A little bit of this, a little bit of that. Can it all add up? Probably. (Getty Images)
Eating a wide variety of foods may please your palate — but new research has found it can be bad for your health.
A study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston discovered that the more diversity a person has in their diet, the lower the quality of the foods they eat and the larger their waistline.
For the study, which was published in the journal PLOS One, researchers studied the diets of nearly 7,000 people and sought to determine whether there was any evidence to support the long-standing dietary recommendation that people should “eat everything in moderation.”
Instead, scientists discovered that those with the most diet diversity had a 120 percent higher waist circumference than those with little diet diversity.
(Researchers defined diet diversity by measuring the total number of different foods participants ate in a week, the similarity in calorie count among those foods, and the differences in nutritional benefit of those foods.)
“Our results challenge the notion that ‘eating everything in moderation’ leads to greater diet quality or better metabolic health,” lead study author Marcia C. de Oliveira Otto, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Health.
Otto’s study found that people who were eating a variety of foods were often eating more unhealthy foods such as processed meats, sweets, cookies, sugar-sweetened beverages, and ice cream.
Of course, eating a variety of foods can be good for you, New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health. But, when done improperly, it can have a negative impact on your waistline. “Having more options can lead to eating more of those options,” she says. “If you’re exposed to a wide range of foods that are not that great for you, it can lead to increased intake.”
However, she says, dietary diversity is important because it prevents food boredom and helps you get a wide variety of nutrients to meet your needs: “If we ate the same five foods all day, every day, we’d be at risk for deficiencies because we’d be missing out on what was in the foods not included in our diet.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also recommends that people strive to have a varied diet. “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that the best nutrition-based strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods,” the organization says on its website.
Of course, there’s a right way to achieve food diversity in your diet and a wrong way. To do it properly, Cording recommends focusing on diversity among a variety of nutrient dense (verses calorie-dense) foods such as vegetables, fruit, lean proteins, beans, lentils, and whole grains.
“Including healthy fats like avocado, oils, and nuts in amounts that fit within our daily calorie needs is also important,” she says.
Otto echoes the recommendation. “Our findings showed that people with greater diet quality, i.e., higher intakes of healthy foods such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, and lower consumption of refined grains, meat, trans-fat and sodium had nearly 25 percent lower risk of developing diabetes after 10 years,” she says. “This suggests that eating a range of healthy foods may be more effective in promoting metabolic health than ‘eating everything in moderation.’”
Cording also recommends minimizing your of sugary treats and processed foods that offer lots of calories but few nutritional benefits, but says it’s OK to have a treat once in a while.