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How Important is a Varied Diet?

Can’t you just eat the same healthy foods every day? Technically, yes, but there is one potential downside.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
February 7, 2012
Episode #176

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Josh writes: “I eat a healthy diet, but I tend to eat the same foods over and over. For example, I eat spinach every day for lunch. I know a varied diet is supposed to be best. Can some healthy foods be bad for you if you consume them too frequently?”

Josh is right: A varied diet is usually touted as the ideal—but why? After all, the ability to choose from a wide variety of foods—no matter where we live or what time of the year it happens to be—is, to a certain extent, a modern luxury. Many of our primitive ancestors thrived on extremely limited diets that might have included just one or two protein sources, a single type of grain, and a small selection of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.  In fact, these indigenous diets are often held up as being far superior to the modern diet.

So why all the emphasis on a varied diet?   For those who would prefer to keep it simple, couldn’t you just come up with one healthy meal plan and eat it every day? Although it’s clearly not essential, a varied diet does offer at least two advantages.

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Variety Covers Your Bases

First, eating a variety of foods helps ensure that you’re covering your bases, nutritionally. Green peppers, for example are a terrific source of vitamin C but don’t offer that much in the way of vitamin A. Carrots are the other way around. The different food groups tend to feature different nutrient profiles as well. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of antioxidants, nuts and seeds supply fat-soluble nutrients, grains and legumes supply minerals, and so on. Rather than trying to memorize which foods contain which nutrients, it’s easier to just aim for a reasonable amount of variety.

Variety Keeps You Safe

Secondly, variety is an easy way to avoid over-exposure to a potential hazard.

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