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Fact Checked

So Many Diets: How Do You Choose One?

Nearly 50% of adults report trying to lose weight in the last 12 months. Approximately 63% of people attempting to lose weight, try “eating less,” and 50% want to eat more fruit, vegetables, or salads. 

More than 1 out of 3 Americans follow a specific diet or eating pattern, and 36% reported following a diet within the past year. 

With numerous diets, meal plans, and weight loss programs, how do you choose one?

A diet should fit YOUR goals, lifestyle, budget, and set you up for success. Do your goals include: 

  • Heart health 
  • Weight management or weight loss
  • Increase energy
  • Improve overall health: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels  

Once you know your goals, finding a scientifically sound diet that you can maintain is essential. 

The Mediterranean Diet 

The Mediterranean diet focuses on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece. The diet emphasizes nutrient-dense foods without strict requirements or counting calories.  

Food to eat: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, bread, seafood, nuts, legumes, and olive oil

Limit intake: poultry (like chicken), eggs, cheese, dairy 

Food to avoid: added sugar, white bread, pasta, processed meat (like hot dogs)

The Science Behind the Diet 

The Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet (PREDIMED) study examined the effects of the Mediterranean diet on health. Over 7,000 participants who had risk factors for cardiovascular disease were part of the study. The group assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower relative risk of major cardiovascular events compared with those assigned to eat less fat. 

The Lyon Diet Heart Study followed individuals who had recently had a heart attack. The study lasted 4 years and found people following a Mediterranean diet were 72% less likely to have experienced a heart attack or died from heart disease compared to those who followed a Western-style diet.  

The Bottom Line

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy option for preventing and managing heart disease and early death. It is not a diet that focuses on weight loss, but many people lose weight while following this diet. 

DASH Diet “Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension”

The DASH diet is recommended for people with high blood pressure. The DASH diet emphasizes reducing salt intake. 

Foods to eat: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, vegetable oils 

Nutrients to consume: potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, protein 

Limit intake: added sugars, red meat, high saturated fat (fatty meats, full-fat dairy, coconut oil) 

Limit sodium to < 2,300 mg/day (no more than 1 teaspoon of salt a day) 

The Science Behind the Diet 

A systemic review and meta-analysis looked at 17 studies with over 2500 people and found the DASH diet significantly reduced blood pressure. Adults with high blood pressure had the most significant decrease. A recent study found that the DASH diet can be effective in the prevention and management of high blood pressure 

Another systemic review and meta-analysis (20 studies) found that adherence to the DASH diet resulted in decreased blood pressure and decreases in total and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Therefore, the review shows that following the DASH diet is an effective way to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Another systematic review and meta-analysis of 20 randomized trials found the DASH diet significantly reduced fasting insulin concentrations. This suggests that the DASH diet may play an important role in sugar control. 

The Bottom Line 

DASH diet is known for its impact on preventing and reducing blood pressure. Additional benefits include weight loss and reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. 

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Low-Carb Diet 

The main goal of low-carb diets is to force your body to use fats for energy instead of carbohydrates for energy. Low-carb diets limit your carb intake but allow unlimited protein and fat intake. 

Food to eat: meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, seeds, high-fat dairy, healthy fats, and oils

Food to avoid: sugar, wheat, grains, highly processed food, starchy vegetables 

Atkins is a popular low-carb diet that focuses on restricting your carbohydrate intake to 20 grams per day and allowing unlimited amounts of protein and fat. Your body converts fat into ketones to use as its primary source of energy. After 2 weeks, you gradually add back carbohydrates to your diet in 5-gram increments. 

The Science Behind the Diet 

The A TO Z study examined 4 different diet plans: the Atkins diet, low-fat Ornish diet, LEARN diet, and the Zone diet. The study showed that those following the Atkins diet lost more weight than any other group. 

Additional studies have demonstrated that, along with weight loss, the Atkins diet can also improve heart disease risk factors. 

The ketogenic (keto) diet is another popular low-carb diet. The keto diet is similar to Atkins, except there is no gradual addition of carbohydrates. The goal of the keto diet is to remain in “ketosis” where your body is using ketones as the primary energy source. 

The Science Behind the Diet 

A 2-year study of 45 obese adults compared a ketogenic diet with a low-calorie diet. Those in the ketogenic group lost an average of 27.5 pounds and 29 inches from their waist—significantly more than the low-calorie group.

A meta-analysis looked at 13 studies and found that the ketogenic diet increased the loss of weight and body fat, as well as decreased blood pressure, increased HDL cholesterol, decreased LDL cholesterol and reduced inflammatory markers. 

The Bottom Line

Low-carb diets allow your body to use fat for fuel. A low-carb diet is beneficial for weight loss, getting rid of fat carried around the stomach area, and other health benefits. 

Diets Do Work 

Starting a plan may be the easy part; the difficult part is sticking to it. Common challenges when following a diet include stress, not seeing results, cravings, inconvenience, and lack of motivation. 

But, many people experience weight loss, improved mood, better sleep, and better control of health problems, all by eating healthier. Focusing your goals and the benefits of a healthy diet will enhance your drive and motivation to follow your diet plan. 

Consistency is the key!

References: 

  • National Center For Health Statistics. NCHS Nutrition Data. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/factsheets/factsheet_nutrition.pdf. Published 2019. Accessed 22 July 2020.
  • Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. New England Journal of Medicine. 2018;378(25):e34.
  • de Lorgeril M, Salen P, Martin JL, Monjaud I, Delaye J, Mamelle N. Mediterranean diet, traditional risk factors, and the rate of cardiovascular complications after myocardial infarction: final report of the Lyon Diet Heart Study. Circulation. 1999;99(6):779-785. doi:10.1161/01.cir.99.6.779
  • Saneei P, Salehi-Abargouei A, Esmaillzadeh A, Azadbakht L. Influence of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;24(12):1253-1261. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2014.06.008
  • Ozemek C, Laddu DR, Arena R, Lavie CJ. The role of diet for prevention and management of hypertension. Curr Opin Cardiol. 2018;33(4):388-393. doi:10.1097/HCO.0000000000000532
  • Siervo M, Lara J, Chowdhury S, Ashor A, Oggioni C, Mathers JC. Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2015;113(1):1-15. doi:10.1017/S0007114514003341
  • Shirani F, Salehi-Abargouei A, Azadbakht L. Effects of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on some risk for developing type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis on controlled clinical trials. Nutrition. 2013;29(7-8):939-947. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2012.12.021
  • Alhassan S, Kim S, Bersamin A, King AC, Gardner CD. Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: results from the A TO Z weight loss study. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32(6):985-991. doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.8
  • Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. Weight and metabolic outcomes after 2 years on a low-carbohydrate versus low-fat diet: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(3):147-157. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-3-201008030-00005
  • Dyson PA, Beatty S, Matthews DR. A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing body weight than healthy eating in both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects. Diabet Med. 2007;24(12):1430-1435. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.2007.02290.x
  • Moreno B, Crujeiras AB, Bellido D, Sajoux I, Casanueva FF. Obesity treatment by very low-calorie-ketogenic diet at two years: reduction in visceral fat and on the burden of disease. Endocrine. 2016;54(3):681-690. doi:10.1007/s12020-016-1050-2
  • Bueno NB, de Melo IS, de Oliveira SL, da Rocha Ataide T. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Br J Nutr. 2013;110(7):1178-1187. doi:10.1017/S0007114513000548

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