Hot new diet trends come and go. Most of the diets people adopt for weight loss aren’t nutritionally balanced or sustainable. Thankfully, the concept of “dieting” is becoming less popular and more people are looking for eating plans that help with weight control but also promote wellness – and that’s a step in the right direction.
Around this time of year, dieticians get together and rank the healthiest diets for the upcoming 12 months. They base their choices on how well each helps with short-term and long-term weight loss, how it impacts overall health, and how easy it is to follow. You can bet such faddish diets as the cookie diet, the tapeworm diet, or the baby food diet won’t make the list. Yes, these were fad diets in the not too distant past. So, what makes the list of healthy diets this year?
2016 Healthiest Diet
Drum roll, please. What’s the healthiest diet for 2016? The DASH eating plan. If you aren’t familiar, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, but DASH isn’t just an eating plan for people with high blood pressure. It embodies many of the attributes you want in a healthy, weight control eating plan. To adhere to the DASH-style of eating you would:
. Cut back on sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages
. Consume moderate amounts of low-fat dairy (2-3 servings daily)
. Eat more fruits and vegetables (5 or more servings daily)
. Limit the amount of sodium in your diet (less than 2,300 milligrams daily)
. Consume more whole grain foods
. Replace red meat with fish and poultry. (No more than 2 servings a day)
No wonder dieticians love it! The DASH diet offers lots of variety, emphasizes whole foods, and limits the amount of sugar and sodium in your diet. If you have mild high blood pressure, adopting a DASH diet may be enough to bring your blood pressure back into normal range. People who start this diet see a reduction in blood pressure in as little as two weeks. Nice bonus, huh?
So, if you want a dietician-approved diet, DASH is numero uno. What else made the list? The dieticians ranked a total of 38 diets, let’s look at the ones at the top of the list.
The MIND Diet and the TLC Diet
Falling closely behind the DASH diet, is the MIND diet, which stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. There’s that DASH component again! This diet is a slight modification of the DASH diet with an emphasis on lowering the risk for brain and nervous system diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, particularly Alzheimer’s. It combines the best “brain friendly” foods of the DASH diet and another diet that made the list, the Mediterranean diet.
Like the DASH diet, the MIND diet is focused around unprocessed foods with an emphasis on foods that promote brain health – veggies, berries, fish, nuts, certain fruits, and olive oil. Interestingly, a study showed that participants who followed the MIND diet reduced their risk for Alzheimer’s by 53%. You have to love that!
The MIND diet tied with another diet for second place, one you may not be familiar with called the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet or TLC. The purpose of this diet is to lower the risk for heart disease and reduce cholesterol, but, in a study, it also led to weight loss – a total of 20 pounds over 6 months. The core of this diet is on eating less meat and full-fat dairy, both sources of saturated fat.
A 4-Way Tie
Next on the list was a dead heat – a four-way tie between four diets – Weight Watchers, the Fertility Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, and the Mediterranean diet. You’re probably already familiar with Weight Watchers, a diet plan based on a point system to help control the quantity of food you eat. Unfortunately, the Weight Watcher’s plan doesn’t always emphasize whole foods, instead focusing more on watching your portions via a point system.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is also highly regarded by dieticians due to its emphasis on adopting a healthier lifestyle. With this diet, you’re encouraged to trade in five unhealthy habits for five healthy ones and the focus is on exercise as well as nutrition. What weight control plan would be complete without exercise?
Another diet called the Fertility Diet was head-to-head with the Mayo Clinic diet and Weight Watcher’s among dieticians. Although this diet wasn’t developed specifically for weight loss, it’s supposed to help with fertility, and the emphasis is on eating healthy fats, more plant-based protein, and whole grains while reducing processed carbs and red meat. According to a study, following this plan increases the chance of ovulating successfully to allow a pregnancy to occur. Apparently, it’s also effective for weight control.
Finally, in a dead heat with Weight Watchers, Mayo Clinic diet, and the Fertility diet is another highly regarded eating plan – the Mediterranean diet. Like the DASH diet, this diet plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and fish and de-emphasizes red meat.
The main difference between the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet is the Mediterranean diet is higher in total fat from heart-healthy sources like nuts and olive oil and doesn’t restrict sodium intake. Both diets are high in fiber.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for an eating plan that has the most research support, you can’t do better than the DASH or Mediterranean diet. Studies show that both diets lower blood pressure, reduce the risk for heart disease, and reduce mortality. In general, any diet that’s centered around whole foods without added sugar has something going for it. However, you structure your diet, make sure it contains all of the macronutrients you need and offers enough variety to be sustainable.
Science Alert. “Dietitians, nutritionists, and psychologists have ranked the best diets of 2016”
FamilyDoctor.org: “The DASH Diet: Healthy Eating to Control Your Blood Pressure”
N Engl J Med 2001; 344:3-10.