While their choices do seem quite healthy (who doesn't love a routine?), it begs the question: Is eating the same thing every day good for you? While some registered dietitians might find themselves drinking their go-to smoothie for breakfast every morning, or having the same salad at lunch, most will argue on the side of variety.
“If your goal is to get or stay healthy, then variety in your diet is definitely important,” says Christine Palumbo, RDN, a Chicago-based dietitian. Here’s why you should be switching up what you eat on the regular:
1. You'll get tons more nutrients
There just might be something to that old saying “mother knows best.” “Mother nature has provided all the nutrients you need, and by eating a varied diet, it helps to ensure you’re going to get an adequate amount of all of those nutrients,” says Palumbo. We’re not just talking macronutrients like fat, protein, and carbohydrates, but all of the micronutrients, such as the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help keep your immune system strong and your brain sharp.
So if your go-to snack every day is a handful of blueberries, you’ll absolutely get loads of vitamin C and phytonutrients, which are antioxidants found in the pigments of food. “But the phytochemicals that make blueberries blue are different from those that make raspberries red, and each phytochemical has unique health benefits,” says Karen Ansel, RDN, a Long Island-based dietitian. That means that you’ll want to mix things up, so you can take advantage of all those specific antioxidant-rich phytonutrients that red fruits (as well as yellow, green, and orange…) have to offer, too.
You might also think that your veggie-packed salad at lunch is giving you all the fiber you need for the day. The catch? “There are lots of different kinds of fiber that offer varied perks, which is why you’ll want to eat a variety of fiber-rich foods,” says Ansel. For example, foods like barley, oats, certain mushrooms and seaweed have beta glucans, a specialized type of soluble fiber (meaning it absorbs water during digestion) that can help lower cholesterol, explains Ansel. So if you don’t eat these foods, you could be missing out on some extra heart-health perks.
Meanwhile, if you eat lots of whole grain bread, you’ll get a good amount of insoluble fiber (meaning it remains unchanged as it passes through your body), which helps your digestive system run smoothly, says Ansel. “But again, it also would be great if you had oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, beans, and whole veggies so you can really get that variety of fiber,” says Ansel.
2. You avoid a nutrient deficiency
When you eat the same thing every day—even if it’s healthy stuff—you could put yourself at risk for a nutrient deficiency. “If your energy is flagging or your skin looks pale, your nails and hair get brittle, or you can’t work out like you normally do, you may have a nutrient deficiency due to a restrictive diet,” says Palumbo. It's because, once again, you're not getting a well-balanced variety of nutrients.
The catch is you may not realize your diet is restrictive. If you don’t eat many foods high in iron—like meat, eggs, or dark leafy greens—you could be lacking the mineral, even if your diet otherwise provides loads of other good-for-you nutrients.
Then there’s this concern: “Keep up a long-term nutrient deficiency, and it can lead to lifestyle diseases,” says Palumbo. For example, if you’re not getting enough calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K, it could impact your bone health down the line.
And for those of y'all who are all keto all the time...remember that a diet without enough produce could lead to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, says Palumbo. Another reason why it’s fruits and veggies for the win.
3. You won't overdo it on healthy ingredients
Is every night at your apartment broccoli night? That might be a problem, even though the vegetable is a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C, and potassium. If you’re on broccoli kick and eat it as your main vegetable all day every day, it could pose a health issue.
“Broccoli contains goitrogens, which when consumed very frequently, can interfere with proper thyroid function,” says Ansel. “For the average person this might not be an issue, but for someone with a slow thyroid it could slow things down even more,” she adds. Other healthy foods, like oranges and tomatoes, may lead to acid reflux if you’re eating them too frequently (more than a few a day).
Good words to remember: “Even healthy foods have beneficial compounds and harmful ones—all foods have things that are not healthful in excess,” says Ansel. Thus, she advises switching up your routine, so perhaps one night you have green beans, and another have asparagus and so on.
How to eat a healthy variety (without tons of work)
There are times when sticking to the same diet comes with benefits, particularly if you’re struggling with healthy weight management. “Having a fairly consistent diet from day to day is even recommended for weight loss, because it simplifies the meal-planning process, so it’s easier to stick to,” says Palumbo. “Plus, when we have more of a variety, we tend to eat more—just think of a buffet brunch, and how we want to try everything,” she adds.
This might seem like a complicated balance. But getting variety into your diet (without having to eat things you hate or constantly cook new things) doesn't require a dietician's training. First, says Palumbo, have a basic framework for your meals—like grains, protein, and veggies—and then just rotate them regularly. For the grains, maybe that looks like quinoa one day, bulgur the next, and brown rice the day after.
You should also space out your various nutrients throughout the day, says Ansel. “People often have a one-and-done mentality, like ‘I got my berries in, so I’m done for the day,’” she says. But she says that phytonutrients don’t live very long in our system, so you want to get lots of nutrient-packed fruits and veggies from a.m. to p.m. to get the most benefits.
Palumbo says that even eating out can be a way to get in some variety. It’s easy to find yourself in a cooking rut at home—trying out new recipes takes time, so it’s common to stick to what you know. Be sure to take advantage of those times you go out to dinner to really think outside the culinary box. Try veggies you’ve never heard of, grains you’ve been dying to make but haven’t gotten around to, and proteins that are outside your typical repertoire.
Remember: Variety is the spice of life. And apparently, it's a spice we need to be using more in our cooking.
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