Have you ever gone on a diet? If you have, you're not alone! You and
45 million of your closest friends go on a diet each year. Americans spend
about $33 billion on weight loss products, yet two-thirds of adults are
still overweight or obese.
Diet is one of the most important influences on health. Optimal eating
is associated with increased life expectancy and dramatic reduction in
lifetime risk of all chronic disease.
There are dozens of types of diets, including low-carb, high-protein, vegetarian/vegan,
paleo, formal programs such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, raw foods,
In part one of this series, we looked at which of the popular diets seem
to produce the best and healthiest results. In part two, we'll dive into these diets a little further and figure
out what we should (and shouldn't) be eating.
Vegetarians tend to have lower body weight, suffer less from disease and have a longer
life expectancy. Most vegetarian diets are low in or devoid of animal
products. They’re also usually lower than nonvegetarian diets in
saturated fat and
cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity,
coronary heart disease (which causes
high blood pressure,
diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.
Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they’re carefully planned
to include essential nutrients. However, a vegetarian diet can be unhealthy
if it contains too many calories and/or saturated fat and not enough important
High-protein diets include popular diets such as Atkins, South Beach, and Zone. While high-protein
diets can help preserve lean body mass during weight loss, they can pose
a potential acid load to the kidneys. If you are on a
high-proten diet, you are advised to choose the source of your protein carefully, including
plant-based sources in addition to foods of animal origin. Many red meats,
eggs and dairy products contain high levels of saturated fats and cholesterol,
which puts consumers at higher risk for heart disease, hyperlipidemia
paleo diet, the idea is to eat like a cave man or woman. It includes grass-fed
meat, fresh seafood, fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, nut seeds, and healthful
oils. You'll avoid cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars,
potatoes, processed foods, and refined vegetable oils.
Mediterranean diet is characterized by cooking style in countries that border the Mediterranean
Sea. It includes the use of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish and whole
grains, and limits unhealthy fats. According to Mayo Clinic, research
has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of
heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized
low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the "bad"
cholesterol that's more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan is designed to help you manage blood pressure. Emphasizing
healthy food sources, it also limits red meat, sodium (salt), sweets,
added sugars and sugar-containing beverages. In addition to being easy
to follow, delicious and varied, the DASH eating plan is proven effective.
On the DASH diet, you will eat fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, low-fat
dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical
Which one is best?
It depends. Every diet has pros and cons. Are you looking to...
- Lose or gain weight
- Prevent illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes
- Be more healthy overall
- Protect animals/have a smaller environmental footprint
There is no one perfect diet. A healthy, sustainable eating plan has several
- Primarily whole foods from nature, not processed foods
- Primarily plants
- Animal foods that are themselves the products of pure plant foods
This means a diet consisting of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, soy,
and grass-fed poultry or meat. Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets have
a lot of these components and are supported by research.
Healthy eating includes lots of different kinds of food. It should allow
room for your favorite foods in reasonable portions and should be a sustainable
way of eating, without being a fad diet. Most of us don't eat enough
fruits, vegetables, dairy and oils. We eat diets that are too high in
total grain and protein, with too much added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium.
The Bottom Line
A healthy eating pattern accounts for all foods and beverages within an
appropriate calorie level:
vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans
and peas), starchy, and other veggies
Fruits, especially whole fruits
Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
Fat-free or low-fat
dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
A variety of
protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans
and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
Limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars
- Consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats
- Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium
- If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to
one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men
About half of all American adults—117 million individuals—have
one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to
poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. These include cardiovascular
disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor
Want to start eating better? Make small incremental changes, rather than
trying to change everything about your current diet. Try adding a
serving of plant-based foods to one or more meals a day. Replace unhealthy oils with a healthy alternative, such as
olive oil. Have
fruit for dessert. Learn what
portion sizes actually look like. You're probably eating a lot more than you realize!
Not sure how much you eat or if you get enough healthy foods? Keep a food
diary for a week.
Still need help? Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist/dietitian who can
help you develop a sustainable, healthy eating plan.