Dear Dietician: Mediterranean tops ratings for the best diets

Leanne McCrate

Dear Readers,

Just in time for many New Year’s resolutions, the US News and World Report has ranked the best diets.

Coming in first for overall health (not just weight loss) was the Mediterranean Diet; the Flexitarian and DASH Diets tied for second place.

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

A panel of nutrition experts ranked the diets based on seven categories: how easy it is to follow, the ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, nutritional completeness, safety, and their potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease (1).

Most of us have heard of the Mediterranean diet, but American scientist Ancel Keys 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 and caffeine are allowed in moderation (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 six ounces of meat a day. The DASH diet reduces salt to one teaspoon per day (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 the DASH diet improves high blood pressure in two short weeks. Caffeine and alcohol are permitted in moderate amounts (4).

The term flexitarian (flexible and vegetarian) was coined by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. It is 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 prudently (5). This diet is easy to follow, and as the name implies, its ease lies in its flexibility.

The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) came in fourth place and has been shown in studies to slow cognitive decline. This diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, nuts, and berries, and beans. Poultry, fish, and beans are the main protein sources.  Olive oil replaces butter and margarine. One glass of wine may be enjoyed each day. Sweets, cheese, and red meat are limited, and fried food is highly discouraged.

All of these diets are good choices for better health in 2022. 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. US News Best Diets: how we rated 35 eating plans (2022, January 4). 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-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
  5. Derbyshire EJ. Flexitarian diets and health: a review of the evidence-based literature. Frontiers in Nutrition 2016; 3:55

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, 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.