New Report Ranks Diets, and DASH-like Plans May Be Best
The debate over the healthiness of the average American diet continues, and increasingly the science is pointing to a specific set of characteristics that make for good dietary choices.
This time on Financial Sense, we spoke with Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University's Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, to discuss the U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 report on the best diets.
DASH Ranked Highest
This year, the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, came out on top, but Dr. Katz pointed out that all of the best diets in the report have similar themes in common.
The survey focused on 38 diets this year, and a panel of experts, including Dr. Katz, ranked different diet strategies based on a variety of criteria.
Collectively, they chose the DASH diet. This diet was originally put together at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Katz noted. Researchers at the NIH were interested in studying what could be done with diet to lower blood pressure.
“They designed various diets and put them head-to-head, and essentially the one that won was a plant-predominate diet that included some...lean meat and poultry, fish and seafood, (as well as) low and non-fat dairy, which probably has specific blood pressure benefits,” Dr. Katz said.
However, Dr. Katz emphasized that various diets are probably just as good as DASH, as long as they have certain features.
What’s the Best Human Diet?
This is a question Dr. Katz has been asking for a long time. He wrote a paper titled “Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?”, which was published in the scientific literature a couple of years ago, where he attempted to answer it.
“If we look at diets that perform well...and compare them, how different are they, really?” he said. “The answer is, they’re much more like one another every time, than any of them is like the typical American diet, which quite frankly is junk.”
To find our optimum diet, the emphasis should be on eating only minimally processed foods, and mostly plants.
“In other words, eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and when you’re thirsty, drink water,” Dr. Katz said.
This statement is true of the DASH diet, but also of the quality Mediterranean diets out there, Asian diets, and others. It’s even true of the paleo diet if the diet is set up and followed correctly.
“Almost all diets that are good and are reliably associated with good long-term health outcomes emphasize those same fundamental principles,” Dr. Katz said.
What About Meat Consumption Though?
Some diets, including the paleo diet, have emphasized meat consumption to an extent, but Dr. Katz’ problem with the paleo approach is how people apply it, rather than the diet’s precepts.
“I know a lot of people who eat hamburgers, hot dogs and pepperoni, and say they’re on the paleo diet to justify that,” he said. “There was no Paleolithic pepperoni, let’s be clear.”
Ultimately, some meat is OK, especially minimally processed meats, grass-fed beef, chicken, and seafood, but also venison and other wild game, which is leaner.
“Our ancestors hunted wild animals, and that’s the meat they ate, and they ate a wide variety of wild plant foods as well,” Dr. Katz noted. “And they obviously drank only water, and...(received) about 100 grams of fiber in their diet every day.”
The other issue we have to consider is the impact of high-meat diets on the environment, Dr. Katz emphasized. With almost 8 billion hungry homo sapiens to feed, we can’t maintain a substantially carnivorous diet without destroying the world, he stated.
Citing everything from water costs to beef production’s carbon footprint, Dr. Katz suggested not eliminating beef and other meat entirely but reducing our intake to more reasonable levels.
“It’ll have a much greater impact if 10 million people eat a little less meat every week than if 10 people become complete vegans,” he said. “So let’s all move in the right direction.”
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