Our diets are one of the key influences on health, but with all the conflicting nutrition advice in the media, you can be forgiven for being confused about the best things to eat for optimal health.
Carbohydrates make you fat. Palaeolithic eating patterns will aid weight loss. Glycaemic index is the key to health. Vegan is best. Sugar and grains are toxic. Saturated fat is no longer bad for us.
The advocates of competing diets tend inevitably to emphasise their mutual exclusivity and claims for the competitive merits of the specific diet relative to another. New research has attempted to provide some clarity to the ‘which diet is best for health’ argument by comparing several of the more popular diets.
Below is the key summary of the analysis taken straight from the paper available free online.
What did they find?
After condensing all the ostensibly conflicting nutrition messages, the researchers surprisingly found a lot of common ground between the diets, finding that the fundamentals of virtually all eating patterns associated with meaningful evidence of a health benefit, overlap considerably.
So which dietary plan is best for health?
A dietary pattern largely consisting of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly unprocessed plant foods, which is low in highly processed foods and sugar was found to be the best for promoting optimal long-term health, exerting favorable influences across a wide spectrum of health conditions.
Interestingly, this way of eating is consistent with the noticeable components of the seemingly distinct dietary approaches outlined in the study. The literature’s strong support for a common set of dietary principles (minimally processed foods, predominantly unprocessed plant foods) for health promotion and the prevention, or management, of many prevalent conditions in modern societies. In this context, guidance that places an exaggerated emphasis on any one nutrient or food is ill advised.
Another important aspect from the study was that the weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthy eating while allowing for some flexibility. There is no one food or food group that deserves demonising. For a dietary pattern to be maintainable, it should be flexible, without the stringent rules set out in many popular diets.
We need less debate about which diet is best, and much more attention directed at how best to move our societies in the direction of the well-established theme of optimal eating.
The take away
A general dietary pattern of foods mostly direct from nature and predominantly from plants is supportive of health across the life span. Allow some flexibility and stick to the basics and you are on the right track to health.