Healthy diets correlate with longer lifespans and lower risk for chronic conditions, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Some diets may be best suited for specific health conditions. For example, a clinical trial found that both the ketogenic and Mediterranean diets reduce blood sugar levels and triglycerides in patients with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Other diets may be suitable for general health. A study from 2022 found that diets low in animal protein and high in complex carbohydrates are most beneficial for long-term health and lifespan.
Increasing public awareness of different diets could improve public health.
Recently, U.S. News & World Report released its ranking for the best diets of 2023. A panel of health experts, including nutritionists and doctors specializing in diabetes, heart health, and weight loss, compiled the list. The diets were selected for their.
Medical News Today spoke with multiple experts in the nutrition space to understand more about diets.
U.S. News & World Report consecutively ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 for six years. With an overall score of 4.6/ 5, it received a score of 4.2/ 5 for weight loss and 4.6 for healthiness.
To understand why this diet reached the number one spot, MNT spoke with Prof. Joanna K Hodges, Ph.D., Assistant Teaching Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Pennsylvania State University, not involved in the ranking. Prof. Hodges said.
“The Mediterranean Diet became popular in [the] 1990s after the publication of a study by Ancel Keys and colleagues, who discovered that those who follow the traditional diet of the Mediterranean region, which includes high intakes of seasonally fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and moderate intake of wine, had very low rates of chronic disease.”
Jamie Nadeau, a registered dietitian nutritionist who was not involved in the ranking, said:
“Research has consistently shown that the Mediterranean diet is a great eating pattern to lower your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Because it’s so heavily plant-based, it’s also a great diet to promote good gut health. [There’s a lot] of great research to back up the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but one of the best parts about it is that it’s flexible.”
“Most of your favorite meals and foods can easily be transformed to be Mediterranean diet-friendly because there aren’t any foods that are completely off-limits. Because it’s so flexible, it’s more likely that someone will be able to stick to it consistently- and that’s the key to healthy eating!” Nadeau added.
“The Mediterranean diet encourages you to eat less animal foods, more fruits and vegetables, more legumes, and more healthy fats. Even if you don’t embrace the full Mediterranean diet, any step in that direction will be beneficial for your health, because it encourages so many nutrient-dense and health-promoting foods,” she noted.
The DASH diet ranked second place with an overall score of 4.4, 4.4 for weight loss, and 4.5 for healthiness. The Flexitarian diet came third, with an overall score of 4.4, a weight loss score of 4.2, and a healthiness score of 4.3.
To understand more about the diets, MNT spoke with Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., MPH, R.D., assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of “Recipe for Survival.” Dr. Hunnes noted that the DASH diet- which stands for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet’- is a more plant-based version of the Mediterranean diet.
“It too focuses on whole, unprocessed foods, but it also recommends foods low/lower in sodium- such as most unprocessed foods- and higher in potassium. Americans, on average, do not eat nearly enough potassium but too much sodium. The health benefits of the DASH diet are well researched and are known to lower blood pressure sometimes as much as medication,” noted Dr. Hunnes.
“The Flexitarian diet takes it one step even further. It doesn’t have the same focus on unprocessed foods as the Mediterranean or DASH diet, but it does focus heavily on being mostly plant-based, while allowing flexibility in eating animal products. In some ways, it can be healthier than either Med or DASH- especially if someone goes unprocessed and plant-based most of the time- but it can be less healthy if they are eating more processed foods,” she added.
When asked how the DASH and Flexitarian diets differ from the Mediterranean diet, Michelle Routhenstein, R.D. CDE CDN, Heart Health Dietitian at Entirely Nourished, not involved in the ranking, told MNT.
“The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are quite similar in food groups, but the Mediterranean diet emphasizes heart-healthy fats and drinking red wine in moderation.”
“The Flexitarian diet differs from the Mediterranean diet in that it focuses mainly on eating nutrient-dense plant protein, with the occasional fish and meat intake,” she added.
Altogether, the researchers ranked 24 diets. After DASH and Flexitarian diets, the MIND diet ranked in fourth place. The MIND diet is a mix of DASH and Mediterranean diets with foods that emphasize brain health.
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet came in at No. 5. The TLC diet aims to reduce cholesterol levels by limiting meat consumption and increasing the consumption of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
The Mayo Clinic Diet and the Volumetrics Diet are tied at No. 6. The Mayo Clinic diet is a 12-week program that aims to establish healthy habits for life, such as increased fruit and vegetable intake.
Meanwhile, the Volumetrics Diet emphasizes nutrient-dense, low calorie foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy.
The Weight Watchers diet came in at number 8 and focuses on healthy fats, proteins, and fibers. Dr. Weil’s Anti-inflammatory Diet came in at No. 9. It is based on the Mediterranean diet, although includes some extra items such as green tea and dark chocolate.
The Ornish Diet came in 10th place. This diet emphasizes the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, unprocessed foods, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
“When it comes to choosing the healthiest diet for you, the most important piece is sustainability and consistency. If you can’t follow a diet consistently, it doesn’t matter how research-backed the diet is. I encourage anyone reading these recommendations to decide which diet makes the most sense for them and their family so that they can make consistent healthy changes,” said Nadeau.
“Another thing to keep in mind is that the Mediterranean diet, the Flexitarian diet, and the DASH diet all have lots of things in common: more fruits and veggies, less saturated fat via animal foods, more healthy fats like olive oil, more legumes, and more whole grains. Even if you don’t fully adapt to one of the diets, those are all great habits that you can start working on that will be beneficial to your health,” she noted.
“The takeaway here is: you don’t have to follow any of these diets perfectly, but bringing even some of these healthy eating habits into your life consistently will have a positive impact on your health,” she concluded.
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