Food is one of the most debated topics when it comes to our health and wellness. Diets come and go and nearly every diet promises the desired results, especially weight loss if certain restrictions are followed. Restrictions include eliminating certain foods , eating only certain foods, combining foods , not combining different foods…and the list goes on and on. Does the ultimate, best-in-the-world diet exist?
According to Dr. David Katz of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, when it comes to diets, eating real food is the winner.“If you eat food direct from nature,” Katz added, “you don’t even need to think about this. You don’t have to worry about trans fat or saturated fat or salt—most of our salt comes from processed food, not the salt shaker. If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”
The following excerpt is from The Atlantic, Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food (read the complete article at http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/03/science-compared-every-diet-and-the-winner-is-real-food/284595/)
Scientific publisher Annual Reviews asked Katz to compare the medical evidence for and against every mainstream diet. He says they came to him because of his penchant for dispassionate appraisals. “I don’t have a dog in the fight,” he told me. “I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth.”
Katz and Yale colleague Stephanie Meller published their findings in the current issue of the journal in a paper titled, “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?” In it, they compare the major diets of the day: Low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, vegan, and elements of other diets. Despite the pervasiveness of these diets in culture and media, Katz and Meller write, “There have been no rigorous, long-term studies comparing contenders for best diet laurels using methodology that precludes bias and confounding. For many reasons, such studies are unlikely.” They conclude that no diet is clearly best, but there are common elements across eating patterns that are proven to be beneficial to health. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”
Among the salient points of proven health benefits the researchers note, nutritionally-replete plant-based diets are supported by a wide array of favorable health outcomes, including fewer cancers and less heart disease. These diets ideally included not just fruits and vegetables, but whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Katz and Meller found “no decisive evidence” that low-fat diets are better than diets high in healthful fats, like the Mediterranean. Those fats include a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than the typical American diet.
The Mediterranean diet, which is additionally defined by high intake of fiber, moderate alcohol and meat intake, antioxidants, and polyphenols, does have favorable effects on heart disease, cancer risk, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and “is potentially associated with defense against neurodegenerative disease and preservation of cognitive function, reduced inflammation, and defense against asthma.”
They also found carbohydrate-selective diets to be better than categorically low-carbohydrate diets, in that incorporating whole grains is associated with lower risks for cancers and better control of body weight. Attention to glycemic load and index is “sensible at the least.” Eating foods that have high glycemic loads (which Katz says is much more relevant to health outcomes than glycemic index—in that some quality foods like carrots have very high indices, which could be misleading) is associated with greater risk of heart disease.
Finally, in a notable blow to some interpretations of the Paleo diet, Katz and Meller wrote, “if Paleolithic eating is loosely interpreted to mean a diet based mostly on meat, no meaningful interpretation of health effects is possible.” They note that the composition of most meat in today’s food supply is not similar to that of mammoth meat, and that most plants available during the Stone Age are today extinct.
The take home message is to look at food as nourishment, making food choices that promote health and prevent disease. Improving one’s diet can lead to a significantly longer life and a dramatic decrease in the risk for most chronic diseases. Eating real food such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains,beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds that are all minimally processed along with low/ moderate alcohol and meat intake is the best course of action for most people.