If I had a nickel for every time I was asked that question, well I probably would have retired already. It is far and away the question I am asked most frequently. It’s not that I don’t understand why, I am a dietitian, so I should be able to direct people to a good diet, right? The problem is that there are many reasonable diets out there.
Dr. David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, said it best in a recent Webinar I watched. He said that the most beneficial diet seems to be the overlapping of a few different ones.
Basically, what he’s getting at is that there might not be a single right answer to the question. What I’m going to attempt to do is to try to break down what I consider the best diets out there. Then, you can decide which one (or more) suits you and your lifestyle.
- Paleo – I’ve been getting tons of questions about this one lately. It doesn’t work well for me because I would not give up pasta. But, here’s the basic idea: eat like the cavemen. This diet consists mostly of fish, grass-fed meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts. Sounds pretty good so far, right? The diet excludes processed grains, beer, processed food of any kind, and bean and legumes. *Cue record screeching sound* No beans or legumes? I was with you until then. Beans and legumes are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, are high in magnesium, potassium, and iron, and are a good source of protein and fiber. I don’t get it…
- Low-fat and vegetarian (i.e. Dean Ornish) – This one has solid principles about limiting fat in your diet. It’s a low fat, high-fiber, vegetarian diet. I can’t argue with that line of thinking. However, the diet excludes high fat plant foods like avocado, nuts, and seeds. I disagree with this guideline of the diet, I think there is a solid place in a healthy diet for plant foods containing healthy fats.
- Eco-Atkins – This diet is rich in plant-based proteins, low starch vegetables, and healthy fats. It eliminates any starchy food like white bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, or baked goods.
- Low glycemic index/load diet (i.e. South Beach) – The diet is based on using a GI scale and consuming mostly those foods with a low GI. GI (pronounced like GI Joe) means how long something takes to be absorbed in your body. Therefore, foods with a lower GI take longer to absorb and help you feel fuller. Most foods, not all, on the lower end of the scale tend to be healthier.
- DASH – This stands for Dietary Approaches for Stopping Hypertension (blood pressure). The diet emphasizes portion size, variety, and reduction in sodium intake. High fiber grains, lots of vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, seeds, legumes, and healthy fats are part of this diet.
- Portfolio – This diet targets lowering cholesterol. Therefore, it logically focuses on cholesterol-lowering foods. Some of the foods included are soy, lots of fiber (up to 75 grams/day – eeek!… locate the nearest potty), plant sterol enriched margarine, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
- Mediterranean (My fave!) – If you love food, this diet is by far the most palatable of them all. The diet is primarily plant-based – meaning it focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and lean poultry, with red wine optional. It limits salt, red meat, saturated fats, and processed food.
There are plenty of books, articles, and web sites devoted to each of these diets. I did not do any of them justice in my short recap of their attributes. Therefore, I encourage you to learn more about them from unbiased reputable sources and find one (or more) that meet your needs.
What are your favorite dietary principles?