Is Eating a Variety of Foods Bad for Your Health?
For years, we’ve heard health experts’ advice to eat a variety of foods. And it makes sense—if you broaden what you eat, you’re more likely to get more good-for-you nutrients. For example, don’t only eat almonds, but mix in some walnuts and you get healthy doses of vitamin E (from the almonds) and plant-based omega-3s (from the walnuts). Color your kale salad with some carrots and tomatoes, and you’re adding eye-healthy vitamin A (carrots) and heart-healthy lycopene (tomatoes) to your vitamin K-rich kale.
But a new scientific advisory from the American Heart Association—published in the journal Circulation—says that your varied diet might not be good for your waistline or, surprisingly, help you eat a healthier diet.
I’m going to let you digest that for a minute.
The intention behind the advice to “eat a variety of foods” was that you eat a wide array of healthy foods. But that healthy, diverse example we outlined above isn’t exactly what we’re putting into practice. Turns out, when we diversify our diets, studies show, we’re eating more unhealthy, processed foods and less of the whole, healthier ones. So pair a growing grocery list (diversity) with less healthy foods, and it makes sense that your risk of gaining weight goes up.
So why is the opposite of what you’d expect happening?
Let’s talk about how this might play out at mealtime, as an example. “There is usually just enough time between ‘I couldn’t eat another bite,’ and ‘what’s for dessert’ to let out our belts out a notch or two,” writes David Katz, MD, MPH. “That phenomenon is not a hollow leg…but rather a very well-studied trait of the human appetite center, called sensory-specific satiety. We tend to fill up in a food and flavor-specific manner,” Katz explains. Put another way: you can satisfy your appetite and your belly with a savory main meal, but then wander past the dessert setup, and a whole new appetite lights up. Yet—hello—this is technically eating a variety of foods.
So, bottom line, if you’re a) looking to improve your diet, and b) want to keep yourself from gaining weight, or c) give yourself a leg up when it comes to losing weight… Be boring. Repeat meals. Monotony, my friends, is your friend.
Don’t forgo variety altogether because you still want to get a mix of those good-for-you nutrients and disease-fighting compounds, but you don’t need a diverse and long grocery list every week. It’s OK to put your meal plan on a bi-weekly repeat—not only will it save you time, but your health with reap the benefits.