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Variety Isn’t Always The Spice of Life

Too much choice doesn’t necessarily keep things interesting – it can make us anxious, unhappy and overweight. 

food varietyVariety is supposed to be the spice of life, but unfortunately in our current lifestyle variety seems to make things harder. Too many choices in life can make us anxious and unhappy, while offering us a variety of food to choose from can see us gobbling down more as we sample a bit of everything. It’s no surprise that the more kilojoules consumed the harder it is to maintain weight.

According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, less variety means less kilojoules consumed throughout the week. In the study, researchers put 32 obese and non-obese women aged 20-50 years of age on an unhealthy diet of macaroni and cheese. The women were randomly assigned to eat macaroni and cheese five times, either daily for one week or once a week for five weeks. At the end of the study, both the obese and non-obese women who had eaten macaroni and cheese daily consumed fewer kilojoules than the women who ate it only once a week. In fact, the women who ate macaroni and cheese once a week ate 420 more kilojoules each day.

These extra kilojoules can soon add up, causing us to loosen the notch on our belt to make room for the extra weight. In fact, research published in the journal Obesity Research found that the more variety in a person’s diet the less likely they were to maintain major weight loss several years later. In the study, people who had successfully maintained major weight loss for several years had less variety from all food groups and consumed fewer kilojoules than those who recently lost weight.

While eating the same thing day-after-day may sound dull, it turns out to be a winning weight loss formula. Monotony with eating eventually leads to a decreased response or habituation to that food. In other words, over exposure to food makes us lose interest in it and consequently reduces the amount of food we eat. However our national healthy eating guidelines, which encourages us to eat a wide variety of foods, don’t match up with these findings. So when it comes to guidelines, we need to consider whether this is actually practical to our current lifestyle.

In today’s society we have so much choice with food (actually everything) and this leads to overproduction, overconsumption and increased food waste. Our fast-paced lifestyles make it hard enough for many of us to find the time to prepare healthy meals, let alone make each one different. That’s why creating a regular routine with similar (if not the same) breakfast, lunch and dinner options makes healthy eating easier. Supermarket shopping and meal preparation are also easier. On the other hand, a large range of food in the fridge means you need to come up with a range of recipes in order to eat them all before they become part of the $5.2 billion worth of food wasted each year.

Including variety in your diet is definitely important for overall health and well-being, but in order to maximise your health you don’t have to make every meal and snack that you eat different. Instead aim to enjoy foods from each of the food groups – fruit, vegetables, cereals and grains, meat and meat alternatives, dairy products, and healthy fats. For lunch and dinner, dish up a variety of non-starchy vegetables and offer one option of both protein and carbohydrate at each meal. Have a couple of different snack choices on hand and avoid buffet style eating as much as possible. Controlling the variety of foods on offer isn’t boring, it makes healthy eating easier.
What’s your healthy eating tip?

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