Who’s Healthier: 'Foodies' or Picky Eaters?

Amanda Chan

How many of these foods have you eaten? Clockwise from upper right: Seitan, rabbit, beef tongue, and polenta. (Photos: Flickr/Hedonistin, Flickr/Akiko Ogata, Istock)

Food lovers may seem like the type who should watch their weight, but a new study suggests people who enjoy trying new and exciting foods may actually be healthier than those who are more picky.

Research published in the journal Obesity shows that these so-called “food neophiles” tend to have lower body mass indices (BMI, a ratio of height to weight) than less-adventurous eaters. And not only that, but they are also more likely than nonadventurous eaters to call themselves healthy eaters, work out, be concerned about the healthfulness of the food they consume, have their friends over for dinner, and cook with the purpose of connecting with their heritage.

The study included 502 women, who completed a survey on foods they’ve consumed (including more “uncommon” foods like seitan, beef tongue, rabbit, and polenta), as well as their lifestyle habits. 

“These findings are important to dieters because they show that promoting adventurous eating may provide a way for people — especially women — to lose or maintain weight without feeling restricted by a strict diet,” study researcher Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the Food and Brand Lab at the university, said in a statement. “Instead of sticking with the same boring salad, start by adding something new. It could kickstart a more novel, fun, and healthy life of food adventure.”

Indeed, for people who are trying to shed pounds, being open to trying new foods could help them avoid getting stuck in a food rut — which ultimately could help with their weight-loss goals, says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet, who was not involved in the study.

“When people are trying to lose weight but they stick to the same foods, eventually they get bored with that. And when they get bored, they go back to some of their foods that they shouldn’t be eating, and they may tend to overeat,” Gans tells Yahoo Health. 

A dieter could get bored pretty quickly of grilled chicken and vegetables day in and day, out for instance. But if you’re “trying a fish you’ve never heard of, with spices you’ve never heard of, and trying these vegetables with new grains you’ve never heard of, then you wouldn’t get bored, and it would be easier to stay on track” with your healthy eating plan, she says.

However, she makes a point to note that in the study, the adventurous eaters were also more likely to work out, cook at home, and be concerned about the healthfulness of their food — which are all positive for health. Research suggests that people who cook at home tend to consume fewer calories and eat healthier food, for instance.

So the study is not showing that “if I’m more adventurous, then I’ll be thinner,” she says — rather, the adventurousness and healthy lifestyle factors likely all play a role in the foodies’ lower weight. Plus, she notes, it’s important to keep in mind that even if you’re an adventurous eater, if you don’t pay attention to portion sizes, your weight will likely still suffer.

Some past research suggests willingness to try new foods could have to do, to some extent, with genes. A 2013 study also published in the journal Obesity showed that 72 percent of a child’s avoidance of trying new foods (called “food neophobia”) is associated with genes, while the other 28 percent has to do with environment, the Huffington Post reported.