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Adult picky eating

Adult picky eating – is it bad for your health?

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There’s no shortage of ideas and advice for parents with children that are fussy eaters, but what about when it’s no longer “just a phase” and the fussy eater in question is an adult?

There is very limited research around adults that only consume a limited range of foods, often avoid unfamiliar foods, or reject of foods based on sensory characteristics including texture and appearance.  These fussy, or picky, eaters also tend to stick to bland, heavily processed foods with little nutritional value.

There are a range of theories around why some adults have picky eating habits - some experts theorise it stems back from childhood, for example, being forced to eat foods or experiencing conflict around the table, while others suggest it may have something to do with sensory issues.                                 

So, is it really a big deal?

Being fussy around food isn’t necessarily an issue –provided your limited repertoire includes a mix of wholegrains, cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits and lean protein (for example, eggs or meat), there’s not a  huge risk of vitamin or nutrient deficiencies even if you don’t have a huge range of these foods you’ll consume.  

If, for example, your diet was limited to a specific but high quality cereal with milk each morning, followed by a sandwich at lunch made with a wholegrain bread, and a piece of fruit, then steak and two veg at dinner - even if those vegetables are limited to a rotation of three or four choices of different colours; then you are consuming a range of nutrients.

Where fussy eating could see you running into long term health trouble however, is when the limited foods that are consumed are not nutritious or don’t incorporate enough variety or food groups – or if your picky eating habits are causing you emotional distress or social issues.

Variety offers the most value

Tracie Hyam, accredited nutritionist, says food variety is the key to obtaining adequate nutrients needed for overall health.  “Experimenting with new flavours, textures, cuisines and tastes is very important as it encourages and develops a well-rounded pleasure for eating and further social inclusion.”

She says many chronic conditions are associated with diets excluding certain nutrients from foods.

“A long term lack of calcium and vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis; a long term lack of Vitamin C may increase inflammation and long term lack of fibre and over- consumption of sugars can lead to problems affect the health of the bowels, heart and glucose metabolism – just to name a few!” Tracie says.

What can you do if you’re fussy about food?

Step one is talking to your GP- if you are deficient in key nutrients, there are long term health risks and pending a blood test, your GP may recommend supplementation.

You may also benefit speaking to a counsellor or psychologist if your fussiness with food is causing emotional distress, or you believe they may be able to help you address the cause.

Tracie also recommends you start small – include a small portion of a new food to your plate each day and eventually work up so that you include a new food each meal. “If you’re unfamiliar with a type of food and would like to taste-test before buy, shop at your local fresh markets where they’ll often be happy to give you a taste.”

She suggests not giving up on the first bite when trialling new foods. “It may take a few time of exposure to it or have the food prepared in a different way before you will appreciate it.  If fear of the preparation is a restricting factor for eating certain foods, search the net and you’ll find wealth of information about how to prepare certain foods.”

Last but not least? A qualified naturopath, nutritionist or dietician may be able to help with building a range of menus and meal ideas that will meet your nutritional needs.