Are there benefits to an unvaried diet? Or is it better to consume more diverse foods? From a nutrition standpoint, there are pros and cons to each. If your current diet includes lots of fruits, veggies, lean protein, whole grains, healthy fat and dairy, then maybe your diet does not need much variation. But, chances are, you are not getting the recommended amounts of each food group required for healthy eating.
Per the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 90% of Americans don’t get enough of the recommended daily amount of vegetables and 85% don’t get enough of the recommended daily amount of fruit. Those are surprisingly big numbers! Check the chart below to review the latest and greatest in terms of suggested servings and see how your daily intake stacks up.
Some science suggests a non-diverse diet is optimal. A 2015 study looked at diet and diversity in over 5,000 adults of various backgrounds and found a correlation between a more varied meal plan and a greater waist circumference. Researchers also conclude that having a more diverse diet can sometimes lead to including unhealthy food choices in the mix.
Other studies—such as a recent one that carefully examined the diets of more than 7,000 adults—have shown the real benefits to eating a more varied diet. It concluded that greater food variety was associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome (biochemical and physiological abnormalities associated with the development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes) compared to those who consumed a less varied diet.
While the consistency of your menu may or may not be of utmost importance, use common sense and recognize that the real key is to pay attention to what you eat. A 2002 study looked at how variations of healthy and unhealthy foods affected the life spans of over 60,000 women. It concluded that women who engaged in a healthy lifestyle by eating a high variety of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, cereals, fish and low-fat dairy products had considerably lower mortality rates than women who ate less of these foods. The study also found that the risk of death from heart disease was particularly low in women who reported eating a high variety of healthy foods.
The researchers came to the conclusion that more focus should be placed on increasing the number of healthy foods in your regular diet, rather than decreasing the number of unhealthy foods. So load up on more green goodies at dinner—follow the easy-to-remember ratio rule of filling your plate with 2/3 veggies and 1/3 protein. And when an afternoon snack is calling your name, try to reach for some apple slices (the Gala variety is particularly crisp and sweet!) instead of the empty calories of potato chips or candy.
Whether the food choices we make on a daily basis are varied or more routine, the important thing is to pay attention to quality above all else. It’s true what they say…you are what you eat. So make every forkful count!