Dear Dietitian – What are the best diets?

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Published Thursday, January 16, 2020
PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
by Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

Dear Readers,

Now that we are getting settled into the new year, many of us are working on getting healthier. There is so much information about diets, sometimes it's hard to know what is really good for you. U.S. News rated 35 diets, and coming in first for overall health (not just weight loss) was the Mediterranean Diet; the Flexitarian and DASH Diets tied for second place. A panel of nutrition experts ranked the diets based on seven categories: how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease (1). 

Most of us have heard of the Mediterranean diet, but it was American scientist Ancel Keys who first correlated the diet with health benefits (2). It is a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil. Moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy serve as protein sources, but red meat is eaten no more than once a week. Red wine is allowed in moderation, as well as caffeine (3).

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It is low to moderate in fat and allows 6 oz meat per day. The DASH diet reduces salt to one teaspoon per day, or 2,300 mg. Keep in mind this includes the amount of salt already in the food before using the salt shaker. Studies have shown that it improves high blood pressure in as little as two weeks. Caffeine and alcohol are permitted in moderate amounts (4). 

Flexitarian combines the words flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined by dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, who published the first book on flexitarianism. It is basically a plant-based diet that allows limited amounts of fish and meat. Alcohol and caffeine are not restricted, but it's wise to use them in moderation (5). This diet is easy to follow and as the name implies, its ease lies in its flexibility.

The common thread throughout these diets is to eat more plant foods and less meat. Try to plan your meals around fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. For example, a whole wheat pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, herbs and seasonings, more veggies, and sprinkled with fresh parmesan cheese makes a delicious entree. Fresh fruit with a touch of whipped cream will satisfy your sweet tooth.

It takes conscious effort and planning to change your eating habits. When making a lifestyle change, give yourself at least 4-6 weeks to get accustomed to it. If you "fall off the horse," get back in the saddle. That's the only way you'll learn to ride.

Until, next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

References

  1. U.S. News Best Diets: how we rated 35 eating plans (2020, January 2). Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/how-us-news-ranks-best-diets
  2. Keys AB, Keys M. How to Eat Well and Stay Well, the Mediterranean Way. New York: Doubleday; 1975.
  3. Dash diet for health. Retrieved from https://dashdiet.org
  4. Mediterranean diet: a heart healthy eating plan. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eatin...
  5. Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: a review of the evidence-based literature. Frontiers in Nutrition 2016; 3:55

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at deardietitian411@gmail.com. Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.

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