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Research Reveals Humans Have "Nutritional Wisdom" — Here's What That Means

Image by Julia Volk / Stocksy
April 29, 2022

Making positive choices with your eating habits is one of the essential pillars for supporting a well-rounded lifestyle, but sometimes it can feel like picking the healthiest ingredients is a struggle. What if we told you creating nutritious food pairings is actually second nature if you listen to your body?

A new study1 has revealed that humans, along with animals, have something called "nutritional wisdom," which essentially means we have the ability to intuitively choose our meals based on their nutritional value and variety, even if we're not aware of that information. A diverse diet helps properly nourish our bodies, so trusting your gut when building your meals may actually be all it takes to eat healthy. But what does this really mean?

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What is a nutritional pairing?

When putting together the components of a healthful meal, you'll want to consume an array of nutrients that can bolster your health and well-being. While some foods are rich in the same micronutrients (you know, vitamins and minerals), others create a more varied meal, and the study revealed that humans are naturally more inclined to reach for a pairing whose nutritional values complement one another. 

"After comparing choices across many food pairs, we find an independent and subtle tendency to select combinations that are predicted by micronutrient content, even after accounting for a basic tendency to favor variety over monotony," the study authors write.

The logistics of the study.

The research consisted of two different studies: In both, adults selected one of two pairs of fruits and vegetables. So while this might not relate to your choice between a bag of chips and an apple, the results spoke to our natural instincts to optimally nourish our bodies.

"Nutrient excess is avoided," the study revealed of participants' food pairing choices, "Which provides further evidence that micronutrients impact everyday dietary decisions." The researchers also compared these results to data from a large national nutrition survey in the UK—where they observed a similar pattern.

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The limitations.

The study authors acknowledge that some nutrients may have a stronger pull than others: "With a stimulus as sensorially rich as food, it is also reasonable to postulate that micronutrient density correlates with some other food attribute, such as a basic taste, which itself determines preference." However, the researchers do clarify that they only intended on proving that humans have the capability to choose their foods based on their nutritional value, not determine to what extent this occurs.

The bottom line.

Listening to your body when deciding what to munch on can be a healthy approach to fueling with adequate energy, and this study provides further evidence that you can actually trust yourself to opt for the nutritional pairings most beneficial to your individual needs. 

Diversifying your diet is one of the best ways to get the nutrients you need, but if you find yourself struggling to eat a lot of fruit or vegetable goodness every day, mbg's organic veggies+ is another asset that can provide a good source of prebiotic fiber, promote a healthy gut microbiome, and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.*

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Merrell Readman
Merrell Readman
mbg Associate Food & Health Editor

Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.