Is Eating The Same Thing Over & Over Bad For You?


#1

Men’s Health posted this article, “Is Eating the Same Thing Every Day Bad for You?” Which in part states…

If your meal menu runs on repeat, your body might hit a snag: People who eat the same foods over and over again tend to be less healthy than those who strive for variety, suggests recent research in the Journal of Nutrition.

In the study, participants who consumed the widest range of foods were 21 percent less likely to develop metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or increased body fat that ups your risk for heart disease and diabetes—compared to those who stuck to their standbys.

Varied eaters were also less likely to have high blood pressure, and more likely to have a healthy waist circumference.

Here is the link: http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/food-variety-health-benefits

  1. True or False?
  2. If true, to have variety, would creating several lines of Soylent from different sources of ingredients while providing the same levels of nutrition solve this problem?

#2

I don’t see a link to this study they reference. Without that study we have no idea what the quality of the diet the “limited eaters” was. If you cycle through a limited diet of fast food then of course you will develop metabolic syndrome.


#3

It could be argued Soylent incapsulates the variety recommended. For a simple example…
If a salad, a steak, and a piece of bread were plenty of “variety”; I doubt they’d be any less so if they were put into a blender and mixed. (Though of dubiously palatability.)


#5

I read an interesting article in Men’s Health a while back that talked about nutritional tryptophan having an antidepressant effect. Later, during a psychology class I was taking, I wanted to use the research that article was based on to do a presentation about antidepressants. There was no reference in the entire magazine to the scientific article that the column was based on.

I went out and searched all the online databases my school had access to and the closest thing I was able to find was an experiment that may have been able to link nutritional tryptophan to a very minor antidepressant effect in women only.

This is all a long way of saying I don’t really trust anything that particular magazine has to say without first verifying the information myself…but then, who has time for that? And isn’t that the purpose of the magazine? To compile this research so I don’t have to sift through papers online.


#6

I eat a wide variety of foods and am fat as shhh. And while I’m only one datapoint, it seems a dubious claim. I see a value in eating a varied diet, but that’s more for mental benefit and getting assorted vitamins/nutrients. If S/soylent meets all the nutritional needs (which it seems to) then only food boredom is a risk. That can be handled by eating normal meals on occasion like Rob does.


#8

If picking up Starbuck for breakfast, McDonalds for lunch, and Chinese takeout for dinner everyday counts as variety I’ll take my chances with boring Soylent.


#9

I tried to find the study they’re talking about - it doesn’t appear to be from April or May, because I’m not seeing a relvant study in the Journal of Nutrition’s recent articles list. It would help if Men’s Health actually cited the article they’re talking about, as opposed to just dropping “Journal of Nutrition” to add gravitas to their article. This mag usually has decent info, though. They also drop Alan Aragon’s name - I’ll reach out to him to see if he can tell us what article they’re talking about.

Generally, though, my answers to your questions would be a speculative:

  1. No.
  2. No.

Why? I doubt it’s true, because the implication in the article is that the variety is the cause of the health… but what the study seems to report is a correlation, not a cause. The stronger factor at play is probably this: the people who work hardest to get a wider variety of healthy foods into their diet are those who care more about their health and/or do more about it (or simply obsess more over it), and probably do a lot of other things to improve their health, too. They are more likely to carefully monitor how much they’re eating (explaining the smaller waist circumference and body fat), they’re more likely to exercise, more likely to get their sleep, they’re less likely to drink excess alcohol… By contrast, the people who stick with a smaller mix of “staple” healthy foods are more likely to be on autopilot - and are also more likely to be people who just aren’t trying that hard to exercise, to control their intake, to avoid splurges, etc. By consuming a small variety of foods over and over, they’re demonstrating that they’re not willing to do as much.

This also explains why I don’t think two (or three) lines of Soylent would by likely to help health. If someone chooses Soylent just for convenience (or laziness) because they want to be healthy but don’t want to work hard at it, having one Soylent versus two is unlikely to influence whether they do other things, like take walks, or improve their sleep.

You can argue about whether someone choosing to use Soylent to be healthy is being as lazy as possible, or taking the most extreme dietary measure you can think of. It’s very different from the mainstream approach, so you can describe it either way!


#10

If eating the same thing over and over is a problem, cows are in serious trouble.


#11

Duh, that’s why they have 4 stomachs. To mix things up a little!


#12

So I heard back from both Alan Aragon and the author of the article (props to both for being responsive.) She was also kind enough to send me a copy of the study in question. It was from one month earlier than I looked… I was lazy, I guess.

Here’s a link to the abstract of the study, Greater Healthful Food Variety as Measured by the US Healthy Food Diversity Index Is Associated with Lower Odds of Metabolic Syndrome and its Components in US Adults, published March 1, 2014. it was first published electronically this past December.

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail unless asked, but after reading the study, I stand by my earlier speculative position. This wasn’t a study that carefully compared low variety vs. high variety of comparably healthy foods. Rather, they used a broad index - the relatively new US Healthy Food Diversity Index - and found that high scores on this index are associated with less metabolic syndrome for Non-Hispanic Whites. It didn’t tie as well with less metabolic syndrome for Non-Hispanic Blacks, but it does associate well with less obesity (which is one aspect of metabolic syndrome). And it didn’t tie at all with lower metabolic syndrome for Hispanics.

It’s a useful approach for doing large-group analysis, but the HFD index has some weaknesses. “Healthy Food Diversity” sound like’s measuring diversity, but ti’s really a combination of two things: score is a function of the healthiness of food and of the diversity of food (and the proportions). More variety raises your score, but choosing healthier foods also raises your score. If you need a “one number describes it all” index, it works, but it’s losing the detail… for example, for two people with the same score, one may have gotten there with a broader variety of less healthy foods, while the other got there with a smaller variety of healthier foods. Is one better?

(I’m side-stepping the question of whether the assumed Healthiness Factors are correct - every food needs a Healthiness Factor to work into the equation.)

Also, this study didn’t take into account salt intake or calorie intake, because neither is captured by the HFD index. If two people consume the exact same foods in the exact same proportions, they both have the same score - even if the second person consume three times as much of everything, and serves it all with 7000 mg of sodium.

I think this particular study was not trying to answer the question, “is a variety of foods better for you.” It was not built for that. The answer to that question is already assumed to be, “yes,” based on prior studies.

I think this study was built more to answer questions like, “does a higher HFD index suggest a healthier diet?” In essence, testing the new HFD. And the study suggests answers to questions like, “does allowing people’s natural inclination toward variety tend to lead them to an overall healthier diet?” This is an interesting question, partly because a lot of people have been advocating more limited dietary options (don’t eat this, don’t eat that), hoping to guide people to a healthier overall diet.

Most importantly, this study is not a good basis on which to downplay the value of a carefully balanced diet which is designed to meet all nutritional needs. That’s simply not what it was looking at.