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“So why are diets a multi-billion dollar business when all of the advice is free and basically the same? Because we all want to believe we have the inside track on getting healthy. It is just human nature to try and find the path of least resistance and diets give us hope that we have found the magic formula. Except there is no magic to be found here.”

U.S. News & World Report released their diet rankings and we thought it would be interesting to see just how similar the top 5 are and why it really comes down to eating real foods. Let's get started with number 1.

DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to  Stop Hypertension)

Interestingly, DASH did not come out as a diet. It was a healthy heart recommendation made by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and was a free publication. Here is the basis of the diet:

  • Nutrients are good for you and good for controlling high blood pressure
  • You should eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat. 
  • Cut back on salt
  • Move more. 


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Not exactly ground breaking science here. Where we disagree is in using calories as the  tool for measuring success. If you want to lose weight, don't cut your calories. Swap them out for better options. Trust us, 2000 calories of quality vegetables, some meat and fruit, and a little fat like nuts is going to keep you full for a long time. DASH makes a mistake by assuming all calories are created equal. Yet if you follow their simple eating plan, chances are the issue will resolve itself. 

MIND Diet (Mediterranean - DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)

Developed by Rush University Medical Center, this is a mash-up of the DASH and the Mediterranean Diet and focuses more on foods that can help brain health and limit the chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. It came from a study done on 923 Chicago-area seniors over 4.5 years. Those who followed this diet longer showed less chance of developing brain diseases. Here is the basis of the diet:

  • Eat vegetables (but more green leafy ones), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. 
  • Don't eat too many sweets, red meat, butter or margarine, cheeses, fried food and fast food. 
  • It breaks down the quantity of each. For example, every day you should eat 3 servings of whole grains, a salad, and another vegetable along with a glass of wine. Then you fill in the rest of your days with other foods listed in specific quantities. 

Again, we are seeing a focus on eating a lot of healthy real food and staying away from processed foods and added sugars. What we do like is it recommends eating vegetables daily and with every meal. What we find interesting is it recommends less than 1 tablespoon of butter daily and lumps it in with margarine. There is a huge difference between the two with one being a quality source of fat in moderation and the other being a science experiment we left back in the 90's for dead.  Our biggest concern is MIND has a lot of rules for each day and how you should eat although they stress being flexible. Considering all of the new data coming out showing major connections between excess sugar consumption and Alzheimer's disease, it does not surprise us that people who followed this lower sugar diet also saw less instances of brain diseases. 

TLC Diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes)

Created by the National Institutes of Health's National Cholesterol Education Program, the goal of TLC is to cut high cholesterol by 8-10 percent in 6 weeks. Here are the basic guidelines.

  • Cut back on fat, but specifically saturated fat because it increases bad cholesterol
  • Limit daily consumption of dietary cholesterol and increase your fiber intake
  • You should also eat lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat dairy products and fish. 
  • Daily consumption guidelines for each food listed above. For example, no more than 5oz of meat or fish and no more than 4 servings of fruit. 

We are not fans of the TLC diet focus on saturated fat.  Many reports have come out in recent years showing that saturated fat is not the big bogey man we were lead to believe. There is a great Time article from June 2014 you can read here that dispels many of the claims. What we really believe is behind any success of the TLC diet is the same foundation of all good nutrition lifestyles. However, we would not take saturated fat out of the equation and focus much more on the other positive aspects. 

The Fertility Diet

As the name suggests, the goal is to boost fertility through diet. It was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health and based on a study of over 238,000 female nurse participants. Here are the 10 main points of the diet:

  • Avoid trans-fats
  • Consume more unsaturated oils like Olive oil. 
  • Eat more vegetable protein than animal protein
  • Avoid highly-refined carbohydrates like pasta and cookies. 
  • Drink whole milk versus skim milk. Opt for full-fats over low fats. 
  • Take a multivitamin
  • Take an iron supplement
  • Drink water over soda and other sugary drinks. Coffee is fine. Alcohol may not be.
  • Lower your body mass index
  • Do daily exercises

Once again, there are no groundbreaking claims made here. All 10 guidelines would not only help fertility, they would help anybody live a healthier lifestyle. Notice the contrast over the TLC diet and suggesting full fat over lower fat options like skim milk. Also notice that this diet basically says that if you eat healthy, lower your weight to a standard range, and work out, you have a better chance of ovulation and fertility. Is anybody really surprised to hear that living a healthy lifestyle increases the chances of conception?  We have suggested this for years to our athletes and nutrition clients. It certainly makes more sense to go down this road first before turning to drugs to help increase the chances of fertility. 

The Mayo Clinic Diet

This is a well-known diet that has been at the top of most lists for years. The goal of the diet is weight loss and the book suggests you can continue to lose weight by first changing your eating habits and then counting calories to continue to lose weight. Here are the details:

  • Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats
  • Work out for 30 minutes a day. 
  • Don't eat while watching TV and don't snack unless on veggies and fruit
  • Don't eat any sugar unless it is found in fruit
  • Keep food logs and activity logs
  • Eat real food and avoid processed food
  • In the second phase, you continue to do this, but you also include counting calories

This diet definitely ticks a lot of the right boxes for us. We are big fans of exercise, but we also recognize that working out will never outdo proper nutrition. So putting the focus first on changing a person's nutrition lifestyle and then supplementing with exercise is the right way to go about it. We also love the idea of limiting all added sugar beyond its natural sources. Although some may consider this to be too extreme, we have seen first hand that it is completely possible and actually not that tough once implemented. The downside of this diet is in the second phase when they get into counting calories. We don't have a problem with people doing so, but we would never suggest it as the sole way to monitor weight loss. You can read our blog from a few days ago on why only using one tool to determine health is a dangerous idea (here.) Our prediction is that if you follow all of the other recommendations for eating and exercise in phase one, you will not have to count calories much in phase two to still see results. We rarely deal with people who's main problem in weight loss is that they just cannot stop eating 3000 calories a day of mostly vegetables, some fruit, some meat, a little fat and no sugar. 

So to summarize the bulk of the top 5 rated diets by US News & World Report, we should all eat more vegetables and fruit along with quality protein both from vegetables and animals, eat healthy fats in moderation, and whole grains from time to time. We should stay away from processed foods, excessive added sugars, excessive alcohol consumption, and fast foods. We should do all of this more than not and also workout at least a few times a week. So what are we really saying here? Most diets are exactly the same pieces of advice just repackaged to target one group or another. However, we believe real food is great for a lot of reasons that go beyond those suggested here. We have personally seen blood tests improve drastically, weight drop, digestion problems disappear, skin clear up, athletes become pregnant after past failures, promotions at work, and quicker recovery from injury and illness just to name a few.

So why are diets a multi-billion dollar business when all of the advice is free and basically the same? Because we all want to believe we have the inside track on getting healthy. It is just human nature to try and find the path of least resistance and diets give us hope that we have found the magic formula. Except there is no magic to be found here.