The skinny on diets
There are endless diet regimens that are touted to be “the best.” While many diets include similar food plans with only subtle differences, there are many diets that seem more extreme or restrictive.
The best diets are the ones that help you lose weight in the short run, maintain the weight loss, and are heart healthy. Long-term success requires changes in your “relationship” with food and changes in your lifestyle, making exercise an important part of your weekly routine.
Last year, experts at US News and World Report rated 35 diets on seven measures: short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, easy to follow, nutrition, safety, diabetes and heart health. Each category was scored from 1-5 and an overall score was computed for each diet. Here are some of the basic principles of the top 10 (diets with the same numbers had equal scores).
1. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). This diet plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans and nuts. This diet limits intake of salt, red meat, sweets, and added sugar. DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an allpurpose diet.
2. TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) was created by the National Institutes of Health to improve cholesterol. Using similar food groups to the DASH diet, it specifies the number of servings of each food group.
3. Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil and fish with moderate intake of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.
3. Mayo Clinic Diet emphasizes healthy eating as a lifelong (not short-term) habit. There are two phases: “Lose It,” which includes choosing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, combined with 30 minutes of exercise per day; and “Live It,” which focuses on number and size of servings of the different food groups.
3. Weight Watchers emphasizes group support and uses a “point” system where values are available for 40,000 foods. A “points plus” target goal is determined by gender, weight, height and age. You can eat whatever you want, but you must stay within your point goal.
3. Flexitarian emphasizes “flexible” and “vegetarian” (most of the time); add tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds and eggs for protein; limit alcohol, exercise, and limit daily intake to 1,500 calories.
7. Volumetrics divides foods into four categories: very low density (non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk), low density (starchy fruits and vegetables, grains), medium density (meats, cheese, pretzels, ice cream, cake), high density (crackers, chips, candy, cookies, nuts, butter). Substituting low-density foods for highdensity foods will make you feel fuller.
8. Jenny Craig’s pre-packed meals restrict calories and fats. The plan emphasizes healthy eating, active lifestyle, and behavioral modification via a personal consultant.
9. Biggest Loser Diet allows regular meals with filling calories with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Diet encourages portion control, food journaling, and regular exercise.
9. Ornish Diet: Foods are divided into five groups from the most healthful to least healthful. It also emphasizes the importance of exercise, stress management and emotional support. While the diet is heart healthy, it severely limits the amount of fat, which makes it difficult for some people to follow.
SUSAN LOCKE, MD, is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.
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