Why You Should Eat a Variety of Foods Every Day

Eat a variety of foods to get the most nutrition.
Westend61/Getty Images

Question: Nutritionists and health experts often say to eat a variety of foods -- buy why is that? I mean why not just eat the same foods every day?

Answer: Eating a variety of foods makes it easier to get a balanced diet. Not all foods are equally nutritious, and even foods that are good for you are probably missing a few nutrients, so when you eat a variety of foods you're more likely to get all the essential nutrients you need every day.

For example, tomatoes are rich in vitamin C and vitamin B-6, but they're not a good source of protein, and they don't have any vitamin B-12 at all.

Chicken, on the other hand, has plenty of vitamin B-12 and protein, but no vitamin C. So, at least for those nutrients, the chicken and tomatoes balance each other out. As long as you do that with all the foods you eat, you'll get the nutrients you need. We group foods into various categories to make it a little easier:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grains, and cereals
  • Dairy products and calcium sources
  • Meat and protein sources
  • Fats and oils

Each of these food groups contains a large number of items so you can eat a variety of foods from each group without much trouble. The United States Department of Agriculture created ChooseMyPlate.gov to help you sort out the different food groups and determine how much of each food group you need. It's based on your size and physical activity level.

Go for Variety

Take a look at all those fruits and vegetables next time you go to the grocery store. See all the different colors? That's important because the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their color also contain beneficial antioxidants that may have health benefits. So if you eat lots of different colors, you'll get lots of various antioxidants.

Same with whole grains. Rather than just eating wheat day after day, try different grains. Oats are high in fiber that specifically lowers cholesterol, and quinoa is higher in protein than wheat. Barley, rye, and even popcorn are also great grains to add to your diet.

As far as your meat and protein sources, be sure to add in some fresh fish that's high in omega-3 fatty acids and experiment with plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, nuts and seeds that are also high in fiber and other nutrients.

Balance Out the Bad 

Another reason to eat a variety of foods is to get plenty of healthy things to help balance out the not-so-good choices. Let's face it, very few people eat a diet made up of 100 percent totally nutritious foods, and it's okay to enjoy unhealthy food in moderation. So if you eat a chocolate chip cookie as a snack in the afternoon, balance it out by eating a nutritious dinner followed by fruit or berries for dessert.

Remember that eating a variety of foods from all the foods groups every day is the key to setting up a balanced diet.

Sources:

Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Sixth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2013. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Smolin LA, Grosvenor, MB. "Nutrition: Science and Applications." Third Edition. Wiley Publishing Company, 2013. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Continue Reading