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Diet Healthy With The Healthiest Diet on the Planet

Diet Healthy For a Longer Life

Diet healthy with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil

English: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt, black pepper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a lot easier to find another fad diet than it is to diet healthy. As noted in my last post about the ways that obesity ages you faster (“5 Ways Obesity Ages You Fast“), there’s no disputing the direct and causal link between obesity and disease.

There’s also no disputing the direct and causal link between diet and disease. A nutritious diet helps you stave off disease and maintain optimal health in many synergistic ways – strengthening your immune system, optimizing your cellular function, and maintaining smooth and healthy blood vessels, to name a few (see “Nutrition & Diet Are Your Best Medicine” for more about how to diet healthy).

But Which Diet is Best to Diet Healthy?

There’s the low-carb, Atkins-style approach, a low-fat diet, vegetarian and vegan diets, and the new kid on the block (based on a much older kid) – the paleo (for paleolithic, or stone age) diet. These all have their merits – and one may work better for any of us individually than another. There is, after all, no one-size-fits-all way to diet healthy that’s optimal for everyone, no matter what advocates for each of these diets may claim.

But one thing is universally applicable to all of us. And that’s that the anti-nutrient typical western diet of packaged foods loaded with sodium, sugars, and trans fats – along with preservatives, colorings and other non-nutrients – is no way to diet healthy. It not only fails to promote good health, it actually promotes disease.

It does the opposite of what good nutrition does. Instead of nurturing your body with healthful nutrients that support and enhance your bodily functions, it compromises and impairs healthy bodily functions by increasing blood sugar and blood pressure levels, redistributing fat to the belly – where it’s most dangerous (see “Belly Fat – The Enemy Within“) – and promoting inflammation that compromises your body’s immune defenses.

The standard American diet – exported globally now thanks to the profitability of its government-subsidized ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup – is inherently an anti-nutrient diet. And we’ve got the record epidemics of chronic diseases to prove it.

But what do we replace it with? Is it Atkins or Paleo, or do you really have to “go vegan” to maximize your chances – and those of your family – for a long and healthy life?

Let’s consider the evidence about the best way to diet healthy and ignore, for the moment at least, the marketing pitches for today’s favored dietary approaches.

Nutrition First

A study reported this week in The New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of a randomly-controlled trial comparing a Mediterranean diet supplemented with additional extra virgin olive oil or nuts with a control group advised to eat a low-fat diet. Other studies have compared a Mediterranean diet to low-carb diets, among others.

This latest study showed significantly lower rates of heart attacks and strokes in the two modified Mediterranean diets compared to the control group. The difference for stroke was the most substantial, with those on the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts having almost a 50% lower rate of strokes.

And while this study failed to show a mortality difference, this may be due to its relatively short (4.8 year) duration. Other studies have shown substantial benefits from a Mediterranean diet in both quality (as in fewer strokes) and quantity (longevity) of life.

In fact, no other diet has the breadth and depth of evidence to support its claim to being the healthiest diet on the planet (my term, I should note).

Prescription-Strength Health Benefits 

There’s no single “Mediterranean Diet”, but rather a variety of Mediterranean-area diets that share some basic nutrients in common. These include fruits and vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes and extra virgin olive oil, with modest consumption of fish, poultry, dairy and wine. Meat, processed meats, and sweets are kept to a minimum.

There’s substantial evidence of benefit from these ingredients on not just biomarkers like blood sugar and blood pressure – the two most important risk factors for aging Americans – but on actual outcomes like mortality and reduced Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

A European study of older adults found “realistically achievable changes in diet” to a more Mediterranean diet rich in plant foods and unsaturated fats was “associated with a reduction of total mortality by 11% or 14%”, concluding the “Mediterranean diet is beneficial to health across populations”.

Several studies have evaluated the effects of a Mediterranean diet on U.S. populations, all finding substantial reductions in mortality in older adult populations from cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), Alzheimer’s, and all-cause mortality by up to 73% (see table below).

Clearly, a Mediterranean diet provides you with “prescription-strength” health benefits. And it does so without toxic side-effects – and with broader systemic health benefits – than more narrowly-targeted medications (see Our Healthcare Sucks for more on the downsides of over-dependence on medications).

No other diet, popular or otherwise, can lay claim to such broad and evidence-backed health benefits. This means there’s no better way for most of us to diet healthy.

Want MORE Evidence?

Perhaps you’re the doubting type – or so wed to another diet that you’re prepared to dispute this evidence. If so, the following table provides yet more evidence of the salubrious effects of a Mediterranean diet – and no other diet can match it. 

These three studies show 20-39% reduced mortality and 3 – 4 years of added longevity with a Mediterranean diet (those with the lowest adherence to a Mediterranean diet are the “Reference” group for comparison with the other 2 groups with increasing adherence to more components of a Mediterranean diet).

diet healthy with a Mediterranean diet

These dramatic results across men and women of all races over 4.4-to-5 year follow-up periods suggest a Mediterranean diet translates exceedingly well to the U.S. – and to women and men of all ethnicities and ages.

Not only is no other diet able to match this level of evidence, there’s no medication or combination of medications that comes close to matching these kinds of life-prolonging/life-enhancing benefits across such a broad range of diseases. 

But Which Diet is Better for Healthy Weight Loss?

All this emphasis on health benefit is all well-and-good, but what if your primary concern is weight loss?

Maybe you don’t currently have any major health concerns and just want to know which diet is most likely to help you lose weight. You might think there’d be a trade-off between health benefits and weight loss, but you’d be wrong. Here’s why.

If rapid weight loss were the sole objective, there are legitimate arguments favoring an Atkins-type ultra-low carbohydrate diet.

But rapid weight loss is not the sole objective; healthy weight loss is the goal, and healthy weight loss is gradual and sustainable, not rapid.

Rapid weight loss can prove counter-productive by causing more muscle loss than gradual weight loss.

One study found low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets were both better for weight loss than a low-fat diet.  While the low-carbohydrate diet caused more weight loss after one year, more weight was regained in the second year – making them equally effective after two years.

Losing more weight and regaining it – “yo-yo” dieting – is not better for body organs or fat-to-muscle ratio than more gradual and consistent weight loss achieved with a Mediterranean-type diet.

That’s because the weight you lose is a combination of fat, bone and muscle, while the weight you regain is mostly fat. This means you end up with a worse fat-to-muscle body composition that leaves you more vulnerable to disease.

Slow-and-steady weight loss is the best way to diet healthy. It’s a formula for permanent health benefit – and for keeping off whatever weight you manage to lose.

The key benefit of a Mediterranean diet is that you gain its health benefits whether you lose weight or not.

That makes you a winner even if you never lose a pound of excess weight – making it maybe the only “no lose” way to diet healthy.

And it’s much easier to maintain than more demanding diets that require you to forego foods you may relish – and some your body needs. A Mediterranean diet is the ultimate in balanced diets, which explains the greater adherence seen in trials comparing it with other diets.

Easy to follow, unmatched health benefits, and pretty darn tasty as well.

So what are you waiting for?
 

 

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24 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Jason
    January 20, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Been hearing good things about the Mediterranean diet. Being an absolute meat lover, Paleo seemed like the right choice for me. Very informative

  2. surender
    January 10, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Good post .. thanks to sharing your ideas related to healthy diets. Add some Mediterranean diet recipes to your everyday food list and make a complete and balanced meal.
    the Mediterranean diet food list may help keep many diseases like Alzheimer’s , diabetes and cancer.

  3. Jen
    December 18, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    Getting healthy and staying healthy starts with the diet. I see many people going to the gym 5 times a week, but eat a bad diet during the day. The results will come very slow and it is discouraging. In order to be healthy you need a good diet and workout will assist you in being healthy, not the other way around. It is 80% diet and 20% working out. People usually get that mixed up. One more note, staying healthy is a lifestyle change not a one time thing.

  4. Donald Quixote
    December 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Getting in shape is always the same issue it seems. Just like everything else in life it is a trade off between long term benefits and short term satisfaction. Which one matters to you more?

  5. John
    December 9, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Hi John,

    I always knew the Mediterranean diet was great for weight loss, but I had no idea it can help you reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes. Also, the life enhancing benefits that this diet provides definitely makes it hard to find another diet as good as the Mediterranean diet.

  6. Erwin
    November 25, 2013 at 6:33 am #

    Hi John,

    I love your advice and I really wanted it to work for me. Some sources say we should reduce the amount of meat consumption, and increased number of eating green vegetables if we want to stay healthy and gain a long life. I hope it’s also true.

    • John Lynch
      November 25, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Hi Erwin. I don’t think there’s much doubt that less meat and more veggies is a winning combination. Unless you’re hyper-vigilant about eating only grass-fed meats, there are healthier protein sources with less saturated fat to worry about. Small fatty fish – with good unsaturated omega-3 fats, not saturated fats – white chicken or turkey and beans with rice are all good protein sources with other healthful nutrients. Small fish like salmon, light tuna (not white) and sardines are good sources of protein and omega-3 fats with less risk of mercury contamination than larger fish. A Mediterranean diet captures all of this and more.

  7. Manish Kataria
    November 22, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Wow nice analysis done.
    Appreciate it. The main point is the diet plan should have long terms effects not just instantaneous.

  8. Healthy Lunch Recipes
    November 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    hi
    Other foods work by curbing your appetite. Foods high in fiber help keep you feeling full longer so you eat less. In addition, eating a healthy breakfast helps jump start your metabolism for the rest of the day as well as giving you much a much needed source of energy after a full nights rest.

  9. Dr Niraj Vora
    November 1, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    People with bad diets with lots of sugar, soda and junk food tend to get diabetes, which is a killer. They are also more likely to get cancer and heart disease.

    Good Exercise and diet is the key to a healthy and long life.

  10. healthy breakfast recipes
    October 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Gooooooooooooooooooooood! this’s very nice
    thank you for this information

  11. John Lynch
    October 12, 2013 at 7:50 am #

    Hi Nathan. Thanks for commenting.

    I’d be a bit concerned about advocating a fixed calorie count for everyone regardless of their body size or current calorie consumption. Women generally need fewer calories than men, for example. And while 1500 calories a day may be suitable for most (not all) women, it might be inadequate for many men. And if they’re currently consuming 3,000 or more calories a day, cutting their current consumption by half is probably unrealistic and unnecessary. I think a more flexible approach geared to each individual’s circumstances and health objectives makes more sense.

  12. Jody
    October 2, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    Every diet we decide to follow must include organic food and water. Of course, if twice or even three times a week we exercise the diet we are following should be successful. Thank you for sharing this article!

  13. Aspects In Life
    September 26, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    I also feel that the Paleo diet is a sensible way of eating in order to avoid dealing with health conditions. The bad foods we consume each day are very destructive to our good health.

    • John Lynch
      September 26, 2013 at 8:14 am #

      The Paleo Diet is very popular, but lacks the kind of evidence I cite in this article for a Mediterranean diet. Its heavy meat consumption is also troublesome, given the solid evidence of higher cancer risk with meat consumption. And while grains can pose problems for some people, WHOLE (not processed) grains also have strong evidence of health benefits due to their high fiber, minerals and other healthful nutrient content.

      That said, protein is essential for maintaining/building muscle that’s crucial for longevity. But there are other sources of protein beyond meat – small, fatty fish high in omega 3 fats and low in mercury being prime example – that contribute protein without the risks of heavy meat consumption.

  14. stacy l
    September 21, 2013 at 11:17 am #

    Paleo works wonders for me, but we are all different. I think its important especially if you have any autoimmune type problems to at least try a diet that eliminates grains. So many people have problems with grains.

  15. Sam
    September 10, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    People need to stop thinking of diets and think of healthy eating as a permanent way to eat. You can reduce calories, which will help to lose weight, but when you are eating a diet full of healthy foods, especially vegetables, you will not be eating that many calories anyway. It is also important to know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs. On the Mediterranean, it is best to eat whole grain or even quinoa pasta. Today’s food is a big part of our health problems.

    Today (9-10-13), there was an article that 10% of the kids in America have fatty liver disease. That can only be caused by too much fructose from high fructose corn syrup, which seems to be in everything we eat today.

  16. Lenox
    September 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Mediterranean diets will definitely do a whole lot of good for those who want to lose weight without suffering any bad side-effects. I think it’s important for the media and celebrities to play their part in promoting healthy weight loss diets.

  17. Aurident
    August 23, 2013 at 5:00 am #

    Hi there!,

    My doctor advised me to lose some weight through diet and exercise, but I have no idea what diet to follow because for me what it means is to starve yourself, eat a little and avoid rice. I’ll try this Mediterranean diet and read more things about it, hopefully it could help me reduce some weight and possibility of heart stroke.

  18. Richard Thompson
    August 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    Every diet has its drawbacks, and not very many of them are very sustainable. Some may be very healthy for you, but if you can’t keep them up, then it doesn’t matter. What I’ve found best for me (and remember, it’s different for everyone) is abiding by the 80/20 rule. This means that 8/10 meals are healthy, and health conscious, with the 2 others being whatever you like. At first you might use these meals to pig out and eat unhealthily, but soon you will begin to see how that makes you feel. Great coverage of a bunch of different diets!

  19. Faraz
    August 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Thanks John for the lovely post.

    If I may add to your list: Eating foods high in protein will also aid in weight loss while increasing your metabolism.

  20. Jillian Michaels
    July 29, 2013 at 9:26 am #

    The key to a successful diet mean having a healthy lifestyle, healthy diet and exercise a lot. Most people just focus on the diet alone and neglect staying active and exercise.

    • John Lynch
      August 1, 2013 at 9:52 am #

      Amen to that.

      Although this post is limited to dietary intake, the diet book I’m still editing expands significantly on this – in line with your suggestion. Fitness is the singe most important factor for disease avoidance and longevity.

      Any diet plan that isn’t anchored in physical activity is doomed to failure because our metabolisms require muscle and activity to function properly. And strength training is as important as cardiovascular, especially for long-term weight control as we age.

      Thanks for adding this important caveat – and keep popularizing the subject as you do so well.

  21. Mel
    April 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm #

    Hi,

    thanks for posting, this applies to so many people.. I see people try this diet and that diet and whilst they mostly work temporarily they don’t help long term. Planning to eat clean food and establish a balanced exercise routine and making it realistic to your lifestyle will mean stable ongoing results and long term benefits.

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