You may have seen the US News Best Diets Overall ratings they put out every year. So-called experts rank 32 popular diets based on criteria like how easy it is to follow, how safe and effective it is for weight loss, diabetes, and heart disease, and how nutritious it is. People love to ask what the best diet it, and It's actually one of my favorite questions to answer. It usually leads into a great discussion about diets in general and the importance of individualizing your diet based on your personal needs. You may know that I am pretty anti-diet, so I'm not too happy about these rankings.
My Problem with These Diet "Experts"
I have some serious issues with their rankings. In my opinion, a healthy, well-balanced diet is individualized to your personal needs. You can and should be eating your own individualized diet based on what your body needs, your food preferences, and what makes you feel good. Diets give you a list of rules to follow or products to drink (Slim-Fast) that takes power of your hands. You should be empowered to make your own choices about your health and nutrition rather than follow someone else's rules.
A well-balanced diet will naturally be protective against diabetes and heart disease, and it may help with weight management. Just to clarify, there is no research supporting ANY diet for long-term weight loss, and there's plenty of research to suggest that your weight is not a good indicator of health. I'm also really not sure why many of these diets that are focused on lifestyle changes like the Mediterranean diet, vegetarian diet, or Paleo diet are compared with fad diets that are designed for weight loss like the Abs diet, which will help you lose 12 pounds of belly fat in 2 weeks (pretty unlikely).
Diets Don't Work
Many of these diets are low-calorie that may help you lose weight initially, but it usually rebounds to weight gain over the long-term with the harmful effects of yo-yo dieting. Remember, diets do not work, and the dieting industry is a pretty lucrative business. Not to mention that low-calorie diets do not nutritionally meet your needs and are probably going to leave you pretty starved. How is a diet that leaves you feeling hungry all day an "easy to follow" way to eat?'
I'm really curious how "experts" can claim a 1200-calorie diet based on drinking shakes and bars made with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and plenty of other chemicals is as healthy as an anti-inflammatory diet. Yes, an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, veggies, and omega-3 rich fish tied with the Slim-Fast diet, which is apparently a "reasonable approach to dieting." Check out Laura's (a fellow whole foods nutritionist) thoughts on the US News Diets and Slim-Fast.
The "gold" star diets include the DASH, TLC, and Mediterranean diet. While these are not necessarily the best way to eat, I think they are a huge step up from a standard American diet. They are rich in fruits and vegetables and encourage mostly whole foods unlike many of the other diets on the list. While I don't necessarily think a Paleo diet is necessary for everyone, it doesn't deserve to be last on the list behind Jenny Craig, Slim-Fast, and terribly named and shaming diets like the Abs and Flat Belly Diets. It is based on whole foods, encourages variety, and promotes food quality like pastured meats and organic produce, but, the "experts" think it is too difficult. I guess grocery shopping and cooking is too hard compared to buying already prepared diets like Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, or Slim-Fast.
Don't Label Your Diet
If you were to label my diet, it's a mix of a variety of diets. It's rich in fruits, veggies, fish, olive oil, and nuts like a Mediterranean diet. Some meals are vegetarian or even vegan. I would say it's pretty anti-inflammatory. I love eating raw foods like fruits and salads. Many of my simple meals like winter squash, salmon, and broccoli or eggs, veggies, and fruit are Paleo friendly. If I had to label my diet, it would fit many different categories. The experts would probably find fault because I eat real butter, and many of the foods I eat like olive oil, nuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive. Yes, the experts label the diets based on whole foods are too expensive. I'm not sure they factored in the long-term health costs of eating processed foods or the mental trauma from yo-yo dieting.
You are your Body's Expert
The main point of my ramblings is you don't have to label your diet. You are your body's expert. Eating a whole foods, nutrient-dense diet that is full of variety may be more expensive than one with processed foods, but you'll be providing your body with so much nourishing value (and likely save tons of money on medications and health-care costs). You don't have to follow a rules list of foods to eat or avoid.
Eat with Love
Most of all, eat with love. Choose to eat a diet that is truly nourishing and health-promoting to your body. Focus on the foods that make you feel amazing - physically, mentally, emotionally. Don't focus on restricting foods - focus on adding foods to your diet. Eat mindfully. Accept yourself. There's plenty of research out there that suggests managing your stress is more important for heart health than any food you can eat. Good nutrition is critical to health, but I argue that self-love and choosing to nourish your body, mind, and soul is just as or even more important.
If you read the US News Best Diets rankings, please know that it's one group of experts' thoughts. You know your body best. You can make the choice to individualize your diet, and choose nourishing foods for your body rather than following a "label" or specific diet.