.

Factors That Influence Our Food Variety Choice

preparing green salad

Why should we eat a wide variety of food? There are very good factors that justify these questions, and the following sections consider them.


Appropriate food variety can be very beneficial in ensuring good health. Generally, it’s important that people go on a healthy diet, and this is especially important for people who have underlying conditions like diabetes.

Different National Health Institutions usually recommend specific varieties of foods that patients diagnosed with heart disease, stroke, and other conditions should eat.

Also, eating the right food can aid weight gain and weight loss depending on what a person wants. Different foods have different nutrients, so you only need to focus on those that aid your goal.


People don’t just choose food varieties because of their health or in an attempt to meet their daily essential nutrients. Most choose what they eat because they find it delicious. While this move isn’t the best—due to the possibility of having a lesser chance of maintaining good health— it’s still very prevalent.

Some people prefer lots of starchy vegetables, oily fish, and red meat simply because they enjoy it. However, these foods contain significant saturated fat and cholesterol; eating them as main meals may only lead to health complications.

If you prefer certain types of food but have an underlying condition, you should contact your doctor to help you with the right meal plan that accounts for the total nutritional adequacy you need daily.


Income and purchasing power affect the choice of food varieties that people go for. While people may desire eating foods that promote good health, cost and inflation usually leave them going for the less expensive options.


Food varieties are one of the most important considerations that you must be well aware of to ensure continuous sustenance and maintenance of your body and health. Certain food combinations will fit your body’s needs, and others won’t.

It can become difficult for you to identify the best foods that fit into your needs if you have an underlying condition, as what will be considered balanced meals may not necessarily benefit your condition. For example, people with diabetes won’t do well consuming refined grain foods, owing to a heightened risk of elevated blood sugar levels.

If you have diabetes or are struggling with high blood sugar, then getting a meal planner app, like Klinio, can help you get the best food variety and components that don’t increase blood sugar but improve nutrition.

Written by

Supriya Lal

Supriya Lal is a Registered Dietitian based in New York City. She completed her training at Duke University Hospital System and has specific interests in personalised nutrition therapy, nutritional counseling, and sustainability related to food and nutrition. She is currently completing her Master's in Public Health at New York University.

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