2020’s Best Diets

https://health.usnews.com/best-diet

If you have been following my blog, you know I am a disciple of the ketogenic way of eating. Interestingly, U.S. News & World Report has many short articles on their blog about the benefits of keto as well: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/food.

But, I’m also pragmatic enough to understand “keto” is a huge variance from how most are eating today, and frankly, may not be right for everyone. So, while I believe very strongly in the mantra “food as fuel”, I understand there are different ways to get there.

U.S. News & World Report published the linked article of the best diets for 2020. It’s a worthwhile read and I encourage you to spend some time reviewing. In the spirit of education, I’m going to delve deeper into two of the diets because I believe they are not only very relevant in helping us change our perspective to “food as fuel”, but have sound nutritional components that prioritize natural, unprocessed foods, good fats, a healthy mix of proteins and key minerals. The two are:

  1. Mediterranean Diet
  2. DASH Diet

Mediterranean Diet

Why such an interest in the Mediterranean Diet? Starting in the 1960’s, medical research found consistently that countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea had noticeably lower rates of cardiovascular disease than many other parts of the world. And while the exact diet among Greeks vs. Italians vs. Spaniards is different, there are definitely some common traits & behaviors that help contribute to cardiovascular health. Here are some important tenets of the diet:

  • Encourages hearty consumption of foods rich in nutrients, vitamins & minerals, and low in saturated fats, sugar and salt
  • Focus on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, nuts & seeds and some whole grains as the cornerstone of consumption. Olive oil is a staple, for both cooking & flavoring, providing an outstanding source of healthy fats
  • Weekly intake of fish, poultry, legumes & eggs
  • Moderation of dairy & quality red meat
  • Spices are encouraged, especially in lieu of heavy amounts of salt
  • Red wine is consumed, preferably in moderation, as it is a good source of resveratrol, a polyphenol that is an antioxidant compound
  • Physical activity, even just consistent walking

DASH Diet

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or high blood pressure, and prioritizes nutritional foods combined with a significant reduction in sodium (salt) to bring blood pressure into a healthy range. The CDC estimates Americans consume an average of 3,400 mg of sodium/day, much higher than is considered healthy, so the DASH approach seeks to cut that amount by almost 40% in early stages. Here are some important tenets of the diet:

  • Encourages hearty consumption of foods rich in nutrients, vitamins & minerals, and low in saturated fats, sugar and salt
  • Highlights foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, protein & fiber to help combat high blood pressure
  • Discourages foods that are high in saturated fat, processed & loaded with sugar, including sugary drinks
  • Caps sodium (salt) consumption at 2,300 mg/day in the early stages, eventually being lowered to 1,500 mg/day
  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, eggs, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, lean meats & nuts

One of the foremost experts in this area is the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, http://www.pbrc.edu, and they published a handy reference manual in a .pdf format which I’m attaching.

Putting Knowledge Into Action

Both of these diets are reasonable to incorporate into your everyday lifestyle, whether you are cooking at home or attending business luncheons and dinner several times per week. As an example, here are three meal choices that you can find at just about any restaurant:

  • Starter: Caesar salad or House salad, dressing on the side. Use it sparingly. If you can get olive oil instead, do it and enjoy! Also, avoid the bread bowl.
  • Main:
    • Grilled salmon with asparagus
    • Grilled pork chop with a baked sweet potato and carrots. Note: the skin of the potato is where the bulk of the nutrients are stored, so be sure to eat that part, and avoid using spreads and margarines.
    • Grilled chicken breast with herbs with broccoli and quinoa
  • Dessert:
    • Cheese tray
    • Small fruit plate. Focus more on berries, which are lower in sugar
    • Mint or Chamomile Tea
    • Flavored Coffee

Hopefully you can see these two diets have many more similarities than differences. If you suffer from hypertension, the DASH diet would be a great place to start to make dietary changes that can improve your health and lower your risk of heart disease. If you are looking to eat a more healthy diet and improve your overall wellness, the Mediterranean diet is an excellent choice. Either way, they share many core tenets and would be excellent choices if you are looking to make a change in your dietary habits. Here are your top 5 steps:

  1. Replace processed foods with natural foods. Have you ever studied the ingredient list on a microwave dinner in a box? It’s a laundry list of fillers, sugars, salt, additives, preservatives and low-quality ingredients. Remove items like that (including many fast food choices) and instead, opt for natural foods that are grown or can be cooked on a stove, grill or in an oven. Frozen vegetables are a better choice than canned to get nutrients while managing life’s time constraints, and once you have cooked them, you can add in your own spices and seasoning for a robust complement to your meal.
  2. Increase your consumption of salads & vegetables. This is a no-brainer, and all healthy diets from Mediterranean to DASH to Keto to Vegan encourage salads & vegetables to be primary consumption sources. Vegetables are powerhouses of nutrients and creating a mixed salad can include a variety of vegetables, protein sources like eggs & chicken, and olive oil for a heart healthy meal.
  3. Choose healthy fats & quality protein sources. Clearly not all protein sources are the same. Look for eggs, chicken, beef and fish that is grass fed/non-grain fed, free range, wild caught and not injected with hormones. The stigma of eggs being “bad for you” due to cholesterol has been debunked, and they are excellent sources of B-vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, iron & lutein. Bottom line: look at the ingredient list, ensure the animal protein is wild or fed their natural diet (vs. something like corn meal) and ensure there are no added fillers, sugars or preservatives.
  4. Cut out the sugar. The average American consumes over 150 pounds of sugar per year! Soft drinks & colas, fruity drinks and an overload of sugar as an additive in most of our processed foods is just overkill, and the list of health issues from this over-consumption is daunting. The simplest route to making a change is stop drinking soda & sugary/fruity drinks, cut out the pastries/breakfast sweets/sugar-laden cereals, and switch food/snack choices to natural & low-processed foods such as seeds, nuts, vegetables, peanut/almond butter (with only nuts & sea salt), plain yogurt with berries or other low-sugar options.
  5. Substitute seeds, nuts & spices. Salt is necessary for all human function but, just like sugar, we are taking in way too much. Look for ways to reduce through using a variety of spices to add flavor and taste (garlic, oregano, turmeric, vanilla extract, cinnamon, lemon or lime flavoring, etc.). Just be aware that mixed spices (for example, something called Cajun) will likely be made with salt, so try to avoid. And when the snack urge attacks, don’t reach for the candy bar – go for the healthier options, noted above, that feed your body the fuel it is seeking.

One thought on “2020’s Best Diets

  1. Kate Stone

    This is an excellent summary that is a jump start to quickly begin a turn around. It is very helpful that you understand the challenges of ordering a meal at a restaurant. Perhaps that is one of the graces that is coming from the current homebound situation. We are cooking and eating more at home and less fast food! Thanks for your continued clarity in the way you present all your topics!

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