- The Mediterranean and DASH diets are ranked as the two best overall diets by U.S. News & World Report.
- Experts say the diets are the easiest to follow and have the most flexibility.
- The diets center on whole foods and heart-healthy fats.
Want your diet plan to actually succeed this year?
Nutrition experts say the Mediterranean and DASH diets might be the best bets to help you meet your health and weight loss resolutions for 2020.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet ranked second as the best overall diet.
“Both diets have been associated with a reduction of heart disease, reduction in multiple chronic conditions, and improvements in mental health,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, author of “Skinny Liver,” told Healthline.
The diets are based on choosing whole foods and heart-healthy fats over processed products.
The menu plans are also considered flexible and adaptable for picky eaters.
“The Mediterranean diet is essentially the midway point between the average American diet and a vegan diet,” Andy De Santis, RD, MPH, a weight loss specialist from Toronto, Canada, told Healthline.
“It does not tell you what not to eat as many other diets do,” said De Santis. “It just asks you to reconsider the patterns with which you choose your foods. This is one of the obvious reasons why it ranks so highly in the eyes of both the press and health professionals.”
“One of the biggest messages I convey as a health professional to my clients is to emphasize plant and fish-based proteins over meat,” said De Santis. “This is inherent within the Mediterranean style of eating.”
Kirkpatrick says red meat, processed meat, refined grains, and sweets are limited on both diet plans as well.
Refined grains and sweets can include cereal bars, pastries, and crackers.
“In place of these foods are an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and lentils, as well as healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and wild fatty fish,” Kirkpatrick said. “In addition, moderate consumption of red wine is also allotted in the Mediterranean diet.”
Foods to consume
- fatty fish
- colorful fruits and vegetables
- legumes and beans
- nuts and seeds
- moderate amounts of red wine
Foods to limit
- processed foods
- red meat
- processed meats
- refined grains
With less than 10 percent of people succeeding in their New Year’s resolutions year after year, it’s important that these nutritional plans are easy to implement into your current lifestyle.
“Health, for the most part, is determined by the inclusion of healthful foods,” De Santis said. “When you eat generally well, that bit of chocolate or chips you enjoy will have little to no negative impact on your goals and well-being.”
“It’s also a much more mentally healthy way to go about things, which we could all benefit from,” he said.
“On the spectrum of fad vs. real diets, the DASH and Mediterranean are on one end of the spectrum,” she said. “These diets have been around a long time and continue to show benefit in the data.”
However, that doesn’t mean nutritional changes are free from personal challenges.
The DASH diet, with its focus on reducing hypertension or high blood pressure, does not recommend alcohol consumption.
This is the defining difference between the two diet plans.
“The Mediterranean diet recommends wine in moderation, as it is often a frequent characteristic of Mediterranean dietary culture,” De Santis said.
“Although alcohol is arguably the least salient characteristic of diet, the rich antioxidant and polyphenol content of wine may add to the overall healthfulness of this style of eating,” he said.
“It remains best to keep alcohol consumption under 15 drinks a week for men and under 10 for women, if not less, especially if you are managing your caloric intake,” De Santis added.
Antioxidants and polyphenols are plant-based micronutrients that can improve or help treat digestion issues, weight management difficulties, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
If you’re following an alcohol-free lifestyle, you can get polyphenols from eating berries, dark chocolate, and a variety of nuts.
“I’ve always told my patients that if you don’t drink, it’s not worth starting for what you believe will be health benefits,” said Kirkpatrick. “One thing that the data is clear about is the fact that once moderation is passed, alcohol consumption can then have negative health aspects.”
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Easy-to-follow diets don’t always guarantee success.
Environmental, economic, and individual health factors can all play a role in our relationship to food.
“Some of my patients have struggled with the higher carbohydrate content of the diets as well as the lack of red meat,” Kirkpatrick said. “If you are someone who is interested in a lower carb approach, this is not necessarily the best option.”
Minor modifications or adjustments to the dietary plan may be necessary to help increase your chances of long-term success.
“My biggest piece of advice for anyone embarking on the path toward healthier eating in 2020 is to focus on all the great things you are going to include in your diet, and not waste energy on things you think you should avoid or cut out,” Kirkpatrick said.
Consider your social network as well. The people in your life play a role in whether or not you will meet your health and weight resolutions.
“Though sustainability is higher with these diets than with other popular diets, any major change in what you eat can be tough to stick with if you are in an environment that does not support it,” Kirkpatrick said. “Your family, your friends, and your workplace will all factor in.”
“On a positive side, the diet does not restrict food or calories, which may be easier for some individuals,” she added.