Weighing in on the Best Diets

Since 2011, Emory Professor of Cardiology Laurence Sperling has served on a panel of experts for the US News & World Report’s “Best Diets” rankings, evaluating some of the country’s most popular diets. Conveniently, the rankings are released in early January—just in time to help many Americans keep those New Year’s resolutions to eat better and lose weight.

This year, Sperling and his panel colleagues—a group of nationally recognized experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes, and heart disease—evaluated thirty-eight diets. They rated each on a scale of one to five based on seven measures: short- and long-term weight loss, ease of following, nutrition, safety, and performance as a diabetes and heart diet. US News factored in each diet’s score on all seven measures to compute its overall score. 

For the sixth year, the DASH diet—short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—was named the best diet overall. However, a 2016 newcomer, the MIND diet—short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay—made an impressive debut, coming in at second place overall in a tie with the TLC diet. Both diets reinforce what most of us already know about healthy eating—more vegetables, fruits, and lean protein; less fat, sugar, and salt—but they are fine-tuned slightly, with DASH specifically targeting lower blood pressure and MIND targeting brain health.

According to a study funded by the National Institute on Aging, the longer people had followed the MIND diet patterns, the less risk they appeared to have of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Even people who made “modest” changes to their diets—who wouldn’t have fit the criteria for DASH or Mediterranean—had less risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Sperling is currently serving as president of the American Society for Preventive Cardiology. He is the medical director of preventive cardiology at Emory Healthcare, professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, and professor of global health at Rollins School of Public Health. He also serves as medical director for a number of unique programs at Emory. He founded (in 2004) and directs the first and only low-density lipoprotein cholesterol apheresis program in the state of Georgia. Sperling says the top selections on this year’s “Best Diets” list share the common theme of being sustainable and balanced.

Four Diet Tips for the Body—and the Brain

Be Mindful

“The MIND diet is a healthy, sensible plan supported by science,” says Sperling. “It takes two proven diets—DASH and Mediterranean—and promotes foods in each that specifically affect brain health.” Some of those foods include green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. The MIND diet recommends avoiding foods from the five unhealthy groups: red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheeses, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

Practice Moderation

“Find a diet that you can maintain. The more restrictive a diet, the less likely a person can adhere to it long term,” Sperling says. “While fad diets or diets very low in fat or very low in carbs have short-term potential benefits, they are difficult to follow over time.”

Find the Balance

“Balanced diets focus on healthy fats and healthy proteins. They include healthy, unprocessed carbohydrates in small portions,” Sperling says. “Fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy; lots of fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Sparingly, things like sweets, alcohol, and meats.”

Diet for Life

“Make your diet part of a larger, healthier lifestyle,” Sperling adds. “The word diet comes from the Latin word dieta, which really means a way of life. It’s not just a way of eating. Healthy, well-proportioned eating, walking or physical activity on most days of the week, keeping an ideal body weight—maintaining these behaviors throughout your life is key.”—P.P.P.

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