Research suggests that around 60% of us are stuck in a pattern of reaching for the same foods every week; with humans eating just 150-200 of the 250-300,000 known edible plant species. And many typical Western diets involve only a fraction of these.

Aside from preventing dinner-time boredom, eating a varied diet has been linked with several health benefits – including improved gut health, longevity, and a reduced risk of disease. For example, while the traditional diet habits of some of the world’s healthiest regions, like Greece and Japan, differ greatly, food variety remains a common theme.

And, as advice such as “eat the rainbow” continues to gather momentum, you might be searching for ways to add more variety to your diet.

With this in mind, we’ve explored some of the potential health benefits of mixing up your meal plan and pulled together some top tips on how to do so.

Over half of Brits eat the same meals on rotation

Research has found that over half of Brits lack variety in their diet. In fact, many of us eat an average of just six different meals on a loop – with spaghetti bolognese, curry, and fish and chips coming out as firm favourites.

In the same breath, over a quarter of people admit that they’d like to add more variety to their meals but feel held back by barriers like budget, lack of time, and limited cooking skills.

What are the potential health benefits of adding more variety to your diet?

What are the potential health benefits of adding more variety to your diet

Adding variety to your diet can help you meet your body’s nutrient needs

Our bodies rely on a number of essential vitamins and minerals to function at their best. And eating a varied diet is one of the best ways to meet these nutritional needs.

For example, while mango, grapefruit, and watermelon are excellent sources of vitamin A, oranges, kiwi, and strawberries provide our daily dose of vitamin C. Similarly, all nuts offer a healthy dose of protein and fibre, but you can get more vitamin E from almonds, vitamin B6 from pistachios, and selenium from Brazil nuts.

A varied diet is beneficial for gut health

There are up to 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut, which is collectively known as the gut microbiome. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is important for our gut and our overall health.

For example, research suggests that imbalances in the gut microbiome may increase the risk of gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and depression. Eating a varied diet has been signposted as one of the most effective contributors to gut health.

This study found that people who regularly ate over 30 different types of plant foods per week had a more diverse and healthy gut microbiome than those who ate 10 or less types of plants per week. The researchers noted that plant foods may have the greatest influence on gut bacteria diversity, because the results were consistent among meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike.

Eating a varied diet may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for a combination of health factors that increase the risk of conditions like stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. This includes high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and excess fat around the tummy.

There’s evidence that adding more variety to your diet may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.

This study, which compared two groups of men and women aged between 40 and 69, found that people whose diets included a variety of foods (including fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and seafood) had a lower risk of metabolic syndrome.

Diet diversity may be linked with longevity

Since it may reduce the risk of disease, it stands to reason that eating a varied diet is linked with an overall lower risk of death.

This study of 59,000 women revealed that those who rotated 16 to 17 healthy foods in their diet had a 42% lower risk of death by all causes than those who ate between zero and eight healthy foods. Researchers of the study concluded that eating a variety of nutritious foods was just as important (if not more so) than restricting unhealthy foods.

One reason for this is the link between the gut microbiome and overall health. Research has increasingly found that a healthy gut can help to reduce the risk of various diseases – including diabetes and heart disease.

Eating a varied diet can improve mood

What we eat not only affects our physical health, but our mental wellbeing too. Studies have consistently found that eating healthy, varied diets can improve memory, concentration, optimism, and reduce the risk of conditions like depression.

Plus, health benefits aside, eating the same foods on rotation each week can be inevitably boring. And, a lack of excitement and inspiration around meals may increase the likelihood of food cravings and behaviours like mindless eating.

7 ways to add more variety to your diet

ways to add more variety to your diet

If you’d like to add more variety to your diet, below are some ideas to help you get started…

1. Eat the rainbow

Not only are colourful plates of food appealing, but they’re healthy too. Particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables, where colours vary a lot, eating the rainbow can be an effective way to make sure you’re getting a range of vitamins and minerals.

Check out our guide below for some ideas…

  • Red – such as cherries, radishes, cranberries, red apples, red peppers, tomatoes, and watermelon. These contain antioxidants like lycopene, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid which, among other things, research suggests may lower cholesterol and blood pressure and protect against heart disease.

  • Yellow – such as lemons, peaches, swede, sweetcorn, butternut squash, and honeydew melon. These contain carotenoids (strong antioxidants), which have been linked to various health benefits, including a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers.

  • Orange – such as mango, nectarines, pumpkin, orange peppers, and sweet potatoes. These are high in carotenoids (pigments which give colour to plant foods) and vitamin A which help us produce hormones and keep our eyes healthy.

  • Blue/purple – such as blueberries, blackberries, aubergine, red grapes, and red cabbage. These contain powerful antioxidants called anthocyanins, which help to protect cells from damage.

  • Green – such as apples, avocado, asparagus, celery, leeks, courgettes, kale, cabbage, and broccoli. These are rich in vitamins A, C, and folate, and may help to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, mental decline, and high blood pressure.

  • White/beige – such as bananas, garlic, mushrooms, onion, parsnips, and white peaches. These contain nutrients like potassium which our bodies rely on for healthy heart, kidney, and muscle function.

For more tips, check out our article; 10 simple ways to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet.

2. Try different world cuisines

Sampling different world cuisines can be a wonderful (and fun!) way to add more variety to your diet. Plus, many foreign cuisines are naturally healthier than typical Western diets, which can rely heavily on processed meat and refined carbohydrates.

For example, Asian cuisines tend to incorporate seafood and fermented foods; many Indian dishes include plenty of legumes and spices; and of course, the Mediterranean diet, frequently hailed the healthiest diet around, is rich in healthy fats and wholegrains.

Head over to the food and drink section of our website for inspiration. Here, you’ll find everything from Middle Eastern recipes to easy Mexican meals.

3. Remember that it doesn’t have to take lots of effort

If adding different foods to your diet feels like an effort to you, then healthy convenience foods – like pre-made salads, nut butters, stir-fry mixes, variety bean tins, and frozen fruit and vegetables packs – can make all the difference.

So, why not add one of these 10 healthy convenience foods to try from BBC Good Food to your weekly shop to get started?

Alternatively, if you’d like to bypass food shopping altogether, you could consider signing up to a food delivery service. This is a fantastic way to try new and interesting meals – and the ingredients are delivered straight to your door! Check out our article, 8 quick and easy recipe boxes, for inspiration.

4. Add extra ingredients to your meals

A simple way to improve diet variety is to make a habit of adding extra ingredients to your meals.

This could be as simple as topping your morning oats with a serving of mixed berries, adding a sprinkle of nuts and seeds to your lunchtime salad, or sneaking some extra vegetables into a pasta sauce.

You could also add herbs and spices to your meals. Not only will this add flavour, but many are packed with healthy nutrients too. For example, rosemary is a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C; and adding basil to meals can offer you an extra dose of vitamin K.

Have a read of this guide to cooking with herbs and spices from To Table for more ideas.

Add extra ingredients to your meals

5. Experiment with dairy-free alternatives

The popularity of dairy-free alternatives has skyrocketed in recent years. Many of these options are better for the environment, as well as being a useful way to add more variety to your diet.

For example, while cow’s milk is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D, dairy alternatives like almond milk, soya milk, and oat milk offer an added dose of fibre, iron, and various other vitamins and minerals.

For further reading, you might be interested in our articles; Dairy alternatives – tips for replacing milk, butter, cheese, and more and What are the pros and cons of different types of milk?

6. Consider eating with the seasons

Eating with the seasons can be a useful way to add more variety to your diet. Plus, fruit and vegetables that are in season often taste better, are more readily available, can be cheaper than out-of-season produce, and are more environmentally friendly.

For more information and tips about how to eat with the seasons, check out our article; What fruit and vegetables are in season now? Browsing your local farmers market, if you have one, can be a good place to start.

7. Plan ahead

Making last minute decisions on what to eat can naturally lead you to reach for things you’re familiar with. For this reason, it’s worth planning meals ahead of time, perhaps on a weekly basis.

Some people also like to save time by batch-cooking meals that they can freeze and use later. Check out our article, 15 freezeable recipes that make for easy meals later, for ideas.

Final thoughts…

Many of us are stuck in a pattern of eating the same foods on repeat. But research has consistently shown that there are many health benefits of making our diets more varied. So whether it’s eating the rainbow or trying different cuisines, why not try something new today?

For further reading, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from healthy diet tips to vitamin and mineral guides.

How do you add variety to your diet? Will you be making any changes to your diet after reading our article? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.