Health Professional Corner
Variety and diversity of foods and beverages
Professor Lluís Serra-Majem, Professor of Preventative Medicine and Public Health at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain.
Eating a variety of foods is essential to achieve adequate nutrient needs and in general is correlated with better nutrition. Moreover, assuring dietary variety also contributes to the physiological dimension of eating since it enhances the pleasure of doing so (Nicklaus, 2008). But should there be a limit to the number of choices and is more choice always desirable? In general, variety stimulates greater levels of consumption of both food and beverages (Hutchinson, 2003), but evidence is scarce about the limit of where an excess of variety stimulates overeating or overdrinking. An increased variety of food supply may contribute to the development and maintenance of obesity particularly in children and young adults (Raynor and Epstein, 2001). On the other hand, decreased dietary variety among older individuals may increase the risk of weight loss.
Is drinking a variety of beverages good or bad? The answer depends on how the variety is defined and the outcome of interest (Kennedy, 2004).
Hydration is an important aspect of nutrition but the concepts applied to food variety and diversity may not be useful for hydration and liquid intake guidelines. Plain water should be the main source of liquid intake in humans, but the variety of colours and flavours of other beverages have been shown to clearly increase liquid intake and improve hydration status, particularly in the elderly (Ferry, 2005); in addition, it may also contribute to enhancing micronutrient intake. However this may also lead to an overconsumption of sugars and calories from liquids. We clearly need a balance between water and energy expenditure and intake, and professionals should be aware of how to manage this emerging area of health promotion.
• Ferry M. Strategies for ensuring good hydration in the elderly. Nutr Rev. 2005;63(6): S22-9
• Hutchinson JMC. Is more choice always desirable? Evidence and arguments from leks, food selection, and environmental enrichment. Biol Resv 2005;80:73-92.
• Kennedy E. Dietary diversity, diet quality, and Body weight regulation. Nutr Rev 2004;62(7):S78-S81.• Nicklaus S. Development of food variety in children. Appetite 2009;52:253-255.
• Raynor HA, Epstein LH. Dietary variety, energy regulation, and obesity. Psychol Bull 2001;127(3):325-341.