Dietary diversity, or eating a wide range of foods, is perceived by most people to be beneficial for their health. However, it might actually backfire.
According to the American Heart Association's latest scientific statement, a diverse diet, otherwise called a "varied diet," could just lead to eating more calories, which in turn increases risks of obesity.
The problem doesn't lie in the diet itself — people might just be misinterpreting what "varied" really means in the context of a healthy diet. Marcia C. de Oliveira Otto, lead author of the latest advisory, says that could be a big problem.
What Is A Varied Diet?
"We looked at all the evidence that was out there and saw a link between dietary diversity and a greater intake of both healthy and unhealthy foods," according to Otto, an assistant professor of at the University of Texas's Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences. "This raised some red flags and had implications on obesity — we saw a greater prevalence of obesity amongst people with a greater dietary diversity."
While some dietary guidelines prioritize having varied diets, majority are unclear about what so-called dietary diversity is, exactly. Also unclear is how such a diet is measured and whether it is a healthy dietary goal.
According to a scientific review of articles published between 2000 and 2017 conducted by researchers, there is no evidence that greater overall dietary diversity promotes healthy weight or optimal eating.
There is, however, some evidence that a wider variety of food options in a meal may delay people's feelings of fullness, which increases their food intake.
There is also limited evidence that suggests greater dietary evidence is associated with eating more calories, poor eating patterns, and weight gain in adults.
The Best Diets, According To The American Heart Association
Instead of telling people to opt for varied diets, the AHA says it's better to encourage adequate consumption of plant foods, beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, and nuts. People should also refrain from eating red meats, sweets, and sugary beverages. The AHA Dietary Recommendations and the famous DASH diet serve as examples of healthy eating patterns.
"Selecting a range of healthy foods, which fits one's budget or taste, and sticking with them, is potentially better at helping people maintain a healthy weight than choosing a greater range of foods that may include less healthy items such as donuts, chips, fries and cheeseburgers, even in moderation," said Otto.