Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health?
Over the past few decades, it has been reported that a lifestyle pattern of poor dietary choices is linked to a growing disparity between life span (longevity) and health span, defined as years of healthy life. Globally, lifestyle-related chronic diseases constitute an enormous and growing burden of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, all of which involve diet in some manner.
What are these dietary patterns that often claim successes over another pattern? This comparison offers a brief description of each pattern as well as the rationale for the claims.
|Dietary Pattern||Primary Characteristics||Rationale|
|Low Carbohydrate||Restriction of total carbohydrate to less than 45% calories
High protein or either animal or plant origin
|Has recent and widespread interest. Can include a popular variation called the ketogenic diet (highly restrictive)|
|Low Fat (Vegetarian and traditional Asian)||Restriction of total fat or 20% of daily calories. Some can include dairy and eggs, limited meat such as chicken and seafood||Long-standing use, extensive research backup. Popularity is weak due to limited appeal; lack of taste
|Low glycemic (blood sugar)||Limits the glycemic load of certain vegetables and many if not all fruits.||Relevant to diabetes and pertains to carbohydrate quality as to effects on blood glucose in the body.|
|Mediterranean||Emphasis on olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, beans, limited meat, moderate wine included||Mimics the traditional diets of Mediterranean countries. Associated with extensive research that emphasizes “healthy” fats|
|Includes both plant and animal foods that conform to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, DASH and Diabetes Prevention diets||Long-standing, widespread use. Associated with extensive research and intervention trials to address chronic diseases.
|Paleolithic||Focus on diet of our Stone Age ancestors. Avoiding processed foods with emphasis on fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats.
Dairy and grains are excluded.
|Native human diet emphasis with substantial research. Emphasis on lean proteins.|
|Vegan||Often exclude all animal products, including dairy and eggs. If ill-conceived, can include plant-based junk food leading to nutrient deficiencies.||Relevant to ethics, animal welfare issues, environmental sustainability|
Claims for other dietary patterns exist in abundance. Many such practices such as juicing or fad dieting does not meet the requirements for a healthy diet pattern. Add to these raw food eating, detoxification schemes that enjoy media attention in the popular culture but only contribute to the confusion of those who seek existing legitimate dietary advice.
Can we say what diet is best for health? It would be difficult based on individual needs for one thing. Ideally, It is often said that the best diet is one you decide for yourself based on some basic knowledge and your particular lifestyle. The diet should focus on health and weight control, not just weight loss.
Even if the healthy diet claims are made clear, we must learn somehow to navigate our way through the supermarket that constantly appeals to our senses with a myriad of some 40,000 products with the majority of them processed in bags, boxes, bottles, jars, and cans. Many are loaded with fat, sugar or salt. Often, many Americans are drawn to the appeal of convenience that many of these foods offer.
Here is what we think we know. From assessing the diets presented in the table above, compatible elements of these diets include: Limited refined starches, added sugars, processed foods, limited intake of certain fats, emphasis on whole plant foods (nuts, seeds, legumes) with or without lean meats, fish, poultry, and seafood.
To put this in its most simplest form, Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivores Dilemma says:
Food, not too much, mostly plants.