Dietary variety – or eating a variety of foods across different food groups – has long been a key component of dietary recommendations because of its association with eating more nutrients. However, as the food landscape in the U.S. has changed, the focus on dietary variety has decreased based on evidence that eating a greater number of foods encourages overconsumption and obesity.
Maya Vadiveloo (PhD ’14) sought to better understand relationship between dietary variety and health while working on her doctoral dissertation with Niyati Parekh, associate professor of nutrition and public health at Steinhardt. Specifically, they wanted to explore if greater healthful dietary variety could make wholesome dietary patterns easier to follow, and therefore improve weight control and health. Their findings are published in two studies in The Journal of Nutrition.
In the first study, the researchers examined whether greater healthful dietary variety, quantified using a food diversity index developed by Vadiveloo and Parekh, favorably influenced levels of body fat. They found that higher food index values were inversely associated with indicators of body fat in both men and women, suggesting that greater dietary variety may protect against excess body fat.
In the second study, the researchers found that greater healthful food variety was associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that increase a person’s risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Their findings provide preliminary evidence that food diversity may protect against metabolic syndrome.
“Our research explicitly recognizes the potential benefits of dietary variety in obesity management and provides the foundation to support its ongoing evaluation,” said Parekh.
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