The 2018 U.S. News & World Report evaluated 40 of the most popular diets and identified the best. For the first time, the Mediterranean diet tied with the DASH diet for the #1 spot.
Last year I reviewed the most popular diet based on the US New & World Report evaluation and identified them as fact or fad. As it turns out, my evaluation was spot on. This past week, the 2018 U.S. News & World Report again evaluated the most popular diets and found two of the most buzzed-about diets last year, the Keto diet and the Whole30 diet (which I labeled as fad diets), have landed at the bottom of a new ranking of best diets for 2018. Whereas the DASH and Mediterranean diet (which I labeled as fact) remained at the top of the list. The Keto diet, which promotes a low-carbohydrate, high-fat regimen, tied for last on the Best Diet Overall list.
There are scientific truths and facts that cannot be denied or ignored. Any diet that is not based on sound scientific evidence or rationale will always come and go and be fad diets. Diets and foods are the most important determinant of your health and nothing affects your health more than what you eat. Our body is designed to get all the nutrients and material it needs from our diet. Diets which are eliminating certain food groups that provide essential nutrients will never be sustaining. To the contrary, diets that provide a balance of nutrients to replete what the human body is missing will be the most nutritious and helpful for human health.
SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE DASH AND MEDITERRANEAN DIET THAT ALLOW THEM TO SURVIVE THE TEST OF TIME?
The DASH diet is a clinically researched diet rich in fruits, vegetables (especially green, leafy ones), and low-fat dairy foods and with reduced saturated and total fat. This diet is commonly used by those interested in supporting healthy blood pressure levels through the food they eat.
The Mediterranean diet recommends emulating how people in the Mediterranean region have traditionally eaten, with a focus on foods like olive oil, fish and vegetables (again, green, leafy ones). U.S. News and World Report called the diet a “well-balanced eating plan”.
THE COMMON THREAD BETWEEN THESE TOP TWO EATING PLANS? DARK, LEAFY GREENS.
Reduced but not total elimination of carbohydrates and a balance of good fats and protein and perhaps the most important commonality, leafy green vegetables. It has been known for decades that green leafy vegetables are extremely healthy and provide valuable vitamins and nutrients to support healthy aging. But there is more to the heart healthy benefits linked to eating dark, leafy greens like beets, kale and spinach than what meets the eye.
WHAT YOU MAY BE MISSING: NITRATE – THE “UNKNOWN NUTRIENT”
For years, scientists and nutritionists have thought that the reason these types of diets are healthy is through vitamins like Vitamins C, E, A & K and antioxidants like polyphenols naturally found in vegetables. More recently, it has been revealed that one of the reasons for the heart health benefits of green leafy vegetables is due to the presence of dietary nitrate. Dietary nitrate is converted into nitrite and Nitric Oxide in the human body.
Nitric Oxide is one of the most important molecules produced in your body and can help protect the cardiovascular system.
Nitrates can be found in high concentration in green leafy vegetables, but the amount of nitrate depends on the type of vegetable, the soil conditions, amount of sunlight and rain as well as the time of harvest. The amount of nitrate in any given vegetable may vary by as much as 30 fold or 3,000%. What that means is that you do not know if you are consistently getting enough dietary nitrate from the vegetables you eat every day to get the heart-healthy benefits from eating plans like the DASH diet.
For more insights on when to eat and when to supplement, you can reference my previous article from last year here.
THE EMERGING FIELD OF “FUNCTIONAL NITRIC OXIDE NUTRITION”
There is an emerging field of “functional nitric oxide nutrition”. I predict that any diet that provides functional nitric oxide nutrition such as the DASH and Mediterranean diet will emulate the health benefits of these two diets that have stood the test of time. Any new diet that does not provide some functional NO benefit will likely be just another fad diet unless it is scientifically sound. Nitric oxide is one of the most important molecules produced by the human body to support cardiovascular and heart health. Restoring NO production and bioavailability will have a profound effect on health. Diets that are able to do this will always win.
FACT or FAD?
The Flexiterian diet: Fad. New to the list is the Flexiterian diet, ranked #3 this year. The Flexiterian Diet is as the name implies, is about being a flexible vegetarian. Being flexitarian is about adding five food groups to your diet – not taking any away. These are: the “new meat” (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs); fruits and veggies; whole grains; dairy; and sugar and spice. This diet strongly suggest eating more plant protein but no real emphasis on green leafy vegetables. It is the green leafy veggies which provide nitric oxide support. The flexibility of this diet plan may be its biggest weakness since variations of this diet may not provide enough nitrate to generate nitric oxide. I think this will be a fad diet until there is more specificity to consuming green leafy vegetables.
The Ornish Diet: Fact. The Ornish diet has been around for some time and there are published clinical studies on humans using this diet. The Ornish diet is quite strict recommending fish, plants and whole grains. However, there is no emphasis on green leafy vegetables as a primary plant food. This diet is difficult to adhere to but scientifically sound. I would rank the Ornish as a fact diet.