Rating the diets—can we describe a best dietary pattern?

Of the myriad nutritional patterns and thousands of diets that have been, and are still being promoted, many can best be described as diets with unproven claims and poorly understood effects on health. Often these diets have the singular goal of weight loss and have little regard for their impact on other aspects of health, in particular their long-term implications for cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, because nutrition research is so difficult, we do not have definitive evidence about what constitutes optimal nutrition.

To help the public choose the best diet, with the help of a panel of health experts, in 2020 U.S. News & World Report ranked diets in nine categories, such as best plant-based diet, best for weight loss, or just eating for good health. Of the 35 diets evaluated, the Mediterranean diet was number one, and the similar DASH diet and the Flexitarian tied for second in the Best Diet Overall category. Other top-ranked diets were Weight Watchers, the Mayo Clinic diet, and the Volumetrics diet. The top-ranked diets emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein.

Weight Watchers was tops in the Weight Loss Diet category, Vegan and Volumetrics were tied in second place. Other highly ranked weight-loss diets were the Flexitarian, Jenny Craig, and Ornish diets. The ultra-low-fat vegetarian Ornish diet was ranked the best Heart Healthy Diet followed in second place by the Mediterranean diet, and the DASH diet ranked third. In the best Plant-based Diet category, the Mediterranean diet was ranked first, the Flexitarian second and the Nordic, Ornish, and Vegetarian diets tied for third.

Significantly, the popular Paleo diet was ranked near the bottom at number 29 in the Best Diet Overall category. And the Keto diet,
a low-carb, high-fat regimen, was ranked number 35, in last place, in the Best Diet for Healthy Eating category.

Studies of indigenous hunter-gatherers from many parts of the world indicate that it is likely that there is no singular diet optimal to provide excellent metabolic health and freedom from chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Populations, such as the Hadza in Tanzania, Shuar, hunter-gatherer/farmers in the rainforest of Ecuador, and the Tsimane in Bolivia eat a variety of diets. They all have a lifestyle characterized by very high levels of physical activity, and all are mostly free from the degenerative diseases that afflict Americans and other people in industrialized countries. They rely on subsistence hunting, gathering, and farming,
and a high proportion of the foods that they eat are plant-based. They do not lead sedentary lives or consume processed foods loaded with fat, salt, highly refined carbohydrates, and added sugars. In general, hunter-gatherers do not have convenient
access to large amounts of food and any calorie-restricted diet, regardless of the proportion of carbohydrates, fats and protein,
improves metabolic biomarkers—but some weight-loss diets are not healthy for long-term consumption.

This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.