Many people approach their diet with the motto, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." If you've found something that works for you, why not eat it on a regular basis? It's easier and less expensive to stick to what you know than to constantly mix things up. For example, the standard dinner of many fitness-minded folks is grilled chicken breast, steamed veggies and brown rice—and they eat it every night, no problem! Also, lots of people eat their favorite salad every day for lunch.
Is this behavior nutritionally sound? Should people eat the same meals day in and day out? Or is variety a key to health? STACK talked to registered dietitian Brian St. Pierre to learn whether eating the same thing every day is a smart move.
Let's get the obvious point out of the way first. If you're eating the same unhealthy things every day, it's clearly a bad move. Even if dietary variety is beneficial, it doesn't apply to eating junk food. You need to make better food choices before you worry about variety.
We're thinking of the countless number of people who eat the same healthy foods every day. Are they doing themselves a disservice?
In short—probably not.
The real issue is whether you have enough variety on a meal-to-meal basis, not a day-to-day basis. St. Pierre says, "It can be just fine to stick with what you like. I pretty much eat similar things on a daily basis. What you need to ensure is that you have plenty of variety throughout the day. So if you're eating the same meals every day, each of those meals should be distinctly different from each other."
Essentially, if you eat the same two or three foods at every meal for days on end, you're asking for trouble. For example, If it's eggs and potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, you're going to have some serious nutrient deficiencies.
However, if breakfast is different from lunch which is different from dinner, and each meal contains healthy foods, then you don't have much to worry about.
So exactly how varied should your meals be? "Each meal should have a different protein, veggie, carb and healthy fat source." says St. Pierre. "If you're doing that, then you're likely meeting all of your nutritional needs."
One way to ensure getting enough variety from meal to meal is to change up your fruits and veggies. Both are nutrient-dense, and by varying the ones you eat throughout the day, you can ensure that you're consuming a wide variety of nutrients. A good way to think of it is "eating the rainbow," which refers to consuming produce with different colors—from cauliflower to eggplant.
Here's an example of a good variety of healthy meals:
- Breakfast—Greek yogurt, whole grain toast, fruit
- Lunch—kale salad, chicken and vegetables
- Dinner—brown rice, vegetables, a bean dish
- Snacks—mixed fruit smoothie, handful of mixed nuts
You could eat these meals on a regular basis, and as long as you vary your veggies and fruits from meal-to-meal, you'd be just fine. Check out the video player above to see how to build a healthy plate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It's also worth noting that food variety can lead to overeating. Researchers have found that when people are presented with numerous food options, they tend to eat more than they would if the options were limited. University of Buffalo researchers who reviewed 58 different studies on the impact of dietary variety concluded: "Both people and animals will eat more food when a meal or diet contains a greater variety of food, which can eventually cause weight gain." That explains why I always eat more when the pantry's fully stocked!
St. Pierre has found that eating the same meals is a great strategy for helping dieters stick to the plan. He says, "I use this strategy quite often with clients, because it simplifies the process and allows them to increase their consistency. It keeps it consistent and easy to plan for. Consistency is the key to success." Once someone gets used to consistent meals, St. Pierre throws in some variety—such as switching up the fruit used in a smoothie or using different veggies in an omelette. "Consistency with a little variety goes a long way for a lot of clients," St. Pierre says.