If you’ve been reading The Lyons’ Share for a while, you know that my nutrition philosophy is all about balance and moderation – although I know that some more restrictive diets work for some people. I believe that, in general, most people are healthiest and happiest when they don’t restrict any macro nutrients (the low-fat and super-low-carb approaches are generally not your best bets), and when they eat everything in moderation. This includes lots of fruit and vegetables, a good dose of healthy fats, some form of lean protein (either meat or vegetarian options), and some whole grains or other sources of complex carbohydrates. This also includes dessert (usually healthier desserts, but sometimes splurges), some alcohol, and of course, some exercise – everything in moderation.
I pride myself in helping my Health Coaching clients find the balance of nutrition that makes them their healthiest and happiest, and that balance is different for every person. That’s what makes it fun!
When we find the balance of nutrition that works for us, we often end up choosing the same foods over and over again. I know tons of self-proclaimed healthy eaters (myself included!) who find meals that they love to eat and make them feel great, and they end up eating those same meals day in and day out for a long period of time. I was that way with my favorite breakfast, until I gave up dairy, almonds, and blueberries due to my food intolerance and had to find other options (2 weeks left!).
Despite the fact that your favorite meals might be “well-balanced” at first glance, I still believe it’s important to include variety in our diets. This doesn’t mean that I think you should never repeat a meal twice, or that you need to drive yourself crazy thinking about the appropriate variety, but it just means that it’s helpful to stretch yourself every once in a while and ensure that you’re mixing up your routine just a bit. See? Everything in moderation – even variety.
By the way, the idea for this post came yesterday afternoon, when Michael sent over an article by Matt Fitzgerald, who gives reasons why dietary variety is overrated. I love Matt Fitzgerald, and think he’s an amazing source of information both in this post and in general, but my opinion is a bit more in favor of variety than his. Still, it’s a great read, an interesting perspective, and I agree with a few of his points.
Thoughts about including variety in your diet
1. Variety improves nutrient adequacy: You are more likely to get the wide spectrum of nutrients that your body needs if you are including variety in your diet. Sure, you may think “I get my Vitamin C from oranges, my Vitamin K from kale, etc…”, but it’s much more complicated than that. Nutrients in whole foods work in complex ways (which is why nutrients from whole foods are often more useful than those from supplements), and we need the variety to keep us healthy. A 1998 study by the University of Oslo is one of the best in showing that dietary diversity is directly correlated with nutrient adequacy.
2. Variety can improve general health: Fitzgerald mentions a study that tested women eating the same number of servings of fruits and vegetables, but a different variety of fruits and vegetables. The women eating a greater variety had improved free radical damage control, which can be an indicator of overall health. (Incidentally, Fitzgerald cites the study as “University of Colorado,” but you know me … I always do my research! … and it’s actually a Colorado State University study). He also mentions another study showing a 30% decreased risk of death for those whose diets included variety! It seems to me like this is somewhat due to just a healthier diet overall, and not solely due to variety, but I’m sure the variety was very helpful.
3.Variety helps avoid “ruts”: When you’re eating the same thing day in and day out, it can be easy to get into a “rut” where you love one food … and then all of a sudden, you can’t stand it. Of course, I don’t want you to hate healthy foods, but ruts also make things much more difficult when you’re in unfamiliar situations. It can feel “impossible” to be healthy when you can’t have your go-to meal and close you off to alternate possibilities.
4.Variety can be enjoyable: Most of us really enjoy food, and it can be fun to try new things! Sure, sometimes you won’t like what you try, but experimenting and taste testing can bring a lot of pleasure to your diet!
5.Variety may deter some food intolerance: Fitzgerald mentions that there’s no research indicating that eating the same foods causes allergies … this is true (as far as I know). However, there is some emerging research showing that those prone to food intolerance can increase the likelihood of developing intolerance if they consume a food repetitively (and I believe this is what happened to me, especially in the case of spinach, almonds, dairy, oranges, and potentially more).[pullquote]As a bottom line, I agree with Fitzgerald in saying that “a repetitive diet of healthy foods is better than a highly varied diet containing many unhealthy foods.” [/pullquote]
6.Variety can be less convenient: As Fitzgerald points out, it can be easier to buy and prepare the same things over and over again. I get it – routine is nice, and if you know exactly what you need each time you go to the grocery store, it’s incredibly easy.
7. Variety may contribute to obesity: I think this is one of those cases where we don’t have the full story just based on lab studies. However, there is reason to believe that eating a wider variety of foods is correlated with higher rates of obesity, as is shown in this meta-analysis.
You have to find what works for you. But if you tend to get in regular food ruts, why not try something new this week?
To know more about Megan Lyons- visit www.thelyonsshare.org