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When Diverse Diets Go Wrong

A varied diet that includes lots of junk food isn't doing much good.

It’s common healthy-eating advice: Consume a greater variety of foods so your body gets all the necessary nutrients. But a research review of the topic by scientists affiliated with the American Heart Association found that dietary diversity can sometimes backfire.

In a statement published in the journal Circulation in September 2018, the researchers suggested that data from studies doesn’t support the notion that greater dietary diversity is an effective strategy for promoting healthy eating patterns and fending off chronic conditions like obesity and heart disease. To measure variety, many studies have queried people about the number of foods they typically eat. It turns out that those with more range in their diets also tend to feast on more unhealthy items, such as processed, packaged snack foods.

Rest assured, you can still benefit from diversifying your food repertoire—especially when it comes to vegetables. A 15-year study in Nutrition Journal found that people who reported eating the greatest variety of vegetables and the most veggies overall faced less risk of coronary heart disease. The bottom line is that dietary diversity works only if it consists of a bounty of nourishing foods like vegetables, fruits, fish and whole grains—not four varieties of potato chips. Okra and mustard greens, anyone?

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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