By Megan Ramaika, MA, RD, LDN
Turn on your TV or surf online for more than a minute and you’ll find no shortage of diets claiming to improve your health, help you lose weight, and improve your organ functions. Separating fact from fiction can be difficult. There is research to back up the benefits of some diets, but most don’t do what they claim. Choose the wrong one and, in the best-case scenario, you may be wasting your effort, time, and money; in the worst case, you may be doing harm to your health.
A good rule of thumb is to talk to your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist before making radical changes to your diet, especially if you have any existing medical condition. And, if a diet seems extreme and too good to be true – it probably is.
However, if you’re looking for a diet that works, there are some good options, and as you see the core basics of these dietary principles demonstrate overall lifestyle changes and increasing fruits and vegetables while limiting staples of our Standard American Diet. Here are five that have been proven to work over the long haul.
The DASH Diet
The DASH Diet was created with a specific goal of reducing high blood pressure. In fact, DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” At its core, the diet encourages you to reduce sodium intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg per day (or 1,500 mg if you’re following the even lower sodium version of DASH). You’ll also increase blood-pressure friendly nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, grains, lean meats, nuts and legumes; it limits fats, oils, and sweets.
The Mediterranean Diet
People who live near the Mediterranean Sea generally live longer and suffer fewer chronic diseases than those in the Western world. Researchers believe it may be due to the Mediterranean diet, which is low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat. While loading up on fruits, vegetables and fish, you’ll be lowering your risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
The MIND Diet
The MIND Diet is a mashup of the DASH and Mediterranean diets, focusing on the foods specifically thought to improve brain health. This diet was created by researchers looking for a way to slow cognitive degeneration and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The diet focuses on consuming leafy green vegetables, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. People on the diet avoid red meats, butter, cheese, sweets, and fried or fast food.
The Flexitarian Diet
Curious about vegetarianism but not ready to go all-in? A Flexitarian Diet may be right for you. Flexitarians eat mostly vegetables (like vegetarians) with an occasional “cheat meal” that includes meat. Most flexitarians eat meat once a week or less and, as a consequence, can weigh up to 15 percent less than their meat-eating counterparts. The Flexitarian Diet also provides many of the heart-healthy and cancer-reducing benefits as the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
The TLC Diet
The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet was created by the National Institutes of Health and is endorsed by the American Heart Association for its potential to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. You’ll cut back on saturated fat (red meat, dairy), limit dietary cholesterol, and consume more fiber. Many people on this diet are able to manage their high cholesterol without medication.
One to Avoid: Cleanse Diets
Extreme diets that advocate cleanses and supplements should be avoided. There is no evidence that they detox your liver or any other organs in your body. And while you may lose a few pounds during the diet, you’ll likely gain it all back once you resume normal eating. Research even shows the more rapidly you lose weight, the likelihood of doubling it when returning to your normal eating patterns prior to starting the cleanse. If you take medication for diabetes, these diets can create dangerously low blood sugar levels.
Regardless of which healthy diet you choose, you can never go wrong by watching what you eat and improving your nutrition. Check with your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist about which diet is best for you based on your overall health.
About the Author
Megan Ramaika, MA, RD, LDN
Meg is passionate about the relationship between achieving optimal health with proper nutrition. She became a Registered Dietitian in 2014 and has experience with inpatient nutrition support alongside foodservice operations, and now finding her passion is counseling local community members on the impact of Medical Nutrition Therapy.
To schedule a nutrition appointment, please call 800-254-3258.