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Science Has Determined the Best Diet for Your Health

Shocker: It’s eating healthfully. Common sense rules.

| March 25th, 2014
Science Has Determined the Best Diet for Your Health

In a sweeping article in the January 2014 Annual Review of Public Health, Dave Katz, M.D., from the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Public Health, reviewed the health benefits and research supporting six of the most popular diet trends: low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, Paleo and vegan. He compared his findings with the outcomes associated with a regular old “mixed, balanced” diet, what we might once have referred to as eating square meals—a combination of plant and animal foods that conforms to standardized dietary guidelines like the recommended daily intakes set by the Institute of Medicine. 

The results might shock you. Or bore you. Either way, the choice is clear. The winner, say Katz and his co-author, is a diet comprising "preferentially minimally processed foods direct from nature and food made up of such ingredients, ... mostly plants, and ... in which animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods.”

The problem with each of the others isn’t that they’re inherently “wrong,” the report concludes. The problem is that each, by virtue of being prized and heavily marketed for its distinctions, misses the point that their individual successes are due to the commonalities among them. To wit: While blind adherence to a low-carb or low-glycemic diet might exclude nutritious fruits and vegetables, a more thoughtful approach emphasizes a limit on refined starches and added sugar. So does a Mediterranean diet. And a Paleo diet, which also espouses an unprocessed, straight-from-nature ethos. Just like its apparent opposites, vegetarianism and veganism.

Katz writes, “Can we say what diet is best for health? If diet denotes a very specific set of rigid principles, then even this necessarily limited representation of a vast literature is more than sufficient to answer with a decisive no. If, however, by diet we mean a more general dietary pattern, a less rigid set of guiding principles, the answer reverts to an equally decisive yes.” And by this sensible standard, disturbingly rare in mass media for its lack of pizzazz, the elements shared by all of the fad diets and hyped lifestyles should be the ruling principles for everyone: limit refined starches, added sugars and processed foods; favor good fats over bad fats; eat a lot of whole plant foods; eat lean meat and seafood, or don’t.

If you thrive on rules, go by the one set down by Michael Pollan (even Katz quotes it in his paper): Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

MORE: Track Your Daily Nutrients

 

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