EVERY year, US News assembles a judging panel of top nutrition experts to adjudicate on the best popular diets.
The diets are ranked on how easy they are to follow, their ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, their nutritional completeness, their safety and their potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.
In his assessment of the 2014 Best Diets ranking process, Prof David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Centre, pointed out that many diets are more likely to be marked by their similarities than differences.
For example low glycaemic index and Mediterranean dietary patterns such as high fruit and vegetable consumption are characteristics of virtually all healthy diets. However, he welcomed the fact that the ranking list provides some clarity, helping dieters to make a more informed decision about which diet to run with, in what has become a bewilderingly, over-crowded playing field.
Of the 32 diets assessed this year, top of the list was the DASH Diet, a plan initially developed to reduce blood pressure in the mid-1990s, but which has since been discovered to enhance weight management and improve skeletal health.
The original DASH Diet focussed primarily on the increased intake of fruit and vegetables (at least four servings per day of each) and low-fat dairy products such as semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurt (three to four servings per day). These dietary patterns are associated with increased intakes of potassium, calcium and magnesium, and it’s been suggested that these are the nutrients which actually do the business for us in terms of enhanced health outcome.
However, the tendency of these “healthy” foods to simultaneously push other “unhealthy” foods out of the diet is another important advantage which can’t be ignored. More recent incarnations of the DASH Diet have incorporated salt restriction, reduced red meat intake, portion control and limited alcohol intake, all of which have enhanced its health-promoting properties.
Among the other plans featuring in the top 10 are the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet and the Mayo Clinic Diet. The TLC Diet is a heart-healthy plan which recommends a reduction in saturated fat from processed meats and fat-rich dairy foods like cheese and cream. It also advises people to cut down their salt and their overall fat intakes, and to take at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
The Mayo Clinic Diet comprises a “Lose It!” phase for the first two weeks during which significant weight loss of 3-5 kg is targeted, followed by a “Live It!” phase, where sustainable healthy diet and exercise patterns are implemented. These include eating extra fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, as well as moderate portions of lean protein sources like beans and pulses, fish and low fat dairy foods.
Among the commercial plans making the top 10 were: Weight Watchers (no. 3), Jenny Craig (no. 8) and the Ornish Diet (no. 9).
In selecting your own diet plan, remember that the diet industry’s tendency to label diets often neglects the significant overlap that exists between them. Also, try not to be over-prescriptive — the best and most practical diet plan for you and your family may incorporate winning features common to several of these well known plans.
For example, it’s hard to argue against the inclusion of plenty of fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, wholegrain cereals and oily fish as positive dietary changes. And limiting the sources of sugar, fat, salt and alcohol are probably no-brainers, too.
¦ Dr Daniel McCartney, Lecturer in Human Nutrition & Dietetics at DIT
IN THE FRIDGE
Cucumber and rocket salad:
Dice a large fresh cucumber and 200g of feta cheese into 1 cm cubes. Add 50g of roast pine nuts, 50g of chopped sundried tomatoes and two to three handfuls of fresh rocket leaves. Add 30mls of balsamic vinegar and 30mls of good quality olive oil and toss thoroughly before serving cold... delicious.
An Irish paper from researchers at UCC published in the British Journal of Nutrition has highlighted the issue of vitamin D insufficiency in the Irish population.
This study showed that 76% of Irish adults tested had blood levels of vitamin D which were lower than the threshold for optimal bone health.
Also, more than half of those identified to have low blood concentrations of vitamin D had levels which placed them at high risk for osteoporosis.
While there’s emerging evidence implicating low vitamin D status in cancer, heart disease, and other serious health conditions, it’s noteworthy that falls and osteoporotic fractures alone have been estimated to cost the Irish economy €551m a year.
Vitamin D food sources include: salmon, eggs, avocado, and mushrooms.
A QUICK FIX
The tomato originated in the South American Andes, and was first used as a foodstuff in Mexico. Packed full of vitamins A and C, and with folate, iron and potassium, tomatoes are also rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that becomes even more available for use by the body when it’s derived from pulped, pureed or fried tomatoes.
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