Here’s Why You Need To Vary Your Diet

David Saracino/Thrillist
David Saracino/Thrillist

We live in a world where you can taste thousands of ingredients, spices, and flavors over a lifetime. So why would you restrict yourself to eating the same thing constantly? Besides making for more exciting meals, changing up your diet will make you a healthier person, armed with a palate that can appreciate the flavor nuances in truly delicious and diverse dishes. We talked to two experts from Chobani, Jake Briere, Corporate Chef, and Dr. Robert C. Post, Senior Director of the Chobani Nutrition Center, to break down the benefits of switching things up. Here’s what they had to say:

Eating what you have at home will make work week meals so much better

Making meals at home can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially to people who prefer to "cook dinner" by ordering up a meal with a few swipes on your phone. That won’t be the case, Post says, if you’re regularly mixing up the best choices from the five food groups with a good dose of flavors and nutritious ingredients into the meals you're preparing. “Research shows that variety of flavorful food group choices for our meals and snacks makes people look forward to mealtimes,” he says. Taking the time to eat at home, particularly in a social setting, could even make you a more pleasant person. According to researchers with the University of Toronto, people who lived near plenty of fast food options had trouble “savoring” experiences -- like looking at a waterfall, or literally stopping to smell the roses.

Skipping the takeout for a meal you prepared at home is likely to make you physically healthier, too. According to a study conducted by John Hopkins University, participants who cooked at home most of the week consumed fewer calories than those who rarely cooked. They also rarely used frozen foods, or ate fast food, even though they weren’t actively trying to lose weight.

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Diseases won’t stand a chance against you

When you’re hungry, it doesn’t just mean your stomach is empty. It also means your body is craving certain vitamins and nutrients you need from certain foods. When we’re starving, though, most of us make the mistake of eating salty, sugary, fatty things because a) they taste good and b) they are the easiest thing to grab.  

Over-consuming sodium, sugar, and saturated fats puts you at risk for truly nasty stuff like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. However, if you incorporate items from each of the five food groups (vegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains, and protein foods) into every one of your meals, you probably won’t grab that 1,500-calorie double cheeseburger for lunch. (And no, the lettuce and tomato on that burger don't count as a salad.)

You: 1, Bathroom scale: 0

Because America has so many food options, it may seem as though we eat a varied diet, but in reality, most of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. Post says you need to incorporate some fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy (like yogurt) into your meals in order to maintain the right weight. “Mixing it up and selecting nutrient-dense choices from the recommended five food groups at each meal, including dairy foods like Greek yogurt, in the right amounts, you’re likely to maintain a healthy weight,” he says. When you vary your food options among the five food groups and balance them with exercise, you'll not only be healthier -- but your sense of taste will also get used to regular workouts. 

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Taste the (vegetable) rainbow

Probably the most important reason to eat a varied diet is that it’s the only way to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs from foods. “No food provides every nutrient your body needs, so a variety to get the best mix of nutrients is important,” Post says. The easiest way to make sure you’re getting all the proper nutrients you need is to “eat the rainbow” -- meaning that your plate should literally have a variety of colors on it, especially when it comes to your vegetables. Yellow vegetables and fruits (think oranges and squash) are full of vitamin C, while greens like spinach and kale together have a ton of folate, calcium, iron, and vitamin K. Mix up these items with purple, red, and blue produce (which totally exists), add some dairy and protein, and you’ll have a well-rounded meal with all the nutrients you need. Don’t forget to ‘Gram it before you take a bite, though.

You'll have the palate of a foodie 

If it's hard for you to enjoy a stinky blue cheese or a crisp IPA, that might be because your palate isn't accustomed to the intense flavors in those foods, says the Chobani culinary team. If you start to introduce those flavors into your meals, though, your palate can actually be trained to enjoy them. 

"Everyone grows up eating different foods: some more adventurous, varied diets to more simplistic flavors," Briere says. "By exposing your palate to new and different flavors, you will be more likely to enjoy bolder tastes. As people train their palate by continuing to taste these stronger flavors, they become more likely to like that flavor."

Eating healthy? You still should mix and match

Even if you’re the healthiest eater who spends Sundays meal prepping salads for work week lunches, you still need to change up your meals. That’s because consuming the same thing every day, even if it’s a healthy superfood, can put you at risk for not getting all the nutrients you need.  That’s why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises to eat a variety of nutrient-packed foods everyday. Besides that, over-consuming some foods can put you at risk for certain food hazards. For example, some fish, like bigeye tuna, can naturally contain high levels of mercury. Because of that, the FDA suggests women (particularly those between 16-49), pregnant women, and children should pass on fish that are high in mercury and instead eat a variety of fish with low mercury levels two or three times a week, like salmon or tilapia. That way, you'll get lots of omega-3s (plus make tasty meals). 

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Meals will taste restaurant-worthy

You know how perfectly content you feel after you enjoy a long meal at a restaurant? That’s because chefs know how to vary flavors to really get your taste buds excited. When conceptualizing meals, they try to incorporate the five tastes (salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami) into a meal, because doing so will leave you feeling full and satisfied. Briere says this also means pairing some unique options you wouldn't always consider, like pears and blue cheese, chili peppers and chocolate, or vanilla ice cream and aged balsamic. All of which make us pretty hungry, and aren’t too difficult to try at home. (Plus, you won’t be tempted to break into that emergency bag of chips after dinner).

Your skinny jeans will fit both before AND after every meal

No one likes to eat a bland meal, so when you eat something that’s lacking in the flavor department, you normally reach for the salt shaker to compensate. Eating too much salt causes your body to retain water, so you’ll see a few extra pounds on the scale in the short run. In the long run, you could have issues with your blood pressure. The easiest way to avoid it, Post says, is to make your food spicier, or add in lots of herbs. “Spices and herbs can help you reduce the amount of salt and fats that you use to prepare foods and make dishes more appealing. For example, research shows that you can cut your salt and fat intake with this approach, especially for kids.” Hey, if it’s a trick that could fool your niece (who you’ve been trying to coax out of the chicken nugget phase of her diet for three years), you might as well give it a try, too.

Treat yo self days can be a regular thing

Sugar’s gotten a pretty bad rap these days, but organizations like the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize that a little sugar (like those found in fruit) can help make nutrient-dense foods actually enjoyable. Post points specifically to Greek yogurt as an example. Plain Greek yogurt is a great choice for many, but some like the burst of flavor that comes from adding blended fruit. They are all stocked with protein, calcium, and B vitamins, but if you add a little bit of sugar from fruits, or honey to plain, you’ll have a snack you really enjoy. “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend choosing more nutrient-dense foods more often, even those with a little sugar, as long as we stay within the calories and get the nutrients we need each day,” Post says. So because you’re having a nutrient-dense meal, it won’t matter that you’ll also be satisfying your sweet tooth a little.