Nope, You Really Shouldn't Eat The Same Foods Every Day—Here's Why
It's easy to get into a rut when it comes to cooking dinner every night. You find a recipe or a meal you like, and soon, you're placing the same grocery delivery every single week, and you can set your clock to your Wednesday evening meal of spaghetti and meatballs or seared salmon and veggies. It's your safe space!
"Many people feel a security in eating the same foods every day because those foods help them to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain the weight they want to hold onto," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. "Others eat the same foods because it makes them feel secure in having a habit they don't have to think much about."
But according to experts, it's essential to change up your meals regularly. Sorry to break it to you, but eating that same dinner each and every weeknight that you've mastered cooking is not the way to go.
OK, so why exactly is it all that important to vary your meals?
There are several reasons why it's so important to vary what you eat every day, but the big one here is nutrition.
"Seasons and growing conditions change the level of vitamins and minerals in our food," says registered dietitian Jennifer Piazza of Real Food Blends. "Our bodies were designed with that in mind and thrive off variety."
"It's okay to eat your favorite foods more frequently, but if you eat the same thing every day, you cannot meet all your nutrient needs," she says. "It's really the average of your consumption over a few days or a week that provides a better understanding of which nutrients you're getting more and less of and how you should complement it," she adds, citing one 2015 study examining the diets of over 7000 adults. The researchers found that those who ate a greater variety of foods were associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome.
Eating the same thing could lead to nutrient deficiencies, too—even if you're eating ostensibly healthy foods. It's important to always have a mix, as variety is the spice of life, right?
"You may eat a well-balanced plate of sauteed kale, salmon, and quinoa for dinner, which at a glance is incredibly healthy," says Lindsey Kane, Sun Basket's in-house registered dietitian and director of nutrition. "But, if you eat this same meal each and every night, you'll wind up supplying your body with the same nutrition profile, one that may be a strong source of certain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but consistently misses out on other critical nutrients, which, in some cases, can turn into nutrient deficiencies."
Deficiencies aren't the only possible outcome of this sort of eating pattern either.
So what other risks do you face? Well, even foods that are very good for us can cause discomfort if consumed in excess. Broccoli, explains personal trainer and nutritionist Jamie Hickey, is a good example. While very healthy, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies "have been known to cause enlarged thyroid gland, weight gain, and constipation."
"Blueberries are another healthy choice that when eaten daily can help prevent heart disease, weight gain, and insulin problems," she says, "but they also cause acid reflux, diarrhea, bloating, and heartburn."
Eating too much of a food high in certain nutrients can even put you at risk for vitamin toxicity too, explains registered dietitian Hannah Magee, so essentially, you could end up giving yourself too much of the same vitamin every day. Magee also points out the undeniable emotional component at play as well.
"Variety is also an important way to prevent boredom in healthy eating," she says. "This is something I see often: people get into a routine with their efforts, eating the same handful of foods over and over again until they can't look at them anymore. You see, when healthy eating habits get boring, they're much more difficult to stick to. This is another reason why it might be helpful to switch things up often."
How do you change up your meals to avoid eating the same thing every day?
In theory, eating different things every day sounds like a good idea. But in practice, it can be tough to implement. So here are some tips from our experts on how to make variety work for you.
1. Eat the rainbow.
It's cliché for a reason! Make sure that each plate you assemble is filled with color.
"Nutrients provide different colors, so you are less likely to miss out on nutrients if you are eating colorfully," says Erin Kesterson, MS, RDN, LD.
Registered dietitian Hailey Crean agrees that making a rainbow-colored plate is a great way to start.
"Many of the phytonutrients in foods that provide health benefits are also responsible for the color pigments in foods," she says, citing, for example, the antioxidant anthocyanins that give blueberries their dark color. So color is always a good thing!
2. Buy whole foods.
Shopping for whole foods makes it a lot easier to ensure that you're getting a variety on each and every plate.
"Some snacks and processed foods are very calorie- or sugar-dense, and have little to no nutritional value (other than calories, which our bodies need for energy)," says Dr. Daniel Atkinson, Clinical Lead at Treated.com. "So for someone whose diet consists mainly of processed foods (think fast food or microwave meals), it's likely they'll miss out on quite a lot of vitamins and nutrients, and their organs won't get the good stuff they need. Cooking from scratch as much as you can, using whole foods and ingredients, is a good way to keep your diet healthy, and ensure variety."
3. Remember the food groups.
Thinking in big categories can make making small changes easier.
"I would say the best way to think about it is not as specific foods, but as food groups," says Atkinson. "Ideally, one-third of what we eat every day should be fruit and vegetables, one third should be starchy carbohydrates (like potatoes, bread or cereals), a sixth should be protein (so think meat, fish, eggs or beans) and just under a sixth should be dairy (which includes cheese, milk and yogurt, or plant-based alternatives like soya milk)."
Kesterson suggests including at least one element from each of the following categories in your diet every day: dark, leafy green vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein. She also suggests including some blue and purple fruits, some red, some white, and some yellow and orange each week. Add one to two portions of fish in your diet, and then change things up within these categories.
4. Make one swap a week.
Instead of completely overhauling your menu every week, consider making just one change—and it can be a small one.
"For example, if one week you buy apples and bananas as your fruit options, maybe the following week you might pick up cherries and clementines," says Crean.
"If you eat salad every day, try adding one new component like a different green (arugula or spinach instead of romaine lettuce), or a nut (like sliced almonds) or a fruit (like strawberries, mango or dried apricots) to give you a new taste to explore and new nutrients to appreciate," she says. "If you're someone that never eats whole grains, just focus on eating one type of whole grain each week, such as brown rice," says Kane. "Then, when this becomes your new normal, start exploring other whole grains like farro, millet, or quinoa. Let the variety build slowly."
5. Meal plan.
It might seem overwhelming at first, but taking a little bit of time at the weekend to meal prep will translate to huge benefits for your health.
"It can be easy to get into a routine at the grocery store and head straight to where your regular items are," says Susie Bond, registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist with Health First. "If you want to change up your daily eating routine, start by researching some healthy recipes and make sure you write down everything you need before you go to the grocery store."
Don't be scared to a bit adventurous because in the long run, it's better for your overall health.
"The best thing to do if you find yourself cooking and eating the same two or three dishes over and over again is to make time to explore other avenues," says Atkinson. "Maybe try a new cookbook and spend some time planning something different. Then give yourself some time at the grocery store to look at the different, cheaper options available, so you aren't grabbing the closest (and perhaps more expensive) ingredients to hand."
By doing just a bit of planning, you can make your meals variable, colorful, and even healthier.