Q. “I’ve often heard the best way to assure a nutritionally sound diet is to eat a wide variety of foods from all the food groups. Is that true?”
A. Yes and no.
Nutrition experts have long preached the benefits of eating a variety of foods from several different food groups in order to:
a) Insure an adequate intake of all known and unknown nutrients and potentially beneficial phytochemicals.
b) Avoid getting excessive amounts of potentially harmful substances found in some foods.
However, there is one downside to increasing the variety of foods consumed at any given meal. Research has shown that the greater the variety of foods offered at a meal, the more calories are consumed. This is particularly true when the foods vary significantly in taste, texture and nutritional composition.
Simply put, all-you-can-eat buffets are not the place to go if you want to lose weight. Since 2 out of 3 American adults are now overweight or obese, the message for variety needs to be tweaked.
Increase variety of vegetables
The one food group for which increased variety usually means fewer calories consumed and better health attained is the non-starchy vegetables group: tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, onions, spinach, broccoli, etc. The more salads, steamed vegetables and vegetable soups a person eats at a meal and each day, the better. But take care; if you add a fatty salad dressing, cheese, bacon bits and croutons to that salad, research shows you will likely increase the amount of calories consumed at that meal.
Decrease variety of calorie-dense foods
Calorie-dense foods include foods that are high in fat, sugar and/or white flour. Examples include baked goods, desserts, chips, dips, dressings, sauces, candy and fatty processed meats and cheeses. Eating a greater variety of these foods will cause you to consume too many calories.
Variety is a double-edged sword. It is good to eat a variety of unprocessed low-calorie foods up to a point. But eating a variety of high-calorie foods can lead to weight gain.
Consuming fewer calories, along with increasing physical activity, is the way to go for weight control and better health.
Checklist of all the right foods for weight control
Take a look at the list below. These foods are minimally processed and high in fiber and/or low in fat. Eating more of these, along with increasing exercise and physical activity, will help you avoid consuming excess calories:
____ whole-grain pasta
____ brown rice
____ nonfat dairy products
These foods tend to fill people up on fewer calories than high-fat and more-refined foods. But beware – one should still not go overboard in terms of the variety of even these healthful food choices consumed at any single meal or snack if weight loss is a goal.
By James Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN.
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.