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Variety may be vice of dieter's life, says study

TUESDAY, June 12, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The more isn't the merrier when it comes to food. If you've got variety on your plate, you're probably going to eat too much, say University of Buffalo scientists.

Analyzing 58 dietary studies of people and animals who were offered mostly caloric, energy-dense foods, the researchers found that the more choices people and animals have at mealtimes, the more likely they are to overeat, sometimes by large amounts.

"It seems that if you have more variety [of foods], you don't get as tired of any one thing, and you eat beyond what your body requires to meet its needs," says University of Buffalo psychologist and study co-author Hollie A. Raynor.

The study, which was co-authored by Leonard H. Epstein of Buffalo's Department of Pediatrics, appears in the current Psychological Bulletin, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

The studies involved largely palatable, high-calorie foods like sausage, chocolates and cheese sandwiches, so subjects gained more weight than if the foods had been fruits and vegetables, which "wouldn't have the same effect on weight," Raynor says.

But, she says, because the American diet leans heavily towards sweets and high-fat foods, likes those in the studies, her findings could explain one reason for the rise in obesity in this country, along with super-size servings in restaurants and the country's sedentary lifestyle.

"These are all environmental causes for obesity," she says.

Obesity is a major health problem in the United States today, with three of five adults either overweight or obese, says a new report from the Rand Institute. Obesity is associated with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other problems.

Raynor reviewed studies in which consumption comparisons were made between offerings of only one food and as many as four foods at one meal.

In one study, participants were given four choices of food at one sitting -- sausages, bread and butter, chocolate dessert and bananas. People who ate the four foods consumed 44 percent more than those offered only one food.

"Not in every single case, but in the vast majority of cases, when you offered a variety of diet, you increased consumption … and body weight … compared to when there was a lack of variety," she says.

Offering a variety of different kinds of foods seems to keep us from tiring of the taste of food and feeling full, she says.

People with a lot of food choices, appear to eat more even if they're no longer hungry, she says. "They'll say, 'It looks interesting, I'll try that.'"

Differing food flavors, texture, color and even shape, like different varieties of pasta, keep people nibbling, she says. When foods are more similar, like different flavors of yogurt, for instance, consumption doesn't go up.

"It's true," says Cathy Nonas, director of the VanItallie Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. "Even though variety is the spice of life, and people need to eat different foods, it is much easier to eat a larger amount when you have a variety of food."

Raynor suggests limiting the variety to keep from overeating.

"Limit the variety of energy-dense foods you have in the house. If you like potato chips, ice cream and chocolate, only have one at home," she says.

What To Do

For information about obesity, visit the National Institutes of Health. Take a test to see if you're ready to lose weight by going to Weight Watchers.

HealthDay, too, has a number of articles about obesity.

SOURCES: Interviews with Hollie A. Raynor, M.S., R.D., Department of Psychology, University of Buffalo, N.Y.; Cathy Nonas, R.D., director VanItallie Center for Nutrition and Weight Management, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, N.Y., N.Y.; May 2001 Psychological Bulletin, journal of the American Psychological Association
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