Variety: friend or foe?
We’re told variety is the spice of life but when it comes to eating, variety may sometimes work against us. Studies have demonstrated that when exposed to more variety, people tend to eat higher amounts of food. We’ve all been there; buffets, holiday meals (Christmas, Hannukah, the New Year, Thanksgiving, etc.), potlucks, cocktail parties etc. are all examples of situations in which we are exposed to a wide array of enticing options. However, being equipped with all the good will and determination in the world, we engage in the art of overeating and end up feeling as full as Santa Claus once he has finished his world tour and ingested an unfathomable number of cookies. Oftentimes, persons leave such events feeling uncomfortably full and sleepy and asking “Why oh why did I do this to myself?”. May he/she who is not guilty of overeating in such situations throw the first stone. I’m assuming no one is throwing any stones at this point. (N.B. Please don’t throw any stones 🙂 ).
In Brian Wansink’s book “Mindless Eating, Why We Eat More Than We Think”, an interesting study carried out where subjects received bowls full of M&M’s (300 candies per bowl, to be exact) is discussed. One experimental group received 7 colors of these candies and the other experimental group received 10 colors. The subjects who had 10 colors of M&M’s in their bowls ate an average of 91 candies, compared to 64 candies in the group with 7 colors (which is 43% more candy). This translates to an almost 100 calorie discrepancy. I think we can all agree that all colors taste the same (I’ve never understood people that claim that the red M&M’s taste better, hehe). This is to say that it’s as if our brains were tricked into thinking they want more than they actually do.
What this all boils down to is that when it comes to high energy density (high calories for small amounts of food) and low nutrient density (small quantities of nutrients for large amounts of food) foods, variety may not work in your favour. Evidently, the mere fact of being exposed to lots and lots of different “less healthy” foods can prove to be an endeavor when it comes to self-control. If we look around our grocery stores, we see entire aisles dedicated to cookies, ice cream, chips, etc. No wonder people have problems limiting intake of these foods or resisting purchasing them. So, when it comes to some of the more energy dense foods, exposure to variety is less than ideal.
All of this being said, variety can also help us out. When it comes to foods that you have a hard time consuming, variety can render these foods more appealing. For example, if your main challenge is drinking enough water throughout the day, adding cucumber wedges, berries, mint or basil leaves, grated ginger, citrus wedges, star anise, tisane pouches, etc. may help you meet your hydration goals.
The moral of this blog post? Simply try to increase variety of the foods you want to increase the intake of, and vice versa. Seek variety for foods like legumes, whole grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables only. Avoid variety when it comes to junk food, sweets and refined grains. And that is how the cookie crumbles.
Enjoy your Sunday people! 🙂