Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is variety the spice of your diet?

It is said that "Variety is the spice of life!", but is variety the spice of your diet?   Did you know that when we're exposed to a greater variety of food, we tend to eat more?  Think about it.  Have you ever been to a buffet? A party where people brought special dishes from home?  A Thanksgiving dinner? Raise your hand if you've ever been in one of these situations and overate.  If you did not raise your hand, you are either a liar or have some superhuman ability to not get so tantalized by the numerous tasty-looking offerings.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, has conducted some interesting research regarding perceived variety and how it affects food consumption.  In one study, participants were given a bowl containing 300 M & M's.  However, one group received seven different colors of M & M's while the other received ten different colors.  You've had M & M's, right?  Even though some may disagree, they ALL taste the same regardless of their color. However, the people in the group given the bowl with ten different colors consumed 43% more M & M's than the other group (91 vs 64 M & M's). At 3.44 kcals per M & M, we're talking a 93 kcal difference here.  So, when it comes to some of the more energy dense foods, this whole variety thing could be a challenge.  Walk down any chip aisle or cookie aisle, and you might get an idea of where some of our problem with poor nutrition comes from in our country.  Geez, we have whole aisles in stores dedicated to chips, cookies, sodas, ice cream?!

Nonetheless, I tell my clients and students that variety can work against us but that it can also work for us.  Let's talk about how it can work for us!  I'm going to go out on a limb and conduct my own very informal mini-experiment here with you.  Look at the two following pictures of fruit bowls.

Option A

Option B

So, if given a choice, would you eat more often from Option A or Option B? I'm hoping you say B.  But if you selected A, might I suggest that you're a monkey or you have a banana fetish?  So, what's the point of having more variety in your diet? Well according to recent reports, only 33% of Americans consume 2+ servings of fruit per day and a mere 27% consume 3+ servings of vegetables a day, so we need as many strategies as possible to improve our intake of these two vital food groups.  Variety is one key to a more nutritious diet!  When we expose ourselves to more options -- colors, shapes, sizes, textures, aromas, tastes -- we might just eat more.  Eating a variety of foods adds a dimension of pleasure and interest in our eating, and I truly believe that we should enjoy eating...really!  Variety also helps increase the chance that we will consume adequate nutrients as well as non-nutrients, such as flavonoids.

So, here's the run down of  a few ways you might incorporate a greater variety of vegetables and fruits into your diet.
  • Let your senses be your guide.  Look for new shapes (star fruit? lychee?), sizes (pommelo?), textures (cactus pads? kiwi?), aromas (durian?), and colors (tomatillos?). Note the photo heading this inspiration.  This beautiful, succulent-looking, jewel-toned red pear caught my eye in the grocery store recently with its incessant calling, "Pick me! Pick me!".  I'm truly a sucker for something new, especially when it comes to my veggies and fruits. So, even if it's a different 'variety' within the same family of foods -- apples, pears, oranges, etc. --give something new-to-you a try.
  • Savor your old favorites in a new way.  You already love 'em, but maybe you need to spice things up.  Vegetables in a smoothie?  Try Green Smoothies.  Like apples and pears? Bake them with spices  -- cinnamon and nutmeg work well.  Ever had a fruit soup?  Melons and berries and pears oh my!  Combine fruit with spice for some kick -- spicy melon salads add interest to the palate. Change the serving temp -- go for gazpacho.
  • Enjoy seasonal eating.  When you eat seasonally, you get to appreciate fresh, ripe, and tasty food that has been harvested at its most natural time. Eating seasonally allows you to try out foods that you might not otherwise try.
  • Visit your local farmer's market.  I absolutely love visiting the farmer's market as you can be introduced to a lot of great new-to-you produce, and you will often get to try before you buy.  Plus, it's also fun meeting the growers of my food:)  In California, you can search for certified farmer's markets here.
  • Visit local ethnic markets in your area.  You will surprised at all of the new vegetables and fruits you'd never even heard of, seen, or imagined when you take an adventure into an ethnic market. 
  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  Once you're a member, you receive a box of locally grown, seasonal produce every week.  While you typically know a little ahead of time what you can expect, it's often a wonderful surprise to see what arrives. It can definitely keep you on your toes in finding new ways to prepare the produce, especially if it's something you haven't really tried before.
Have a happy taste adventure!

Question: How do you incorporate variety into your vegetable and fruit options?


Tammy (Defining Wellness) said...[Reply to comment]

Hi Michelle! First of all, thanks so much for stopping by my blog! Second of all, great post! I incorporate more fruits and veggies into my diet by going on an "adventure" in the supermarket. My husband and I love to go to the grocery store and pick out fruits and vegetables that are new to us or that we rarely eat, ones that look interesting and delicious. Then, we go home, read up about it and how to prepare it, and create delicious recipes. It makes eating fruits and vegetables as much fun, if not more fun, than eating new and unusual desserts. I used to think I didn't like fruits and veggies when I was younger, but it was only because I didn't know about all of the varieties and the endless ways to prepare them. Healthy eating is fun!

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