Research shows that picky eaters could be missing out on much more than a plate of broccoli.

By Marnie Schwartz
May 29, 2020
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Credit: JohnnyGreig/Getty

While it's common for kids to throw a fit over the idea of eating anything but fries or hot dogs, some people never grow out of being a picky eater. In fact, a survey of more than 1,300 adults showed that 18 percent of participants qualified as picky eaters. By being fussy over the food that's on your plate, rather than exploring different ingredients and flavors, you might be missing out some health benefits that make you healthier and stronger. Here's what you're missing out on as a picky eater, and how to break out of your shell.

You'll consume a lot more nutrients.

Embracing the exotic and ditching your picky-eater personality has immediate payoffs: Those who get excited about eating all kinds of foods tend to have diets that are richer in vitamins and minerals, science shows. In one study, people who were open to trying new foods consumed more protein, healthy fats, and magnesium than people who weren’t. Adventurous women also tend to eat 50 percent more vegetables, according to research from Finland.

To branch out in new food directions, order the tasting menus at restaurants, or buy something new to try every time you grocery shop. (Related: 5 Brilliant Ways to Get More Nutrients Out of Your Produce)

Your whole body will be healthier.

People who eat a wide variety of foods are less likely to suffer from damaging inflammation, and they also have better levels of cholesterol and omega-3s and a lower risk of diabetes and heart disease, compared with those who are less willing to try new dishes and ingredients, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found.

One possible explanation: Food lovers are more likely to eat fish and get a boost from its beneficial fatty acids, the researchers say. Picky eaters, take that as a sign to swap your weeknight chicken for salmon.

Your mood will be brighter.

Being open to all kinds of food experiences, rather than following your picky eater habits and sticking to a handful of foods, brings novelty into your every day. It’s easy to put the same breakfast or lunch on repeat, and many of us fall into that rut, says Sara Haas, R.D.N., a culinary dietitian and a cookbook author in Chicago. But when you start switching things up—having salad with your eggs at breakfast or soba noodles with shrimp for lunch—you get to enjoy interesting flavors, textures, and combinations of ingredients, including spices, which are loaded with antioxidants. (Not to mention, science says eating fruits and vegetables makes you happier, too.)

To make the most of it, engage your senses, says Haas. Before you dig in, pause to admire the colors. Be mindful of how the food tastes and smells. Once you start doing this, you may be inspired to cook more. This is the time to buy a cookbook for a cuisine you’ve always been curious about, like Middle Eastern or Vietnamese. (P.S. Mindful eating is a practice everyone can—and should—try.)

Your gut bugs get a boost.

Eating a variety of foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics is good for the beneficial gut bacteria that help keep us healthy, experts say. One exciting option for picky eaters to try: dragon fruit, which is packed with prebiotics that feed your gut bugs and help them thrive.

Shape Magazine, June 2020 issue

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