Which diet is best – mine or yours?

Sunday, 7 February 2016 - 12:55pm

We can probably all agree that dietary advice is confusing! There are a myriad of diets out there – all claiming to offer the right solution to our problems. It’s a bit like an ongoing beauty contest – my diet is better than yours…

Should you go low-fat or low-carb, vegan or paleo? It’s not easy to know the answer. As a result of the obesity and diabetes epidemic, the confusion of dietary advice has provided a lucrative market for weight loss and health promotion diets and the media also thrives on the ongoing debates – fuelling the fire of confusion.

To help make sense of this confusion, a recent review article published in the Annual Reviews of Public Health has attempted to answer the following question “can we say what diet is best for health?” The authors, David Katz and Stephanie Meller looked into all the existing research evidence on a range of different diets and their effect on health. The diets included in the review include: low-carbohydrate, low fat, low glycaemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced, Paleolithic and vegan. The review concluded, perhaps (un)surprisingly, that not one of these diets was a clear winner over the other. In fact, all these diets are effective in terms of weight loss – if followed appropriately in conjunction with an active lifestyle. A low-fat diet is no healthier than a Mediterranean diet which is high in good fats such as olive oil. The increasingly popular Paleolithic diet has some merit in its emphasis on natural plant foods and lean meats however the substantial evidence pointing towards health benefits from eating grains, rules this diet out from winning the contest.

While on the surface, these diets – and according to those who advocate their effectiveness – seem to focus on distinctly different dietary aspects, the authors found that basically all the diets have compatible elements. They all emphasise limiting refined starches, added sugars, processed foods; limiting intake of certain fats; and including whole plant foods, with or without lean meats, fish, poultry and seafood. So overall, the evidence from all diets point towards the fact that we should all eat “food, not too much, mostly plants”. A focus on food is the key rather than focusing on single nutrients – if we eat a balanced diet consisting of real food, nutrients will take care of themselves.

So the key message is that instead of the continuous debates about which diet is best, we need to focus on what we already know to be healthy eating (that is the compatible element from all diets) – that a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature and predominantly plants is consistent with positive health outcomes across the life span. Simple advice, not rocket science…

Full article available here: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-1...

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