When people find out that I have a Master’s Degree in nutrition and conduct nutrition research, they tend to ask me, “So, what should I eat?”
More often than not, they are seeking a simple list of “healthy” or “clean” foods that will instantly give them the results they want.
Aside from the fact that many of the people should be asking, “How much should I eat?”, the question of what to eat does not have a simple answer.
Nevertheless, many qualified professionals give their clients meal plans with the same daily menu repeated over and over, but is it actually healthy to eat the same foods every day?
There’s a difference between eating the same nutrient-dense, balanced meals every day and eating Big Macs every day, as one man apparently did for 44 years1.
To determine how “healthy” it is to eat the same foods every day, let’s consider the implications for our physical and mental health by taking a look at some of the pros and cons of eating the same foods on a daily basis.
Pros for Eating the Same Foods Daily
1. Nutritional adequacy: If you plan in advance everything you’re going to eat, then you can make sure you’re getting enough nutrients. While it’s easy to track calories and macronutrients, tracking all vitamins and minerals every day can be very tedious. If you plan out a daily menu that hits all of your nutrient needs, then simply sticking to that menu can be an easy way to follow a nutritious diet.
2. Convenience: Eating the same foods every day is convenient! You can prepare your meals for multiple days or a whole week in a short amount of time. Eating the same foods every day can save time that would otherwise be spent brainstorming, planning, and preparing new meals.
3. Adherence: Repeating the same foods every day makes it easy to stick to your diet. You don’t need to worry about social gatherings or events that could interfere with your diet if you know you’re just going to stick to your set meal plan every day. The temptation to go off track still exists, but if you already know your daily menu, it’s much easier to resist these temptations.
Eating your set menu can become a predictable part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, if you don’t need to make choices about which foods to eat whenever you’re hungry.
4. Low variety: Low diet variety can help with the issue of dietary adherence mentioned above. Diet variety has been shown to increase calories consumed2. This phenomenon has been called the “buffet effect,” as it describes the fact that we tend to eat more when presented with a large variety of foods.
5. Digestion: Sticking to the same foods every day can be good for digestion. If you know you do well with a certain list of foods, then you don’t have to worry about food intolerances or other negative reactions to foods (unless you develop a response to something you’ve been eating regularly).
6. Control: Eating the same foods every day allows you to have complete or near-complete perceived control over your diet. If you’re trying to achieve a specific weight or physique goal, then this level of control can allow you to hold constant many variables that could otherwise interfere with the process, such as sodium content.
Cons for Eating the Same Foods Daily
1. Low variety: While low diet variety can help combat overeating, it is also a “con” for many reasons. Generally speaking, a varied diet is a balanced diet, which means a varied diet is one that will supply you with all the nutrients you need to maintain good health.
Healthful food variety has been associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and high waist circumference3, and increased variety when dieting has been shown to yield greater weight loss4.
2. Nutritional inadequacy: The more restrictive you are in terms of both foods and calories, the more dangerous your diet can be. For example, if you eat plenty of calories and food from all USDA defined healthy food groups (protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy), you are much better off than:
- Someone who is eating a low number of calories and
- Someone who does not include each of these food groups in their diet.
3. Sensitivity: Not only does eating the same foods every day put you at a greater risk of inadequate nutrient intake or nutrient deficiencies, but it also makes you more sensitive to other potential issues, such as food contamination.
If you eat fish with a high level of mercury or use a cacao powder contaminated with cadmium every day, you’re more likely to suffer adverse consequences than someone with a higher diet variety who eats those foods less often.
4. Low microbiome diversity: Eating a variety of healthy foods can help to cultivate a diverse microbiome. The gut microbiome is a growing area of research, as there are many factors that can impact gut microbiome diversity and many species of microorganisms. Based on what we know so far, diet variety can help to maintain a healthy gut.
5. Boredom: While eating the same foods can be convenient and make your diet easy to stick to, it can also be boring. Eating is a complex experience. It is a sensory experience, with enjoyable or unpleasant tastes, smells, and textures, and it can also be a social experience, through which we can create lasting memories with people we care about.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of Eating the Same Foods
At first glance, some of the pros and cons listed above might not seem to be directly related to health. However, if we consider the impact of each one of the pros and cons, we can see how the results are tied to physical and mental health.
For instance, a diet that is convenient and easy to adhere to can have a positive impact on your mental health rather than being a source of stress. Eating the same foods every day can relieve some of the stress of dieting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an overall healthy option.
The Verdict is…
There are many pros to eating the same foods every day, but there are also cons with very serious implications to consider. Ultimately, the answer to our question is “it depends”…it depends on the person.
Generally speaking, eating the same foods every day is not healthy. However, if you can manage to maintain a high diet variety and get adequate nutrients and not feel bored or burdened, then eating the same foods every day could be a healthy choice for you.
If this sounds like you, you might want to swap out your menu every so often so that you can get the benefits of all food groups. You also might consider consulting with your doctor about taking supplements to ensure that you are not missing out on key nutrients.
Another option is to set a flexible menu for yourself that allows for some adjustment each day. Consider the following example:
- Breakfast: Eggs or tofu scramble; grains or starchy vegetable; fruit or fibrous vegetable; nuts or seeds
- Snack: Protein bar or shake
- Lunch: Meat or edamame; oil or avocado; grains or starchy vegetable; greens
- Snack: Fruit or vegetable; nuts or nut butter; yogurt or cottage cheese
- Dinner: Meat or legumes; grains or starchy vegetable; oil or nuts
Switching up the foods you choose to consume can help to ensure that you are getting adequate nutrients. For example, if you’re low on iron today but your average for the week (or month) is fine, then there’s no reason to worry about today.
However, if you’re low on iron today, and you eat the same thing every day, then you might eventually start to experience side effects from an inadequate iron intake.
If you do choose to eat the same foods every day, it is important to keep in mind that you’ll also be consuming the same nutrients every day. If you’re dieting, then it can be difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs unless you vary foods from day to day.
In these cases, it can be useful or even necessary to take a supplement to ensure you are not missing out on key nutrients.
- 1. Most Big Macs consumed. Guinness World Records. http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/most-big-macs-consumed. Accessed January 6, 2019.
- 2. Raynor HA, Epstein LH. Dietary variety, energy regulation, and obesity. Psychological Bulletin. 2001;127(3):325-341. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.127.3.325
- 3. Vadiveloo M, Sacks FM, Champagne CM, Bray GA, Mattei J. Greater Healthful Dietary Variety Is Associated with Greater 2-Year Changes in Weight and Adiposity in the Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies (POUNDS Lost) Trial. J Nutr. 2016;146(8):1552-1559. doi:10.3945/jn.115.224683
- 4. Vadiveloo M, Parkeh N, Mattei J. 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 Adults123. J Nutr. 2015;145(3):564-571. doi:10.3945/jn.114.199125