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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
4-minute read
Episode #176

Some healthful foods contain compounds that may pose a concern if consumed in large quantities. Albacore tuna, for example, contains small amounts of mercury. It’s unlikely to be a problem if you’re eating tuna once or twice a week. But if you’re popping open a can of tuna every single day for lunch, it could be a problem.

See also: Fish and Mercury

Raw spinach contains natural compounds called oxalates. Oxalates aren’t harmful or toxic but they do have a bad habit of binding to calcium, making it more difficult for your body to absorb this important nutrient. Eating a spinach salad a few times a week isn’t likely to pose a big problem but eating spinach every single day for lunch could potentially start to impinge on your calcium status—especially if you’re counting on the milk in your lunchtime latte as one of your primary calcium sources.

See also: Best Sources of Calcium

I don’t want to make too big a deal out of this. It’s great that you’re eating greens every day for lunch, Josh, and I wouldn’t want you to cut back on your vegetable intake. (And I’ve yet to see a case of spinach-induced calcium deficiency.) But mixing it up a bit takes that concern completely off the table. If you enjoy sautéed spinach, try sautéed Swiss chard or beet greens once in a while. If you like spinach in salads or wraps, try substituting arugula or even fresh basil leaves every once in a while.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

There are even a few situations in which you can get too much of a good thing. Brazil nuts are uniquely high in the mineral selenium, for example. Eat a handful of Brazil nuts every day and you could easily end up with a selenium overload. Eat a handful of mixed nuts every day, and there’s no such risk.

For more on symptoms of selenium overload, see my episode: Can You Get Too Many Vitamins?

The point here is not that spinach or tuna or Brazil nuts are harmful but rather that a varied diet is a simple way to avoid unintentional overexposure or dietary imbalances.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.