Live Better

Why variety really is the spice of life

A colourful, diverse dinner plate really is the key to wellbeing, Professor Clare Collins explains.

Colourful vegetables ready for cooking

No doubt you’ve heard the phrase ‘variety is the spice of life.’ It’s more than just a saying – apply this to foods you usually eat, and research shows that those who have the most variety within key food groups have better health and wellbeing, and also live longer.

What is food variety?

Food variety is determined by the number of different healthy foods you eat at least once a week. These foods are found within the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating core food groups and include vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, dairy, lean sources of protein and vegetarian protein alternatives.

More variety within each of these groups also means an overall healthier diet, including higher intakes of fibre, vitamins (B, C, folate), minerals (iron, zinc, calcium) and phytonutrients needed for health and body functions, including metabolism, growth, repair and fighting disease.

The scientific evidence

Scientific studies show that higher food variety scores are associated with a range of health benefits, especially as you age. These include less weight gain and greater success with weight loss, lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, lower risk of metabolic syndrome, lower risk of heart disease and a longer life expectancy.

Interestingly, the research shows these relationships are often stronger in men. This may be partly due to genetics, and partly because men are more likely to have a poorer diet quality compared to women. This means it’s even more important for men to be aware of healthy food variety and what changes they can make to improve their diet.

“At meals, cover half your plate with vegetables and salad, one-quarter with lean meat or vegetarian protein, and one-quarter wholegrains or starchy vegetables.”

How to improve your diet variety

Here are a few simple ideas to try:

• Plan weekly meals and snacks to include different fresh, canned and frozen vegetables, fruit, or legumes.

• Every week, buy one or two fruits or vegetables that you didn’t buy the week before.

• Boost protein variety at lunch.

• Cook one meat-free meal each week. Try red lentil spaghetti bolognaise with spiralised zucchini.

• Spend time in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes and ingredients.

• Keep a bowl of fruit and some nuts within sight for quick, healthy snacks.

• At meals, cover half your plate with vegetables and salad, one-quarter with lean meat or vegetarian protein (tofu, legumes such as dried or canned peas, beans or lentils) and one-quarter wholegrains or starchy vegetables (sweet potato, peas, corn).

• Boost dairy variety by trying a range of yoghurts and different types of milk blended with fresh or frozen fruit. Freeze mango flesh and blend with skim milk or try a frozen banana and berries blended with soy milk.

What’s the quality of your diet?

To rate your diet quality and receive feedback on your score, try the free online Healthy Eating Quiz developed by the University of Newcastle. To improve your score, boost the range of vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried beans, fruit, wholegrains, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and dairy products you usually have.

For more on healthy eating and increasing your food variety, contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Latest Articles


Zesty lemon grilled calamari with garlic recipe

Deliciously fresh and light, perfect for summer feasts.

Read more

Fun ways to get kids to eat more vegetables

Child nutritionist Mandy Sacher shares some ideas.

Read more

Chicken teriyaki in arrowroot wraps recipe

A deliciously light twist on a family favourite.

Read more

Burnt sage breakfast hash recipe

A fragrant veggie breakfast, perfect served up with eggs.

Read more

Miso maple greens recipe

A flavoursome way to eat your greens.

Read more

Satay salmon with crunchy cucumber and herb salad recipe

The perfect blend of fresh, juicy and creamy flavours.

Read more

Delicious and healthy party food ideas

Dietitian Anika Rouf shares some scrumptious ideas.

Read more

Baby broad bean and pea salad recipe

Green goodness tossed with ginger, lemon and vinegar.

Read more
youtubeui-checkbox-tickui-checkbox-emptyui-checkbox-crosstwitterui-checkbox-tickWellbeing and mindfulness 1Physical Health 1Positive psychology 101 1Wellbeing and mindfulness 4All about gut health 1Understanding Genetics 4Planning for Pregnancy 2During Pregnancy 3The mind-gut connection 4The mind-gut connection 1New Parents 3Page 1Group 10During Pregnancy 2Page 1Physical Health 2Planning for Pregnancy 1Positive psychology 101 1Positive psychology 101 4Planning for Pregnancy 4Understanding Genetics 1Physical Health 4Planning for Pregnancy 3Nutrition 4New Parents 1New Parents 3 CopyMovement for your mind 4Wellbeing and mindfulness 2Nutrition 2sob-icon__mind-bodysob-icon__man-with-laptopAll about gut health 2Positive psychology 101 3Positive psychology 101 2Physical Health 3Wellbeing and mindfulness 3All about gut health 3genetics-changing-what-your-givenUnderstanding Genetics 2During Pregnancy 1Movement for your mind 2Movement for your mind 1Movement for your mind 3During Pregnancy 4