Greatist Op-Eds analyze what’s making headlines in fitness, health, and happiness. The thoughts expressed here are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect Greatist’s outlook.
What’s the Deal?
Some of the main reasons for snubbing the Caveman Diet — which is basically just vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts — are that it’s expensive, hard to follow, and hasn’t been proven to improve health or help people lose weight. Meanwhile, their “Best Diet Overall” is the DASH diet, which recommends tightly controlling calories, avoiding salt and fat, and eating plenty of grains — up to eight servings per day.
One of the reasons the list has proved so controversial is that there are several promising (albeit small-scale) studies that have found Paleo to be a great way to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and there’s evidence that toxins in grains can damage the digestive tract The beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on type 2 diabetes and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Klonoff DC. Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, 2009 Nov 1;3(6):1229-32. Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study. Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. Cardiovascular Diabetology, 2009 Jul 16;8:35. Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Frassetto LA, Schloetter M, et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Aug;63(8):947-55. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008 May;62(5):682-5. A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2010 Nov 30;7:85. Effects of a short-term intervention with a paleolithic diet in healthy volunteers. Osterdahl M, Kocturk T, et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008 May;62(5):682-5. Subjective satiety and other experiences of a Paleolithic diet compared to a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, et al. Nutrition Journal, 2013 Jul 29;12:105. Disruption-Induced Mucus Secretion: Repair and Protection. Miyake K, Tanaka T, McNeil PL. Public Library of Science Biology, 2006 Sep;4(9):e276.. Then again, whole grains are a good source of B-vitamins and antioxidants… and they, too, have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes Putting the whole grain puzzle together: health benefits associated with whole grains--summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium. Jonnalagadda SS, Harnack L, et al. Journal of Nutrition, 2011 May;141(5):1011S-22S. Whole grains and human health. Slavin J. Nutritional Research Review, 2004 Jun;17(1):99-110..
Wait. So am I meant to swear off grains or make sure I get my eight servings per day? Or could it be that all of us — from the Paleo faithful to the committed calorie counters — are missing something?
The Real Best Diet
What if the “best diet” means something different for everyone, and can even evolve and change as we do?
U.S. News and World Report based their rankings on factors like “Weight Loss,” “Nutritional Completeness,” and “Ease of Compliance.” Those are all smart considerations, but do they add up to a one-size-fits-all winner?
I’d say no — because they’re subjective categories. Weight loss isn’t necessarily a priority for every person; supplements can fill the gaps in many “incomplete” diets (e.g. B12 for vegans); and what makes a diet “easy to follow” (or even what qualifies as "healthy") varies from person to person. Heck, the list ranks the shake-based Slim-Fast diet ahead of a simple vegan one!
Just because an objectively “best” diet can’t be determined by an algorithm, that doesn’t mean there’s no best diet for you. A good way to start figuring it out is to ask three questions:
- Does it make me and my body feel good?
- Can I stick with it?
- Is it helping me reach my health and happiness goals?
If the answers are “Yes,” then keep doing you.
If you’re especially at risk for diabetes or heart problems, some of the report's criteria might be useful. But the “best” way to eat, arguably, is the one that makes you feel happy and healthy, and no one can determine that but you. You might thrive by going vegetarian, Paleo, Weight Watchers, or living on nothing but (healthy) crockpot recipes!
Whether you like counting calories or find it easier to just swear off gluten, finding the system that works for you and makes you feel good is the real key to lasting health and happiness. Here’s to healthy, everyone!
Do you think there’s such a thing as the “Best Diet”? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet the author @ncjms.