Are there any diet programs that work better than others? Do any of them work? As most seasoned dieters will tell you, dieting is a hard and often frustrating undertaking. Commercial diets are notorious for promising astonishing results in no time and without much effort and (heaven forbid) deprivation.
A Plan That Wasn’t Meant to Be a Diet Seems to Work Best
A team of journalists of U.S. News has spent six months investigating 20 of the best-known diets. The results of their research were then submitted to a panel of 22 leading experts in the fields of nutrition, diabetes and heart disease. The panelists were asked to rate each diet program on a scale from 1 to 5 in seven categories: Short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, user-friendliness, nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or manage diabetes and ability to prevent or manage heart disease.
The experts were also quizzed about the reasons for their preferences of one diet over another. All had to disclose beforehand whether they had any affiliation or commercial interests in the programs they were to vote on. None did.
In the end, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was selected as the best overall diet, just ahead of the Mediterranean Diet as the runner up. The DASH diet also came out first as the best diabetes diet, followed by the Mayo Clinic diet. The Ornish diet captured the top spot for heart healthy eating, followed by the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet. In terms of effectiveness for weight loss, two commercial diet plans won the nomination: Weight Watchers, closely followed by Jenny Craig.
The overall winner, the DASH diet, was found to fulfill all the demands of being easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and able to prevent or control both diabetes and heart disease.
Interestingly, the DASH diet did not originate as a commercial diet but as a dietary recommendation by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a department of the National Institute of Health (NIH), which is a U.S. government agency.
The main purpose of this diet plan is not weight loss but control of hypertension (high blood pressure). The idea is to provide patients with liberal amounts of key nutrients, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, all of which are associated with lowering blood pressure. One of its unique features is the focus on dietary patterns rather than on single nutrients like proteins or carbohydrates. Equally important is the emphasis on anti-oxidant rich foods to prevent or control an array of other chronic health problems, including heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.
The DASH diet guidelines recommend a rich variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. It allows meat, fish, poultry, nuts and beans in moderate amounts. But it advises to restrict consumption of salt, fat and sugar in both food and drink. Although at first intended for heart patients, the diet is now considered to be highly beneficial for anyone who wishes to eat healthily. It is officially endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an ideal eating plan for all Americans.
Starting the DASH diet
Here are some tips to get started on the DASH diet:
• Add at least one serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner.
• Add at least one serving of fruit to all your meals, including snacks. Frozen, canned (in their own natural juices) and dried items also work if fresh fruit is not available or out of season.
• Reduce the use of butter, margarine and salad dressings by half. Buy only low-fat or fat free condiments.
• Consume only low-fat or skim dairy products.
• Limit meat (especially red meat) to six ounces or less a day. Eat more vegetarian meals.
• Add brown rice and dry beans to your diet.
• Reduce or eliminate consumption of sweet, fatty and salty snacks.
• Read Nutrition Facts labels carefully and choose products that are low in sodium.