You are here

Is There a “Best” Diet for Healthy Eating?

November 7, 2011

Which way of eating is the healthiest? For the diet industry, that’s the $59.7 billion-a-year question. From low fat to low carb, a new diet fad emerges every few years to contradict the one that preceded it. 

The latest attempt to nail down the “best diet” is a new report from U.S. News and World Reports. In "Best Diets for Healthy Eating," a panel of 22 nutrition experts evaluated 20 popular diets and gave each a “healthiness” score.

Here’s what U.S. News got right: the experts evaluated the diets with the premise that weight loss alone isn’t necessarily healthy. Getting enough calories, nutrients, and a balanced sampling of different food groups is essential.

Yet like so many other diet rankings, this report falls short. Here’s what U.S. News and World Reports failed to mention:

There’s no “one-size-fits-all” diet
Each person is unique and has highly individualized nutritional requirements. No dietary theory is correct when applied universally – that’s the core tenant of bio-individuality. Though the report ranks the vegan diet at a poor #16, giving up animal products has helped millions of people reclaim their health. Going vegan definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s misleading to flatly dismiss it as “unhealthy.”

Choose whole foods over processed foods
Where’s the common sense in giving high rankings to highly processed, artificially flavored, prepackaged food? Slim-Fast ranked well at a respectable #11 because its products are nutrient-fortified. The report failed to mention that Slim-Fast’s shakes and snacks are also loaded with trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and chemical dyes. It’s a fact that real, whole foods are better than powdered, “just-add-water” chemical food substances.

Meal delivery doesn’t change behavior
Companies like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem (which both ranked quite well) offer convenient meal delivery right to your door. But unless you’re going to subscribe to these companies for the rest of your life, at some point you’re going to have to start making your own meal choices again. Such diets do little to teach people how to make long-term, sustainable lifestyle changes that ensure lasting health and success.

Eat organic and local foods when possible
Eating healthily is more than counting calories and tracking nutrient intake – it’s also about knowing where your food came from. Not all produce and meat are created equal – organic foods are preferable to strawberries sprayed with pesticides and beef laden with growth hormones. Not to mention that shopping at your local farmer’s market is a great way to get foods that are in season, taste delicious, and are more nutritious. Plus it’s a great way to help your local economy and the environment, too.

Food is more than what’s on your plate
Ultimately, getting healthy is about so much more than your protein to carbohydrate ratio. It’s impossible to separate food from culture, family, emotion, and religion, and these connections can guide us towards a healthier lifestyle. Eat your meals with family or friends and savor your food along with the conversation. If you’re feeling down, put down the bowl of ice cream and instead turn to someone who can hug and support you. If you’re fueled up on your primary foods, you’ll find that managing your secondary foods will be less of a struggle.

Integrative Nutrition lecturer David Katz, MD was one of the nutrition experts that participated in the study, and as he explains in “Can We Say What Diet is ‘Best’?”, “The contest to determine "the best" diet has simply not been run, possibly can't be and probably never will be. The theme of healthful eating, however, is very well established. Adopt your preferred variation on that theme, but stick to the theme and let the food you love ... love you back.”

What’s your opinion of U.S. News and World Reports’ diet rankings?