Words To Eat By...Nutrition Insight Designed for Readers to Discover, Inspire & Engage)
Diet, Ranked #1
by Chris Moore, MS RDN CC
Still looking for the most practical, sound meal plan and offering the most compelling health benefits? Well look no further. And guess what, you have options. Although there is minimal difference, the meal plan (or shall I say, 'plans') voted #1 by U.S. News and World Report in 2018, actually tied between the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan. And I would agree. Contrary to its name, there's more to the DASH plan than just hypertension (high blood pressure) management. The beauty both plans offer is more food inclusions versus omissions, practical food choices, easy access (no specialty food stores required), can be tailored to your specific preferences, and you can live with it more than 3 - 5 days. All of which just happen to be my prerequisites for a great meal plan. So often, rather, you are strategizing for weight loss, disease management or even food allergies with recommendations that focus just on "what not to eat." And as promised in my last article (from FWIS No. 2), in a nutshell, here are the components and analysis of the meal plans and why they are ranked #1.
The DASH and Mediterranean dietary plan recommends:
· Whole grains, vegetables and fruits – liberal amounts and frequent intake encouraged.
· Fats – olives and olive oil (mainly advised in Mediterranean diet), additional unsaturated oils and sources (canola, avocadoes, etc.) are acceptable.
· Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds - provide excellent non-meat protein, fiber and other healthful fats, textures and flavors.
· Low fat dairy - inclusive of milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and cheese (in moderation) for calcium and vitamin D.
· Lean meats, poultry, Eggs*, fish and shellfish – increased frequency of fish encouraged to boost Omega 3 fatty acids and less saturated fat.
· Sweets, sweetened beverages and added sugars – not encouraged and, if so, less frequent (5 or less servings per week).
· Herbs and spices (fresh or dried).
· Wine – consumed often (specific to the Mediterranean plan), but in moderation.
If the above list sounds familiar, it should. These recommendations, along with exercise, align with the general guidelines from AHA (American Heart Association), ACIR (American Cancer Institute of Research), and ADA (American Diabetes Association) for the reduction of processed foods, refined carbohydrates, less trans fats, and traditional high fat foods (red meats, butter and whole fat dairy) and sugar sweetened beverages.
The criteria used by the U.S. News to evaluate the best dietary plan included ease in following, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, protection against diabetes and heart disease. And there lies the reason why I concur with their verdict. The latter two criteria, both with the DASH and the Mediterranean diet, were found not only to be effective with hypertension, but lowers risk of heart disease and diabetes. Both plans have been found to not only achieve 5% reduction in body weight, but the ability to maintain the loss for 2 years or greater. This achievable weight loss may be the indirect success as well with improved blood sugars. Compliance with these meal plans show possible reverse or reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome (combined risk factors for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes: obesity, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking). A delay both in onset of type 2 diabetes and need for medication, improved hemoglobin A1C (blood sugar measure over time), improved BMI and a 19% reduction in type 2 diabetes overall were found. The DASH and Mediterranean diet also have shown to improve both vascular function of the heart, lower total cholesterol and the LDL (low density lipid) cholesterol, so often referred to in layman's term as the 'lousy' or bad fat. Other fringe benefits of both plans include more potassium rich foods with increase fruits and vegetables, and higher fiber and better compliance long term resulting in lifestyle changes.
Specific plans and listing servings* of each food group or even sample menus for starters can be found from respectable online resources (some are listed below). Consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist, plans can tailor as meal plan to individual calorie needs. Or if more details on U.S. News and World report findings are desired, see resources below.
Nutrition Concepts and Controversies 13th ed. Sizer and Whitney. The DASH Eating Plan. 2000 calories p. 237.