What Can Twins Tell Us About Diet?

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Twin Studies? 

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

Why is the advice on healthy diets so confusing? One blog claims the vegan diet is best. Another says it is the keto diet is best. The Mediterranean diet is popular, but other experts claim the DASH or MIND diet might be better. Blogs champion diets ranging from the familiar to downright weird.

If you try to keep up with the science, it seems like the science is constantly changing. Each week you see headlines saying the latest study shows diet “X” is best – and “X” keeps changing. Why is that? Why do studies on healthy diets keep coming up with conflicting conclusions?

I have discussed the strengths and weaknesses of clinical studies and why they provide conflicting results in detail in previous issues of “Health Tips From the Professor”. However, one factor I have not discussed in detail is the effect of genetics on how we utilize foods, something called nutrigenomics.

Simply put, we are all genetically different. The way we utilize foods is different. The effect that foods have on our bodies is different. I have touched on that briefly in a previous article discussing individual difference in blood sugar response to various foods. But that is just one of many examples.

We do not yet know enough about gene-nutrient interactions to use genomic data to accurately predict which diets are best. Again, I have covered that topic in a previous issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”. However, we do know that genetic differences have a big influence on which diet is best for us. And most clinical studies on diets do not even attempt to take genetic differences into account.

That is where twin studies come in. Identical twins (monozygotic twins) have an identical genetic makeup and usually have an identical environment until they become adults. So, when I saw an identical twin study (MJ Landry et al, JAMA Network Open, 6(11):e2344457, 2023) comparing a vegan diet (only plant foods) with an omnivorous diet (both animal and plant foods), I wanted to review it and share it with you.

How Was The Study Done? 

Clinical StudyIdentical twins were recruited from the Stanford Twin Registry. Twenty-two identical twin pairs were chosen for this study. Their characteristics were average age = 40, BMI = 26% (moderately overweight), sex = 77% female, ethnicity = 73% white, followed by an approximately equal representation of Asian, black, multiracial, and Pacific Islander.

One unanticipated characteristic of this group of twins was that 70% of them still lived together and cooked together, so their environment was also very similar.

One twin of each pair was put on a healthy vegan diet and the other on a healthy omnivorous diet for 8 weeks. Both diets were designed by dietitians. The diets emphasized fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting added sugars and refined grains.

Both diets were healthier than the diets the twins were eating prior to the study. Finally, the participants were not told how much to eat, and were not instructed to lose weight.

For the first four weeks the participants were provided with all their meals by a nationwide food delivery company. The participants were also provided with training on purchasing and preparing healthy foods for their diet. This prepared them for the last 4 weeks of the study in which they purchased and prepared their own meals.

Participants visited the Stanford Clinical and Translational Science Research Unit at the beginning of the study and at the end of weeks 4 and 8 for weight measurement and a fasting blood draw.

Adherence to the diets was measured by a series of unannounced interviews to administer a 24-hour dietary recall questionnaire. These were scheduled for the weeks they visited the clinic.

What Can Twins Tell Us About Diet? 

TwinsEven though the sample size was small, there were three statistically significant results.

  • LDL-cholesterol was reduced by 12% for the twin on the vegan diet, while it remained unchanged for the twin on the omnivorous diet.
  • The fasting insulin level was reduced by 21% for the twin on the vegan diet, while it remained unchanged for the twin on the omnivorous diet. This suggests the twin on the vegan diet was experiencing improved blood sugar control after just 8 weeks.
  • The twin on the vegan diet lost 4 pounds in 8 weeks, while weight remained the same for the twin on the omnivorous diet. This occurred even though neither twin was instructed to eat less nor to lose weight. It is most likely a consequence of the lower caloric density of the vegan diet (See my discussion of caloric density in last week’s issue of “Health Tips From the Professor”.
  • The changes in LDL-cholesterol and fasting insulin were remarkable because none of the twins in this study had elevated LDL-cholesterol or problems with blood sugar control at the beginning of the study.

The authors of this study concluded, “In this randomized clinical trial of the cardiometabolic effects of omnivorous vs vegan diets in identical twins, the healthy vegan diet led to improved cardiometabolic outcomes compared with a healthy omnivorous diet. Clinicians can consider this dietary approach as a healthy alternative for their patients.”

[Let me decipher the term cardiometabolic for you. The decrease in LDL-cholesterol is associated with heart health – the cardio portion of the term. The decrease in fasting insulin is associated with decreased risk of diabetes. Since diabetes is considered a metabolic disease, this is the metabolic portion of the term.]

Were There Any Downsides To The Vegan Diet? 

thumbs down symbolThis study also highlighted two well-known limitations of vegan diets.

  • Although the differences were not statistically significant, the authors expressed concern that vitamin B12 intake was less for twins on the vegan diet than twins on the omnivorous diet even though the vegan diet was designed by dietitians.

The authors noted that B12 deficiency among vegans is well known, and said, “Long-term vegans are typically encouraged to take a cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12) supplement.

  • Although both groups had excellent adherence to their assigned diets, those assigned to the vegan diet expressed a lower satisfaction with the diet, which suggests long-term adherence to the diet after the study ended was unlikely.

The authors said, “Although our findings suggest that vegan diets offer a protective cardiometabolic advantage compared with a healthy omnivorous diet, excluding all meats and/or dairy products may not be necessary because research suggests that cardiometabolic benefits can be achieved with modest reduction in animal foods and increases in healthy plant-based foods compared with typical diets.”

“We believe that lower dietary satisfaction in the vegan group may have been attributable to the strictness of the vegan diet…Some people may find a less restrictive diet preferable for LDL-cholesterol-lowering effects.”

I concur.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Twin Studies? 

pros and consThe Pros are obvious. Most dietary studies cannot take genetic differences into account and have difficulty accounting for environmental differences. In this study genetics was identical for each twin pair and their environment was very similar. It offers a unique advantage over other studies.

But the strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. Because the general population is genetically and environmentally diverse, it is difficult to extrapolate the results to the general population.

If this were the only study to show cardiometabolic benefits of a plant-based diet, it would simply be an interesting observation.

  • But there are several studies showing that the vegan diet is associated with lower weight and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • And there are dozens of studies showing that primarily plant-based omnivorous diets reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

This study is fully consistent with those studies.

The Bottom Line 

A recent study put identical twins on either a healthy vegan diet (only plant foods) or a healthy omnivorous diet (both animal and plant foods) for 8 weeks. At the end of 8 weeks:

  • LDL-cholesterol was reduced by 12% for the twin on the vegan diet, while it remained unchanged for the twin on the omnivorous diet.
  • The fasting insulin level was reduced by 21% for the twin on the vegan diet, while it remained unchanged for the twin on the omnivorous diet. This suggests the twin on the vegan diet was experiencing improved blood sugar control after just 8 weeks.
  • The twin on the vegan diet lost 4 pounds in 8 weeks, while weight remained the same for the twin on the omnivorous diet. This occurred even though neither twin was instructed to eat less or to lose weight. It is most likely a consequence of the lower caloric density of the vegan diet.
  • The changes in LDL-cholesterol and fasting insulin were remarkable because none of the twins in this study had elevated LDL-cholesterol or problems with blood sugar control at the beginning of the study.

The authors of this study concluded, “In this randomized clinical trial of the cardiometabolic effects of omnivorous vs vegan diets in identical twins, the healthy vegan diet led to improved cardiometabolic outcomes compared with a healthy omnivorous diet. Clinicians can consider this dietary approach as a healthy alternative for their patients.”

For more information on the pros and cons of this study and what it means for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 _____________________________________________________________________________

My posts and “Health Tips From the Professor” articles carefully avoid claims about any brand of supplement or manufacturer of supplements. However, I am often asked by representatives of supplement companies if they can share them with their customers.

My answer is, “Yes, as long as you share only the article without any additions or alterations. In particular, you should avoid adding any mention of your company or your company’s products. If you were to do that, you could be making what the FTC and FDA consider a “misleading health claim” that could result in legal action against you and the company you represent.

For more detail about FTC regulations for health claims, see this link.

https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/health-products-compliance-guidance

_______________________________________________________________________

 About The Author

Dr. Steve ChaneyDr. Chaney has a BS in Chemistry from Duke University and a PhD in Biochemistry from UCLA. He is Professor Emeritus from the University of North Carolina where he taught biochemistry and nutrition to medical and dental students for 40 years.  Dr. Chaney won numerous teaching awards at UNC, including the Academy of Educators “Excellence in Teaching Lifetime Achievement Award”. Dr Chaney also ran an active cancer research program at UNC and published over 100 scientific articles and reviews in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In addition, he authored two chapters on nutrition in one of the leading biochemistry text books for medical students.

For the past 35 years Dr. Chaney and his wife Suzanne have been helping people improve their health holistically through a combination of good diet, exercise, weight control and appropriate supplementation.

Are All Carbs Bad?

Are Low Carb Enthusiasts Right About The Dangers Of Carbohydrates?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

Low carb enthusiasts have been on the warpath against carbohydrates for years.

Almost everyone agrees that sugar-sweetened sodas and highly processed, refined foods with added sugar are bad for us. But low carb enthusiasts claim that we should also avoid fruits, grains, and starchy vegetables. Have they gone too far?

Several recent studies suggest they have. For example, both association studies and randomized controlled studies suggest that total carbohydrate intake is neither harmful nor beneficial for heart health.

In addition, recent studies suggest that free sugar intake is associated with both elevated triglyceride levels and an increase in heart disease risk.

But those studies have mostly looked at free sugar intake from sugar-sweetened sodas. The authors of this study (RK Kelley et al, BMC Medicine, 21:34, 2023) decided to look more carefully at the effect of all free sugars and other types of carbohydrates on triglyceride levels and heart disease risk.

How Was This Study Done?

clinical studyThe 110,497 people chosen for this study were a subgroup of participants in the UK Biobank Study, a large, long-term study looking at the contributions of genetic predisposition and environmental exposure (including diet) to the development of disease in England, Scotland, and Wales.

The participants in this study were aged between 37 and 73 (average age = 56) on enrollment and were followed for an average of 9.4 years. None of them had a history of heart disease or diabetes or were taking diabetic medications at the time of enrollment.

During the 9.4-year follow-up, five 24-hour dietary recalls were performed, so that usual dietary intake could be measured rather than dietary intake at a single time point. The people in this study participated in an average of 2.9 diet surveys, and none of them had less than two diet surveys.

The averaged data from the dietary recalls were analyzed for the amount and kinds of carbohydrate in the diet. With respect to the types of carbohydrate, the following definitions would be useful.

  • The term free sugars includes all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit juices.
  • The term non-free sugars includes all sugars not in the free sugar category, mostly sugars naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
  • The term refined grains includes white bread, white pasta, white rice, most crackers and cereals, pizza, and grain dishes with added fat.
  • The term whole grains includes wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, bran cereal, wholegrain cereals, oat cereal, and muesli.

Finally, the study looked at the association of total carbohydrate and each class of carbohydrate defined above with all heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, and triglyceride levels.

Are All Carbs Bad?

Question MarkThe study looked at total carbohydrate intake, free sugar intake, and fiber intake. In each case, the study divided the participants into quartiles and compared those in the highest quartile with those in the lowest quartile.

Using this criterion:

  • Total carbohydrate intake was not associated with any cardiovascular outcome measured (total heart disease risk, heart attack risk, and stroke risk).
  • Free sugar intake was positively associated with all cardiovascular outcomes measured. Each 5% increase in caloric intake from free sugars was associated with a:
    • 7% increase in total heart disease risk.
    • 6% increase in heart attack risk.
    • 10% increase in stroke risk.
    • 3% increase in triglyceride levels.
  • Fiber intake was inversely associated with total heart disease risk. Specifically, each 5 gram/day increase in fiber was associated with a:
    • 4% decrease in total heart disease risk.

The investigators also looked at the effect of replacing less healthy carbohydrates with healthier carbohydrates. They found that:

  • Replacing 5% of caloric intake from refined grains with whole grains reduced both total heart disease risk and stroke risk by 6%.
  • Replacing 5% of caloric intake from free sugars (mostly sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, and processed foods with added sugar) with non-free sugars (mostly fruits, vegetables, and dairy products) reduced total heart disease risk by 5% and stroke risk by 9%.

Are Low Carb Enthusiasts Right About The Dangers Of Carbohydrates?

With these data in mind let’s look at the claims of the low-carb enthusiasts.

Claim #1: Carbohydrates raise triglyceride levels. This study shows:

  • This claim is false with respect to total carbohydrate intake and high fiber carbohydrate intake (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This study did not measure intake of beans, nuts, and seeds, but they would likely be in the same category).
  • However, this claim is true with respect to foods high in free sugars (sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, and processed foods with added sugar).

Claim #2: Carbohydrates increase heart disease risk. This study shows:

  • That claim is false with respect to total carbohydrate intake and high fiber carbohydrate intake.
  • However, this claim is true with respect to foods high in free sugars.

Claim #3: Carbohydrates cause weight gain [Note: Low carb enthusiasts usually word it differently. Their claim is that eliminating carbohydrates will help you lose weight. But that claim doesn’t make sense unless you believed eating carbohydrates caused you to gain weight.] This study shows:

  • This claim is false with respect to total carbohydrate intake and high fiber carbohydrate intake.
  • Once again, this claim is true with respect to foods high in free sugars.

The data with high fiber carbohydrates was particularly interesting. When the authors compared the group with the highest fiber intake to the group with the lowest fiber intake, the high-fiber group:

  • Consumed 33% more calories per day.
  • But had lower BMI and waste circumference (measures of obesity) than the low-carbohydrate group.

This suggests that you don’t need to starve yourself to lose weight. You just need to eat healthier foods.

And, in case you were wondering, the high fiber group ate:

  • 5 more servings of fruits and vegetables and…
  • 2 more servings of whole grain foods than the low fiber group.

This is consistent with several previous studies showing that diets containing a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are associated with a healthier weight.

The authors concluded, “Higher free sugar intake was associated with higher cardiovascular disease incidence and higher triglyceride concentrations…Higher fiber intake and replacement of refined grain starch and free sugars with wholegrain starch and non-free sugars, respectively, may be protective for incident heart disease.”

In short, with respect to heart disease, the type, not the amount of dietary carbohydrate is the important risk factor.

What Does This Mean For You?

Questioning WomanForget the low carb “mumbo jumbo”.

  • Carbohydrates aren’t the problem. The wrong kind of carbohydrates are the problem. Fruit juice, sugar-sweetened sodas, and processed foods with added sugar:
    • Increase triglyceride levels.
    • Are associated with weight gain.
    • Increase the risk for heart disease.
  • In other words, they are the villains. They are responsible for the bad effects that low carb enthusiasts ascribe to all carbohydrates.
  • Don’t fear whole fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grain foods. They are the good guys.
    • They have minimal effect on triglyceride levels.
    • They are associated with healthier weight.
    • They are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So, the bottom line for you is simple. Not all carbs are created equal.

  • Your mother was right. Eat your fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Avoid fruit juice, sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed foods with added sugar. [Note: Artificially sweetened beverages are no better than sugar-sweetened beverages, but that’s another story for another day.]

And, if you were wondering why low carb diets appear to work for weight loss, it’s because any restrictive diet works short term. As I have noted previously, keto and vegan diets work equally well for short-term weight loss.

The Bottom Line 

Low carb enthusiasts have been telling us for years to avoid all carbohydrates (including fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains) because carbohydrates:

  • Increase triglyceride levels.
  • Cause weight gain.
  • Increase our risk for heart disease.

A recent study has shown that these claims are only true for some carbohydrates, namely fruit juices, sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed foods with added sugar.

Whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods have the opposite effect. They:

  • Have a minimal effect on triglyceride levels.
  • Are associated with a healthier weight.
  • Are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So, forget the low carb “mumbo jumbo” and be sure to eat your fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

For more information on this study and what it means for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

___________________________________________________________________________

My posts and “Health Tips From the Professor” articles carefully avoid claims about any brand of supplement or manufacturer of supplements. However, I am often asked by representatives of supplement companies if they can share them with their customers.

My answer is, “Yes, as long as you share only the article without any additions or alterations. In particular, you should avoid adding any mention of your company or your company’s products. If you were to do that, you could be making what the FTC and FDA consider a “misleading health claim” that could result in legal action against you and the company you represent.

For more detail about FTC regulations for health claims, see this link.

https://www.ftc.gov/business-guidance/resources/health-products-compliance-guidance

Are Low Carb Diets Healthier?

The “Goldilocks Effect”

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Goldilocks EffectThe low-carb wars rage on. Low-carb enthusiasts claim that low-carb diets are healthy. Many health experts warn about the dangers of low-carb diets. Several studies have reported that low-carb diets increase risk of mortality (shorten lifespan).

However, two recent studies have come to the opposite conclusion. Those studies reported that high carbohydrate intake increased mortality, and low carbohydrate intake was associated with the lowest mortality.

One of those studies, called the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study was published a few years ago. It included data from 135,335 participants from 18 countries across 5 continents. That’s a very large study, and normally we expect very large studies to be accurate. The results from the PURE study had low-carb enthusiasts doing a victory lap and claiming it was time to rewrite nutritional guidelines to favor low-carb diets.

Whenever controversies like this arise, reputable scientists are motivated to take another look at the question. They understand that all studies have their weaknesses and biases. So, they look at previous studies very carefully and try to design a study that eliminates the weaknesses and biases of those studies. Their goal is to design a stronger study that reconciles the differences between the previous studies.

A third study published a year later (SB Seidelmann et al, The Lancet, doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(18)30135-X was such a study. This study resolved the conflicting data and finally answered the question: “How much carbohydrate should we be eating if we desire a long and healthy life?” The answer is “Enough”.

I call this “The Goldilocks Effect”. You may remember “Goldilocks And The Three Bears”. One bed was too hard. One bed was too soft. But one bed was “just right”. One bowl of porridge was too hot. One was two cold. But one was “just right”. According to this study, the same is true for carbohydrate intake. High carbohydrate intake is unhealthy. Low carbohydrate intake is unhealthy. But moderate carbohydrate intake is “just right”.

How Was The Study Done?

clinical studyThis study was performed in two parts. This first part drew on data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. That study enrolled 15,428 men and women, aged 45-64, from four US communities between 1987 and 1989. This group was followed for an average of 25 years, during which time 6283 people died. Carbohydrate intake was calculated based on food frequency questionnaires administered when participants enrolled in the study and again 6 years later. The study evaluated the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.

The second part was a meta-analysis that combined the data from the ARIC study with all major clinical studies since 2007 that measured carbohydrate intake and mortality and lasted 5 years or more. The total number of participants included in this meta-analysis was 432,179, and it included data from previous studies that claimed low-carbohydrate intake was associated with decreased mortality.

Are Low Carb Diets Healthier?

GravestoneThe results from the ARIC study were:

  • The relationship between mortality and carbohydrate intake was a U-shaped curve.
    • The lowest risk of death was observed with a moderate carbohydrate intake (50-55%). This is the intake recommended by current nutrition guidelines.
    • The highest risk of death was observed with a low carbohydrate intake (<40%).
    • The risk of death also increased with very high carbohydrate intake (>70%).
  • When the investigators used the mortality data to estimate life expectancy, they predicted a 50-year old participant would have a projected life expectancy of:
    • 33.1 years if they had a moderate intake of carbohydrates.
    • 4 years less if they had a low carbohydrate intake.
    • 1.1 year less if they had a very high carbohydrate intake.
  • The risk associated with low carbohydrate intake was affected by what the carbohydrate was replaced with.
    • When carbohydrates were replaced with animal protein and animal fat there was an increased risk of mortality on a low-carb diet. The animal-based low-carb diet contained more beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and fish. It was also higher in saturated fat.Beans and Nuts
    • When carbohydrates were replaced with plant protein and plant fats, there was a decreased risk of mortality on a low-carb diet. The plant-based low-carb diet contained more nuts, peanut butter, dark or whole grain breads, chocolate, and white bread. It was also higher in polyunsaturated fats.
  • The effect of carbohydrate intake on mortality was virtually the same for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and non-cardiovascular mortality.
  • There was no significant effect of carbohydrate intake on long-term weight gain (another myth busted).

The results from the dueling meta-analyses were actually very similar. When the data from all studies were combined:

  • Both very low carbohydrate diets and very high carbohydrate diets were associated with increased mortality.
  • Meat-based low-carb diets increased mortality, and plant-based low-carb diets decreased mortality.
  • Once again, the results were the same for total mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and non-cardiovascular mortality.

The authors concluded: “Our findings suggest a negative long-term association between life-expectancy and both low carbohydrate and high carbohydrate diets…These data also provide further evidence that animal-based low carbohydrate diets should be discouraged. Alternatively, when restricting carbohydrate intake, replacement of carbohydrates with predominantly plant-based fats and proteins could be considered as a long-term approach to healthy aging.”

Simply put, that means if a low carb diet works best for you, it is healthier to replace the carbs with plant-based fats and protein rather than animal-based fats and protein.

The “Goldilocks Effect”

low carb dietThis study also resolved the discrepancies between previous studies. The authors pointed out that the average carbohydrate intake is very different in Europe and the US than in Asian countries and low-income countries.

In the US and Europe mean carbohydrate intake is about 50% of calories and it ranges from 25% to 70% of calories. With that range of carbohydrate intake, it is possible to observe the increase in mortality associated with both very low and very high carbohydrate intakes.

The US and European countries are affluent, which means that low-carb enthusiasts can afford diets high in animal protein.

White rice is a staple in Asian countries, and protein is a garnish rather than a main course. Consequently, overall carbohydrate intake is greater in Asian countries and very few Asians eat a truly low carbohydrate diet. High protein foods tend to be more expensive than high carbohydrate foods. Thus, very few people in developing countries can afford to follow a very low carbohydrate diet, and overall carbohydrate intake also tends to be higher.

Therefore, in Asian and developing countries the average carbohydrate intake is greater (~61%) than in the US and Europe, and the range of carbohydrate intake is from 45% to 80% of calories. With that range of intake, it is only possible to see the increase in mortality associated with very high carbohydrate intake.

Both the studies that low-carb enthusiasts quote to support their claim that low-carb diets are healthy relied heavily on data from Asian and developing countries.ARIC Study

In fact, when the authors of the current study overlaid the data from the PURE study with their ARIC data, there was an almost perfect fit. The only difference was that their ARIC data covered both low and high carbohydrate intake while the PURE study touted by low-carb enthusiasts only covered moderate to high carbohydrate intake.

[I have given you my rendition of the graph on the right. If you would like to see the data yourself, look at the paper.]

Basically, low-carb advocates are telling you that diets with carbohydrate intakes of 30% or less are healthy based on studies that did not include carbohydrate intakes below 40%. That is misleading. The studies they quote are incapable of detecting the risks of low carbohydrate diets.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

QuestionsThere are several important take-home lessons from this study:

  • All major studies agree that very high carbohydrate intake is unhealthy. In part, that reflects the fact that diets with high carbohydrate intake are likely to be high in sodas and sugary junk foods. It may also reflect the fact that diets which are high in carbohydrate are often low in plant protein or healthy fats or both.
  • All studies that cover the full range of carbohydrate intake agree that very low carbohydrate intake is also unhealthy. It shortens the life expectancy of a 50-year-old by about 4 years.
  • The studies quoted by low carb enthusiasts to support their claim that low-carb diets are healthy don’t include carbohydrate intakes below 40%. That means their claims are misleading. The studies they quote are incapable of detecting the risks of low carbohydrate diets.
  • Meat-based low-carb diets decrease life expectancy while plant-based low carb diets increase life expectancy. This is consistent with previous studies. For more details on those studies, see my article, “Are Any Low-Carb Diets Healthy?”, in “Health Tips From The Professor” or my book, “Slaying The Food Myths”.

The health risks of meat-based low-carb diets may be due to the saturated fat content or the heavy reliance on red meat. However, the risks are just as likely to be due to the foods these diets leave out – typically fruits, whole grains, legumes, and some vegetables.

Proponents of low-carb diets assume that you can make up for the missing nutrients by just taking multivitamins. However, each food group also provides a unique combination of phytonutrients and fibers. The fibers, in turn, influence your microbiome. Simply put, whenever you leave out whole food groups, you put your health at risk.

The Bottom Line

The low-carb wars are raging. Several studies have reported that low-carb diets increase risk of mortality (shorten lifespan). However, two studies published a few years ago have come to the opposite conclusion. Those studies have low-carb enthusiasts doing a victory lap and claiming it is time to rewrite nutritional guidelines to favor low-carb diets.

However, a study published a year later resolves the conflicting data and finally answers the question: “How much carbohydrate should we be eating if we desire a long and healthy life?” The answer is “Enough”.

I call this “The Goldilocks Effect”. According to this study, high carbohydrate intake is unhealthy. Low carbohydrate intake is unhealthy. But, moderate carbohydrate intake is “just right”.

Specifically, this study reported:

  1. Moderate carbohydrate intake (50-55%) is healthiest. This is also the carbohydrate intake recommended by current nutritional guidelines.

2) All major studies agree that very high carbohydrate intake (60-70%) is unhealthy. It shortens life expectancy of a 50-year old by about a year.

3) All studies that cover the full range of carbohydrate intake agree that low carbohydrate intake (<40%) is also unhealthy. It shortens life expectancy of a 50-year old by about 4 years.

4) The studies quoted by low carb enthusiasts to support their claim that low-carb diets are healthy don’t include carbohydrate intakes below 40%. That means their claims are misleading. The studies they quote are incapable of detecting the risks of low carbohydrate diets.

5) Meat-based low-carb diets decrease life expectancy while plant-based low carb diets increase life expectancy. This is consistent with the results of previous studies.

The authors concluded: “Our findings suggest a negative long-term association between life-expectancy and both low carbohydrate and high carbohydrate diets…These data also provide further evidence that animal-based low carbohydrate diets should be discouraged. Alternatively, when restricting carbohydrate intake, replacement of carbohydrates with predominantly plant-based fats and proteins could be considered as a long-term approach to healthy aging.”

Simply put, that means if a low carb diet works best for you, it is healthier to replace the carbs with plant-based fats and protein rather than animal-based fats and protein.

For more details, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Which Diets Are Best In 2023?

Which Diet Should You Choose?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Emoticon-BadMany of you started 2023 with goals of losing weight and/or improving your health. In many cases, that involved choosing a new diet. That was only 6 weeks ago, but it probably feels like an eternity.

For many of you the “bloom” has gone off the new diet you started so enthusiastically in January.

  • Perhaps the diet isn’t working as well as advertised…
  • Perhaps the diet is too restrictive. You are finding it hard to stick with…
  • Perhaps you are always hungry or constantly fighting food cravings…
  • Perhaps you are starting to wonder whether there is a better diet than the one you chose in January…
  • Perhaps you are wondering whether the diet you chose is the wrong one for you…

If you are rethinking your diet, you might want to know which diets the experts recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The diet world has become just as divided as the political world.

Fortunately, you have an impartial resource. Each year US News & World Report invites a panel of experts with different points of view to evaluate popular diets. They then combine the input from all the experts into rankings of the diets in various categories.

If you are still searching for your ideal diet, I will summarize the US News & World Report’s “Best Diets In 2023”. For the full report, click on this link.

How Was This Report Created?

Expert PanelUS News & World Report recruited a panel of 30 nationally recognized experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes, and heart disease to review the 24 most popular diets.

The diets evaluated are not the same each year. Last year they evaluated the top 40 most popular diets. This year they only reviewed the top 24.

That means some good diets were left off the list. For example, the vegan diet is very healthy, but it is also very restrictive. Very few people follow a pure vegan diet, so it didn’t make the top 24 most popular. However, this year’s list did include several primarily plant-based diets that are more popular with the general public.

The panel is also not the same each year. Some experts are rotated off the panel, and others are added. The experts rate each diet in seven categories:

  • How easy it is to follow.
  • Its ability to produce short-term weight loss.
  • Its ability to produce long-term weight loss.
  • its nutritional completeness.
  • Its safety.
  • Its potential for preventing and managing diabetes.
  • Its potential for preventing and managing heart disease.

They converted the experts’ ratings to scores 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest). They then used these scores to construct eleven sets of Best Diets rankings:

  • Best Diets Overall ranks diets on several different parameters, including whether all food groups are included in the diet, the availability of the foods needed to be on the diet and the use of additional vitamins or supplements. They considered if the diet was evidence-based and adaptable to meet cultural, religious, or other personal preferences. In addition, the criteria also included evaluation of the prep and planning time required for the diet and the effectiveness of the diet for someone who wants to get and stay healthy.
  • Best Plant-Based Diets used the same approach as Best Diets Overall to rank the eight plans emphasizing minimally processed foods from plants that were included in this year’s ratings.
  • Best Commercial Diet ratings used the same approach to rank 15 commercial diet programs that require a participation fee or promote the use of branded food or nutritional products.
  • Best Long-Term Weight-Loss Diet ratings were generated by combining the safety of the rate of weight loss promoted and the likelihood of the plan to result in successful long-term weight loss and maintenance of weight loss.
  • Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets were scored on their effectiveness for someone who wants to lose weight in three months or less.
  • Best Diabetes Diet ratings were calculated equally from the effectiveness of the diet for someone who wants to lower risk factors for diabetes, the nutritional quality of the diet, and research evidence-based support for the diet.
  • Best Heart-Healthy Diet ratings were calculated equally from the effectiveness of the diet for someone who wants to lower risk factors for hypertension and other forms of heart disease, the nutritional quality of the diet, and evidence-based support for the diet.
  • Best Diets for Bone and Joint Health were calculated equally on the effectiveness of the diet for someone who wants to lower their risk factors for inflammation and improve bone and joint health, as well as the nutritional quality and research evidence-based support for the diet.
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating combines nutritional completeness and safety ratings, giving twice the weight to safety. A healthy diet should provide sufficient calories and not fall seriously short on important nutrients or entire food groups.
  • Easiest Diets to Follow represents panelists’ averaged scores for the relevant lifestyle questions, including whether all food groups are included and if the recommended foods are readily available at the average supermarket.
  • Best Family-Friendly Diets were calculated equally on their adaptability for the whole family, including cultural, religious, and personal preferences, the time required to plan and prep, nutritional value and access to food at any supermarket.

Which Diets Are Best In 2023?

Are you ready? If this were an awards program, I would be saying “Envelop please” and would open the envelop slowly to build suspense.

However, I am not going to do that. Here are the top 3 and bottom 3 diets in each category (If you would like to see where your favorite diet ranked, click on this link.

[Note: I excluded commercial diets from this review. (I have a brief discussion of commercial diets below). If you notice a number missing in my summaries, it is because I eliminated one or more commercial diet from my summary.]

Best Diets Overall 

The Top 3: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet has been ranked #1 for 6 consecutive years.

#2 (tie): DASH Diet (This diet was designed to keep blood pressure under control, but you can also think of it as an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet.)

#2 (tie): Flexitarian Diet (A flexible semi-vegetarian diet).

The Bottom 3: 

#20: Keto Diet (A high protein, high fat, very low carb diet designed to achieve ketosis).

#21: Atkins Diet (The granddaddy of the high animal protein, low carb, high fat diets).

#24: Raw Food Diet (A diet based on eating foods that have not been cooked or processed).

Best Plant-Based Diets Overall 

The Top 3: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet.

#2: Flexitarian Diet.

#3: MIND Diet (This diet is a combination of Mediterranean and DASH but is specifically designed to reduce cognitive decline as we age.)

The Bottom 3: 

Since only 8 diets were included in this category, even the bottom 3 are pretty good diets, so I did not include a “list of shame” in this category.

Best Long-Term Weight-Loss DietsWeight Loss

The Top 3: 

#1: DASH Diet

#2 (tie): Volumetrics Diet (A diet based on the caloric density of foods).

#2 (tie): Mayo Clinic Diet (A diet designed to establish lifelong healthy eating habits).

The Bottom 3: 

#22 (tie): Keto Diet.

#22 (tie): Atkins Diet.

#24: Raw Food Diet.

Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets

The Top 3: 

#1: Keto Diet

#2: Atkins Diet

#7 (tie): Mayo Clinic Diet

#7 (tie): South Beach Diet

#7 (tie): Volumetrics Diet

The Bottom 3: 

The diets at the bottom of this list were designed for health and weight maintenance rather than rapid weight loss, so I did not include a “list of shame” in this category.

Best Diabetes Diets

The Top 3: 

#1: DASH Diet

#2: Mediterranean Diet

#3: Flexitarian Diet

The Bottom 3: 

#20: Atkins Diet

#21: Paleo Diet (A diet based on what our paleolithic ancestors presumably ate. It restricts grains and dairy and is heavily meat-based).

#22: Raw Food Diet.

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

Healthy HeartThe Top 3: 

#1: DASH Diet

#2: Mediterranean Diet

#3 (tie): Ornish Diet (A whole food, semi-vegetarian diet designed to promote heart health).

#3 (tie): Flexitarian Diet

The Bottom 3: 

#22 (tie): Raw Foods Diet

#22 (tie): Paleo Diet

#24: Keto Diet

Best Diets for Bone and Joint Health 

The Top 3: 

#1 (tie): DASH Diet

#1 (tie): Mediterranean Diet

#3: Flexitarian Diet

The Bottom 3: 

#21 (tie): Raw Foods Diet

#21 (tie): Paleo Diet

#22: Atkins Diet 

#23: Keto Diet 

Best Diets for Healthy Eating

The Top 3: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet

#2: DASH Diet

#3: Flexitarian Diet

The Bottom 3: 

#22: Keto Diet

#23: Atkins Diet

#24: Raw Foods Diet

Easiest Diets to FollowEasy

The Top 3: 

#1 (tie): Flexitarian Diet

#1 (tie): TLC Diet (This diet was designed by the NIH to reduce cholesterol levels and promote heart health.)

#3 (tie): Mediterranean Diet

#3 (tie): DASH Diet

The Bottom 3: 

#19: Atkins Diet

#20: Keto Diet

#22: Raw Foods Diet

Which Diets Are Best For Rapid Weight Loss?

Happy woman on scaleThere are 2 take-home lessons from the rapid weight loss category:

  1. If you are looking for rapid weight loss, any whole food restrictive diet will do.
    • Last year’s diet analysis included the vegan diet, and both vegan and keto diets ranked near the top of the rapid weight loss category. Keto and vegan diets are both very restrictive, but they are polar opposites in terms of the foods they allow and restrict.
      • The keto diet is a meat heavy, very low carb diet. It restricts fruits, some vegetables, grains, and most legumes.
      • The vegan diet is a very low-fat diet that eliminates meat, dairy, eggs, and animal fats.
    • The Atkins and keto diets toppled this year’s rapid weight loss list, but they were joined by the Mayo Clinic, South Beach, and volumetrics diets. Those diets are also restrictive, but, like the vegan diet, they are very different from the Atkins and keto diets.
    • I did not include commercial diets that rated high on this list, but they are all restrictive in one way or another.

2) Whole food, very low carb diets like Atkins and keto are good for rapid weight loss, but they rank near the bottom of the list for every healthy diet category.

    • If you choose to lose weight on the Atkins or keto diets, switch to a healthier diet once you reach your desired weight loss.

Which Diet Should You Choose?

Food ChoicesWith rapid weight loss out of the way, let’s get back to the question, “Which Diet Should You Choose?” My recommendations are:

1) Choose a diet that fits your needs. That is one of the things I like best about the US News & World Report ratings. The diets are categorized. If your main concern is diabetes, choose one of the top diets in that category. If your main concern is heart health… You get the point.

2) Choose diets that are healthy and associated with long term weight loss. If that is your goal, you will notice that primarily plant-based diets top these lists. Meat-based, low carb diets like Atkins and keto are near the bottom of the lists.

  • “Why is that?”, you might ask? The answer is simple. And it’s not that all 30 experts were prejudiced against low carb diets. It’s that the major primarily plant-based diets like Mediterranean, DASH, and flexitarian are backed by long-term clinical studies showing they are healthy and significantly reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
  • On the other hand, there are no long-term studies showing the Atkins and keto diets are healthy long term. And since the Atkins diet has been around for more than 50 years, the lack of clinical evidence that it is healthy long term is damming.

3) Choose diets that are easy to follow. The less-restrictive primarily plant-based diets top this list – diets like Mediterranean, DASH, MIND, and flexitarian. They are also at or near the top of almost every diet category.

4) Choose diets that fit your lifestyle and dietary preferences. For example, if you don’t like fish and olive oil, you will probably do much better with the DASH or flexitarian diet than with the Mediterranean diet.

5) Finally, focus on what you have to gain, rather than on foods you have to give up.

  • On the minus side, none of the diets include sodas, junk foods, and highly processed foods. These foods should go on your “No-No” list. Sweets should be occasional treats and only as part of a healthy meal. Meat, especially red meat, should become a garnish rather than a main course.
  • On the plus side, primarily plant-based diets offer a cornucopia of delicious plant foods you probably didn’t even know existed. Plus, for any of the top-rated plant-based diets, there are websites and books full of mouth-watering recipes. Be adventurous.

What About Commercial Diets?

I chose not to review commercial diets by name, but let me make a few observations.

  • If you look at the gaps in my lists, it should be apparent that several commercial diets rank near the top for fast weight loss, but near the bottom on most healthy diet lists.
  • I do not recommend commercial diets that rely on ready-to-eat, low-calorie, highly processed versions “of your favorite foods”.
    • These pre-packaged meals are expensive. Unless you are a millionaire, you won’t be able to afford these meals for the rest of your life.
    • These pre-packaged meals are not teaching you healthy eating habits that will allow you to keep the weight off.
  • If you wish to spend your hard-earned dollars on a commercial diet, choose a diet that:
    • Relies on whole foods from all 5 food groups.
    • Teaches and provides support for the type of lifestyle change that leads to permanent weight loss.
  • Meal replacement shakes can play a role in healthy weight loss if:
    • They are high quality and use natural ingredients as much as possible.
    • They are part of a holistic lifestyle change program.

The Bottom Line 

For many of you the “bloom” has gone off the new diet you started so enthusiastically in January. If you are rethinking your diet, you might want to know which diets the experts recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The diet world has become just as divided as the political world.

Fortunately, you have an impartial resource. Each year US News & World Report invites a panel of experts with different points of view to evaluate popular diets. They then combine the input from all the experts into rankings of the diets in various categories. In the article above I summarize the US News & World Report’s “Best Diets In 2023”.

There are probably two questions at the top of your list.

#1: Which diets are best for rapid weight loss? Here are 2 general principles:

  1. If you are looking for rapid weight loss, any whole food restrictive diet will do.

2) If you choose to lose weight on the Atkins or keto diets, switch to a healthier diet once you reach your desired weight loss. Atkins and keto diets are good for rapid weight loss, but they rank near the bottom of the list for every healthy diet category.

#2: Which diet should you choose? Here the principles are:

  1. Choose a diet that fits your needs.

2) Choose diets that are healthy and associated with long term weight loss.

3) Choose diets that are easy to follow.

4) Choose diets that fit your lifestyle and dietary preferences.

5) Finally, focus on what you have to gain, rather than on foods you have to give up.

For more details on the diet that is best for you and my thoughts on commercial diets, read the article above.

Which Diet Is Best For Diabetics?

What Did This Study Show? 

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

High Blood SugarWhen you were first diagnosed with diabetes, your doctor probably told you that your life will forever be changed. Among other things he or she probably told you that you would need to make some radical changes to your diet.

But what changes? Both the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and Diabetes UK (the British version of ADA) recommend:

  • An individualized approach. This recognizes that we are all different. What works for some diabetics may not work for others.
  • A diet that incorporates more non-starchy vegetables and minimizes added sugars and refined grains.

But these recommendations are vague. Most people want a specific diet to follow. It’s here that Diabetes UK and the ADA part ways.

  • Diabetes UK gives its highest recommendation to the Mediterranean diet.
  • The ADA gives equal recommendations to the Mediterranean diet and both low-carbohydrate and very-low carbohydrate diets.

But which diet is best? It’s hard to know because most studies compare one of these diets to the standard American diet (SAD), and anything is better than the standard American diet.

Fortunately, one recent study (CD Gardner et al, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 116: 640-652, 2022) directly compares the two extremes of ADA-recommended diets, the Mediterranean diet and the Keto diet.

How Was This Study Done?

clinical studyThis study recruited 33 participants with diabetes or prediabetes from the San Francisco Bay area. The participants in the study:

  • Were between 41 and 77 years old (average age = 60.5).
  • Were 61% male, 45% non-Hispanic white, and mostly (85%) college educated.
  • Had either prediabetes (61%) or diabetes (39%).
  • Had BMIs ranging from 22.7 (normal) to 39.7 (obese) (average BMI = 30 (borderline obese).
  • Had elevated levels of HbA1c (hemoglobin A1c, a measure of long-term blood sugar control).

People were excluded from the study if they were:

  • Underweight (<110 pounds) or morbidly obese (BMI ≥40).
  • Had extremely high cholesterol (LDL cholesterol >190 mg/dL) or blood pressure (>169 mmHg).
  • On insulin or certain medications to lower blood sugar levels.

This was a randomized, crossover, interventional study. Simply put, that means:

  • The study started with participants eating a typical American diet. The intervention was either a Keto diet or a Mediterranean diet.
  • Each patient was randomly assigned to one of the diets for 12 weeks. Then they “crossed over” to the other diet for 12 weeks. In this type of study each patient serves as their own control.
  • Finally, there was a 12-week follow-up period in which they could choose which of the two diets to follow.

It was a very well-controlled study:

  • Participants were given detailed guidelines to follow and received weekly individual education sessions by a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.
  • During the first 4 weeks of each diet, participants were provided at no cost all meals and snacks from a local food delivery service.
  • During the next 8 weeks of each diet, the participants purchased their own foods using the same guidelines they had been given during the first 4 weeks.
    • They were also provided with a recipe booklet and suggestions for diet-compliant menu items at local restaurants for each diet.
  • This was not designed as a weight loss diet. The participants were provided with 2,800 calories of food per day and instructed to eat until they were full.
  • Compliance with the diet was assessed in three ways:
    • During week 4 and week 12 of each diet phase, 3 unannounced 24-hour dietary recalls (2 on weekdays and 1 on a weekend day) were administered over the phone by a trained nutritionist.
    • Participants were also given an app to log in their food intake daily.
    • Participants on the Keto diet were given blood ketone monitors and strips.
  • Finally, at the beginning and end of the study and during weeks 4 and 12 of each diet phase participants went to a medical facility for blood work and weight measurements.

The primary focus of this study was measuring the effect of each diet on HbA1c. HbA1c measures blood sugar control over the previous 12 weeks (which is why each diet phase was 12 weeks long). But the study also measured the effect of each diet on LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

What Were The Diets Like?

Vegetarian DietThese were not ordinary versions of the Mediterranean and Keto diets:

  • Sugar and refined flour are often part of the diet in Mediterranean regions. So, this study used the “Mediterranean Plus (Med-Plus)” diet which restricts both sugar and refined grains.
  • Keto convenience foods are often a witch’s brew of artificial ingredients. So, this study used the “Well-Formulated Keto Diet (WFKD)” which is composed of whole, unprocessed foods. In fact, both diets were whole food diets.

In summary, the two diets were:

  • Alike in that both emphasized non-starchy vegetables and minimized sugar and refined grains.
  • Alike in that they were both whole food diets.
  • Different in that the Keto diet eliminated legumes, fruits, and whole grains while the Mediterranean diet included them.

The macronutrient composition of the two diets was about what you would expect.

USDA

Guidelines

Baseline Keto

(Weeks

1-4)

Keto

(Weeks

5-12)

Med

(Weeks

1-4)

Med

(Weeks

5-12)

Protein 10-35% 18% 25% 22% 19% 21%
Carbs 45-65% 41% 12% 18% 37% 37%
Fat <30% 41% 63% 60% 44% 42%
  • The baseline diet was typical of the American diet. It was higher than recommended for fat. While carbohydrate intake appeared to be moderate, it was high in sugar and refined grains.
  • The Keto and Mediterranean diet interventions were separated into 2 phases. In phase 1 (weeks 1-4) every meal and snack were provided to the participants. In phase 2 (weeks 5-12) they purchased their own food.
  • As expected, carbohydrate intake was much lower, fat intake much higher, and protein intake slightly higher than baseline for the Keto diet. And this pattern was maintained during the 8 weeks the participants purchased their own food.
  • Macronutrient composition on the Mediterranean diet was not much different than baseline and did not change much during weeks 5-12.

The fat composition of the two diets was also different.

Baseline Keto

(Weeks

1-4)

Keto

(Weeks

5-12)

Med

(Weeks

1-4)

Med

(Weeks

5-12)

Monounsaturated 42% 48% 43% 52% 45%
Polyunsaturated 23% 15% 19% 23% 25%
Saturated 35% 37% 38% 25% 30%
  • The Keto diet was significantly lower in percent polyunsaturated fat and slightly higher in percent monounsaturated and saturated fat than baseline (the typical American diet) in weeks 1-4. However, remember that the Keto diet was 50% higher in total fat than the other diets. This makes it significantly higher in saturated fat than either the baseline or Mediterranean diets.
  • As expected, the Mediterranean diet was significantly higher in percent monounsaturated fat and lower in percent saturated fat than baseline in weeks 1-4.
  • Not surprisingly, both diets trended towards the baseline diet in the 8 weeks participants were buying their own food.

Other interesting differences between the two diets:

  • The Keto diet contained around 12% plant protein and 88% animal protein, while the Mediterranean diet contained about 50% of each.
  • Fiber intake decreased by 33% compared to baseline on the Keto diet, while fiber intake increased by 50% on the Mediterranean diet.
  • In terms of nutritional adequacy, the Keto diet was significantly lower in fiber, vitamin C, folate, and magnesium than the Mediterranean diet.

What Did The Study Show?

Question Mark1. Participants consumed around 300 fewer calories/day and lost about 15 pounds on both diets.

    • The authors speculated this was because both diets were more filling than the baseline diet, presumably because both diets were whole food diets while the baseline diet contained lots of processed foods high in sugar and refined grains.

2) Both diets reduced HbA1c (a cumulative measure of how much the diets improved blood sugar control compared to the baseline diet) by about the same extent.

3) LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) increased by about 10% on the Keto diet, while it decreased by about 9% on the Mediterranean diet. This difference was highly significant.

4) HDL cholesterol increased by about the same extent on both diets.

5) Triglycerides decreased by around 20% on the Keto diet and by 10% on the Mediterranean diet. This difference was also highly significant.

6) Finally, adherence to the Keto diet was less than for the Mediterranean diet. Plus, more people chose the Mediterranean diet during the follow-up phase when they were allowed to choose their own diet.

The authors concluded, “HbA1c values…improved from baseline on both diets, likely due to several shared dietary aspects. The WFKT [Keto diet] led to a greater decrease in triglycerides, but also had untoward risks from elevated LDL cholesterol and lower nutrient intakes from avoiding legumes, fruits, and whole, intact grains, as well as being less sustainable [easy to follow long-term].

Which Diet Is Best For Diabetics?

Mediterranean Diet Foods

Animal Protein Foods

Vs

 

 

 

 

Once again, I have covered lots of information in this blog. But if you are diabetic, you are probably wondering, “What does this mean for me?” Let me start by reviewing the purpose of this study.

  • This study was designed to compare the two extremes of recommended diets (Mediterranean and Keto) with respect to their effectiveness at keeping blood sugar under control.
  • These were both more restrictive versions of the two diets than most people follow. In this study, both diets:
    • Were whole food diets. No sodas, processed, or convenience foods were allowed.
    • Minimized the consumption of sugars and refined grains.

Now let me divide the discussion into two sections:

  1. Which diet is best for diabetics in the short term (in this case, 12 weeks)?
    • Participants consumed 300 fewer calories and lost about 15 pounds on both diets in spite of being given more than they could eat and not being encouraged to lose weight.
      • The authors attributed this to whole food diets being more filling.
      • However, it is also consistent with my contention that any restrictive diet will lead to short-term weight loss and improvement in blood sugar control. I summarize the 5 reasons for this phenomenon in last week’s “Health Tips From the Professor” article
    • Blood sugar control over 12 weeks, as measured by HbA1c, improved by the same amount on both diets.
      • That is consistent with the American Diabetes Association’s position that a variety of diets, ranging from Mediterranean to Keto, are suitable for diabetics.
      • This also means that you can forget the advice that diabetics need to follow a low carb diet and give up fruits, whole grains, and legumes to keep their blood sugar under control.
      • However, this is not a “get out of jail free card”. Diabetics do need to avoid sodas, processed, and convenience foods and minimize sugar and refined grains.
    • There was considerable individual variability. Some people did better on the Mediterranean diet. Others did better on the Keto diet.
    • This is consistent with the American Diabetes Association’s recommendation that diabetic diets should be individualized.

In short, this study suggests that in the short term (12 weeks) the Med-Plus and WFKD Keto diets are equally effective at promoting weight loss and improved blood sugar control for both diabetics and prediabetics.

However, there is considerable individual variability, meaning that diabetics can chose the diet that works best for them.

2) Which diet is best for diabetics in the long term?

If both diets are equally effective short term, the important question becomes whether they are equally successful and equally healthy long term.

As noted in the author’s conclusion, this study raised several “red flags” which suggest the Keto diet might be less successful and less healthy long term. But this is a short-term study.

You may be wondering, “What do long-term studies show?” Unfortunately, there are very few long-term studies to guide us. But here is what we do know.

    • There are multiple studies showing that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers long term. There is no evidence that meat-based low carb diets are healthy long term. This includes the Atkins diet, which has been around more than 50 years.
    • A 6-year study reported that the group with the lowest carbohydrate intake had an increased risk of premature death – 32% for overall mortality, 50% for cardiovascular mortality, 51% for cerebrovascular mortality, and 36% for cancer mortality.
    • A 20-year study reported that women consuming a meat-based low carb diet for 20 years gained just as much weight and had just as high risk of diabetes and heart disease as women consuming a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.

In short, the few long-term studies we do have suggest that the Mediterranean diet is a better choice for long-term health and reduced risk of diabetes than low-carb diets.

The Bottom Line 

If you are diabetic or prediabetic, the American Diabetes association recommends a diet that is individualized and ranges from Mediterranean to low carb and very low carb (Keto).

However, low carb and Keto enthusiasts insist that diabetics need to follow a low carb or very low carb diet. And that seems to make sense. After all, aren’t carbs the problem for diabetics?

To resolve this question, a recent study was designed to compare the two extremes of the ADA-recommended diets (Mediterranean and Keto) with respect to their effectiveness at keeping blood sugar under control.

These were not ordinary versions of the Mediterranean and Keto diets:

  • Sugar and refined flour are often part of the diet in Mediterranean regions. So, this study used the “Mediterranean Plus (Med-Plus)” diet which restricts both sugar and refined grains.
  • Keto convenience foods are often a witch’s brew of artificial ingredients. So, this study used the “Well-Formulated Keto Diet (WFKD)” which is composed of whole, unprocessed foods. In fact, both diets were whole food diets.

In short, this study found that in the short term (12 weeks) the Med-Plus and WFKD Keto diets are equally effective at promoting weight loss and improved blood sugar control for both diabetics and prediabetics.

The authors concluded, “HbA1c values…improved from baseline on both diets, likely due to several shared dietary aspects. The WFKT [Keto diet] led to a greater decrease in triglycerides, but also had untoward risks from elevated LDL cholesterol and lower nutrient intakes from avoiding legumes, fruits, and whole, intact grains, as well as being less sustainable [easy to follow long-term].

If both diets are equally effective short term, the important question becomes whether they are equally successful and equally healthy long term.

As noted in the author’s conclusion, this study raised several “red flags” suggesting that the WFKD Keto diet may be less successful and less healthy long term than the Med-Plus diet. However, this was a short-term study.

So, the question becomes, “What do long-term studies show?” There are few long-term studies of low-carb diets, but the few long-term studies we do have suggest that the Mediterranean diet is a better choice for both long-term health and reduced risk of diabetes than most low-carb diets.

For more details on this study and what it means for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Walking Your Way To Health

How Much Should You Walk? 

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

Overweight People ExercisingThe new year is almost here. If you are like millions of Americans, you may already be making plans to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or join a spin class.

The problem is these are all expensive options. And a good portion of that money is wasted. To put it into perspective, let’s look at some statistics

  • Around 6 million Americans buy gym memberships every January.
  • 67% of those memberships are never used.
  • For those memberships used in January, another 50% are not in use 6 months later.
  • Americans spend about 1.6 billion dollars on unused gym memberships every year.
  • And that doesn’t include those gym memberships that are only occasionally used.

If you want to get fit and healthy in the new year, perhaps you should consider a less expensive option – like walking. Your only investments are a good pair of walking shoes and a device that keeps track of the number of steps you take (eg, Fitbit, smart watch, or smart phone).

You still may give up on your New Year’s goal of getting fitter at some point. But you won’t have wasted so much money.

Of course, you probably have some questions about the benefits of walking, such as:

  1. Is walking enough to significantly improve my fitness and health?

2) How far (how many steps) should I walk?

3) How fast should I walk?

Fortunately, two recent studies (B del Pozo-Cruz et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, 182: 1139-1148, 2022; J del Pozo-Cruz et al, Diabetes Care, 45: 2156-2158, 2022) have answered all three questions.

How Were These Studies Done?

clinical studyThe first study (B del Pozo-Cruz et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, 182: 1139-1148, 2022) followed 78,500 participants (average age 61, 55% female, 97% white) enrolled in the UK Biobank study for an average of 7 years.

At the time of enrollment, each participant was given an accelerometer (a device that measures the number and frequency of steps) to wear on their dominant wrist for 24 hours/day for 7 days. The investigators used the accelerometer data to categorize several types of physical activity.

  • Daily step counts (the average number of steps per day for 7 days). These step counts were further subdivided into two categories:
  • Incidental steps (It was assumed that ˂40 steps/min represented steps taken that were incidental to normal daily activities).
  • Purposeful steps (It was assumed that ≥40 steps/min represented steps taken as part of planned exercise).
  • Stepping intensity (the highest frequency of steps/min averaged over 30 min intervals for all 7 days).

At the end of the study, each of these variables was correlated with the risk of premature deaths due to all causes, cancer, and heart disease.

The second study (J del Pozo-Cruz et al, Diabetes Care, 45: 2156-2158, 2022) was similar except that it:

  • Used data from 1687 adults (average age = 55, 56% male, with diabetes or prediabetes when the study began) in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in the US.
  • Followed participants for 9 years instead of 7.
  • Only measured total steps/day
  • Correlated total steps/day with premature death for participants who already had prediabetes or diabetes when they entered the study.

Walking Your Way To Health

Study 1 looked at the effect of walking on health outcomes in multiple ways.

woman walking dog#1: Increase in number of steps/day:

  • On average study participants took an average of 7200 steps per day, but this ranged from a low of 3,200 steps/day to a high of 12,200 steps/day.
  • Each increase of 2,000 steps/day was associated with a:
    • 8% decrease in all-cause mortality.
    • 11% decrease in cancer mortality.
    • 10% decrease in heart disease mortality.
  • Overall, increasing from 3,200 steps/day to 10,000 steps/day decreased all-cause, cancer, and heart disease mortality by around 36%.
  • There was no minimum threshold to this beneficial effect of walking on the risk of premature death.
  • The benefits of walking appeared to plateau at 10,000 steps/day.

#2: Increase in number of incidental steps/day (steps taken that are incidental to normal daily activities):

  • On average study participants took 3240 incidental steps/day, but this ranged from a low of 2,100 steps/day to a high of 4,400 steps/day.
  • Each 10% increase in incremental steps/day was associated with a:
    • 6% decrease in all-cause mortality.
    • 6% decrease in cancer mortality.
    • 10% decrease in heart disease mortality.

#3: Increase in number of purposeful steps/day (steps taken as part of planned exercise):

  • On average study participants took 4,600 purposeful steps/day, but this ranged from a low of 1,600 steps/day to a high of 8,600 steps/day.
  • Each 10% increase in purposeful steps/day was associated with a:
    • 7% decrease in all-cause mortality.
    • 8% decrease in cancer mortality.
    • 10% decrease in heart disease mortality.

#4: Increase in speed of walking or cadence. The measurement they used was “peak-30 cadence” – the Walking Fasthighest average steps/min during a 30-minute interval within a day:

  • On average study participants had a “peak-30 cadence” of 76 steps/min, but this ranged from a low of 47 steps/min to a high of 109 steps/min.
  • Each 10% increase in “peak-30 cadence” was associated with a:
    • 8% decrease in all-cause mortality.
    • 9% decrease in cancer mortality.
    • 14% decrease in heart disease mortality.
  • The benefits of walking rapidly (increase in “peak-30 cadence”) were in addition to the benefits seen by increasing the number of steps per day.
  • Overall, increasing from a “peak-30 cadence” of 47 steps/min to 109 steps/min decreased all-cause, cancer, and heart disease mortality by an additional 34%.
  • There was no minimum threshold to this beneficial effect of increasing “peak-30 cadence” (the speed of walking) on the risk of premature death.
  • The benefits of increasing “peak-30 cadence” appeared to plateau at 100 steps/min.

#5 Effect of walking on the prevention of heart disease and cancer: The investigators measured this by strong heartlooking at the effect of walking on the “incidence” of heart disease and cancer (defined as new diagnoses of heart disease and cancer) during the study. They found.

  • Each 2,000-step increase in the total number of steps/day decreased the risk of developing heart disease and cancer by 4% during this 7-year study.
  • Each 10% increase in the number of purposeful steps/day decreased the risk of developing heart disease and cancer by 4% during this study.
  • Each 10% increase in “peak-30 cadence” decreased the risk of developing heart disease and cancer by 7% during this study.

The authors concluded, “The findings of this population-based…study of 78,500 individuals suggest that up to 10,000 steps/day may be associated with a lower risk of mortality and cancer and CVD incidence. Steps performed at a higher cadence may be associated with additional risk reduction, particularly for incident disease.”

Study 2 extended these findings to diabetes. They started with participants that had either prediabetes or diabetesdiabetes and followed them for 9 years. They found that:

  • Study participants with prediabetes ranged from a low of 3,800 steps/day to a high of 10,700 steps/day.
    • Prediabetic participants walking 10,700 steps/day were 25% less likely to die during the study than participants walking only 3,800 steps/day.
  • Study participants with diabetes ranged from a low of 2,500 steps/day to a high of 10,200 steps/day.
    • Diabetic participants walking 10,200 steps/day were also 25% less likely to die during the study than participants walking only 2,500 steps/day.
  • Even small increases in the number of steps per day decreased the risk of premature death for both prediabetic and diabetic participants.
  • Once again, 10,000 steps/day appeared to be the optimal dose to lower the risk of premature death for both diabetic and prediabetic patients.

The authors of this study concluded, “Accumulating more steps/day up to ~10,000 steps/day may lower the risk of all-cause mortality of adults with prediabetes and diabetes.”

How Much Should You Walk?

Walking CoupleThat was a lot of information. You are probably wondering what it means for you. Let’s start with the big picture:

  • Going from couch potato to 10,000 steps per day may reduce your risk of premature death due to all causes, cancer, and heart disease by 36% (24% if you are already prediabetic or diabetic).
  • Increasing the speed with which you walk from 47 steps/min to 109 steps/min sustained for 30 minutes may reduce your risk of premature death by an additional 34%.

In other words, simply walking more and walking faster can have a significant on your health. I am not recommending walking as your only form of exercise. I’m just saying not to consider it inferior to other forms of exercise.

  • There is no lower limit to the benefits of walking. Even small increases in the number of steps/day you take and the speed with which you walk may have a beneficial effect on your health.

In other words, you don’t need to speed walk 10,000 steps/day to reap a benefit from walking. Even small increases are beneficial. That’s good news for those of you who may not be able to speed walk long distances. It also means that if you are a couch potato, you don’t need to attempt 10,000 steps at high speed from day 1. You can work up to it gradually.

  • Incidental walking (walking that is incidental to your daily activities) is almost as beneficial as purposeful walking (walking as part of a planned exercise).

That’s good news for those of you who may not have time for long walks. It also means that advice like “park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk” or “take the stairs rather than the elevator” can have a meaningful impact on your health.

  • The benefits of walking appear to max out at around 10,000 steps per day and a cadence of 100 steps/min sustained for 30 minutes.

That means once you get to those levels, it’s time to consider adding other kinds of exercise to your regimen. More and faster walking may offer little additional benefit.

Finally, in the words of the authors, “This information could be used to motivate the least active individuals to increase their steps and the more-active individuals to reach the 10,000-step target.”

The Bottom Line 

The new year is almost here. If you are like millions of Americans, you may already be making plans to join a gym, get a personal trainer, or join a spin class.

If you want to get fit and healthy in the new year, perhaps you should also consider a less expensive option – like walking.

Of course, you probably have some questions about the benefits of walking, such as:

1) Is walking enough to significantly improve my fitness and health?

2) How far (how many steps) should I walk?

3) How fast should I walk?

Fortunately, two recent studies have answered all three questions. They found:

  • Going from couch potato to 10,000 steps per day may reduce your risk of premature death due to all causes, cancer, and heart disease by 36% (24% if you are already prediabetic or diabetic).
  • Increasing the speed with which you walk from 47 steps/min to 109 steps/min sustained for 30 minutes may reduce your risk of premature death by an additional 34%.
  • There is no lower limit to the benefits of walking. Even small increases in the number of steps/day you take and the speed with which you walk may have a beneficial effect on your health.
  • Incidental walking (walking that is incidental to your daily activities) is almost as beneficial as purposeful walking (walking as part of a planned exercise).
  • The benefits of walking appear to max out at around 10,000 steps per day and a cadence of 100 steps/min sustained for 30 minutes.

In the words of the authors of these studies, “This information could be used to motivate the least active individuals to increase their steps and the more-active individuals to reach the 10,000-step target.”

For more details on this study and what it means for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

500th Issue Celebration

Nutrition Breakthroughs Over The Last Two Years

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

celebrationIn the nearly ten years that I have been publishing “Health Tips From The Professor”, I have tried to go behind the headlines to provide you with accurate, unbiased health information that you can trust and apply to your everyday life.

The 500th issue of any publication is a major cause for celebration and reflection – and “Health Tips From The Professor” is no different.

I am dedicating this issue to reviewing some of the major stories I have covered in the past 100 issues. There are lots of topics I could have covered, but I have chosen to focus on three types of articles:

  • Articles that have debunked long-standing myths about nutrition and health.
  • Articles that have corrected some of the misinformation that seems to show up on the internet on an almost daily basis.
  • Articles about the issues that most directly affect your health.

Best Ways To Lose Weight

weight lossSince it is almost January, let’s start with a couple of articles about diet and weight loss (or weight gain). I have covered the effectiveness of the Paleo, Keto, Mediterranean, DASH, vegetarian, and Vegan diets for both short and long-term weight loss in my book Slaying The Food Myths, so I won’t repeat that information here. Instead, I will share a few updates from the past 100 issues.

My Tips On The Best Approach For Losing Weight: Every health guru has a favorite diet they like to promote. I am different. My book, Slaying the Food Myths, is probably the first “anti-diet” diet book ever written. Based on my years of research I can tell you that we are all different. There is no single diet that is best for everyone. In this article I have summarized my tips for selecting the weight loss diet that is best for you.

The US News & World Report’s Recommendation For the Best Diets: Each year US News & World Report assembles some of the top nutrition experts in the country and asks them to review popular diets and rank them for effectiveness and safety. In this article I summarize their ratings for 2022.

Does Intermittent Fasting Have A Downside? In previous articles in “Health Tips From the Professor” I have reported on studies showing that intermittent fasting is no more effective for weight loss than any other diet that restricts calories to the same extent. But does intermittent fasting have a downside? In this article I reported on a study that suggests it does.

Can A Healthy Diet Help You Lose Weight? Most investigators simply compare their favorite diet to the standard American diet. And any diet looks good compared to the standard American diet. In this article I reported on a study that compared two whole food diets that restricted calories by 25% to the standard American diet. One calorie-restricted diet was more plant-based and the other more meat-based. You may be surprised at the results.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s continue to be an active area of research. Here are just a few of the top studies over the past two years.omega3s

Do Omega-3s Oil Your Joints? In this article I reviewed the latest information on omega-3s and arthritis.

Do Omega-3s Add Years To Your Life? In this article I discussed a study that looks at the effect of omega-3s on longevity.

The Omega-3 Pendulum: In this article I discuss why omega-3 studies are so confusing. One day the headlines say they are miracle cures. A few weeks later the headlines say they are worthless. I discuss the flaws in many omega-3 studies and how to identify the high-quality omega-3 studies you can believe.

Do Omega-3s Reduce Congestive Heart Failure? In this article I review a recent study on omega-3s and congestive heart failure and discuss who is most likely to benefit from omega-3 supplementation.

Plant-Based Diets

Vegan FoodsWill Plant-Based Proteins Help You Live Longer? In this article  I review a study that looks at the effect of swapping plant proteins for animal proteins on longevity.

Can Diet Add Years To Your Life? In this article  I review a study that takes a broader view and asks which foods add years to your life.

Is A Vegan Diet The Secret To Weight Loss? This is an update of my previous articles on vegan diets. This article asked whether simply changing from a typical American diet to a vegan diet could influence weight loss and health parameters in as little as 16 weeks. The answer may surprise you.

Is A Vegan Diet Bad For Your Bones? No diet is perfect. This article looks at one of the possible downsides to a vegan diet. I also discuss how you can follow a vegan diet AND have strong bones. It’s not that difficult.

Anti-Inflammatory Diets

What Is An Anti-Inflammatory Diet? In this article  I discuss the science behind anti-inflammatory diets Inflammationand what an anti-inflammatory diet looks like.

Can Diet Cause You To Lose Your Mind? In this article  I discuss a study looking at the effect of an inflammatory diet on dementia. The study also looks at which foods protect your mind and which ones attack your mind.

Do Whole Grains Reduce Inflammation? You have been told that grains cause inflammation. Refined grains might, but this study shows that whole grains reduce inflammation.

Nutrition And Pregnancy

pregnant women taking vitaminsHere are the latest advances in nutrition for a healthy pregnancy.

The Perils Of Iodine Deficiency For Women. In this article I reviewed the latest data showing that iodine is essential for a healthy pregnancy and discuss where you can get the iodine you need.

Do Omega-3s Reduce The Risk Of Pre-Term Births? You seldom hear experts saying that the data are so definitive that no further studies are needed. In this article I reviewed a study that said just that about omega-3s and pre-term births.

Does Maternal Vitamin D Affect ADHD? In this article I reviewed the evidence that adequate vitamin D status during pregnancy may reduce the risk of ADHD in the offspring.

How Much DHA Should You Take During Pregnancy? In this article I reviewed current guidelines for DHA intake during pregnancy and a recent study suggesting even higher levels might be optimal.

Is Your Prenatal Supplement Adequate? In this article I reviewed two studies that found most prenatal supplements on the market are not adequate for pregnant women or their unborn babies.

Children’s Nutrition

Here are the latest insights into children’s nutrition.Obese Child

Are We Killing Our Children With Kindness? In this article I reviewed a recent study documenting the increase in ultra-processed food consumption by American children and the effect it is having on their health. I then ask, is it really kindness when we let our children eat all the sugar and ultra-processed food they want?

Is Diabetes Increasing In Our Children? In this article I reviewed a study documenting the dramatic increase in diabetes among American children and its relationship to ultra-processed food consumption and lack of exercise.

How Much Omega-3s Do Children Need? In this article I reviewed an study that attempts to define how much omega-3s are optimal for cognition (ability to learn) in our children.

Diabetes

diabetesHere are some insights into nutrition and diabetes that may cause you to rethink your diet.

Does An Apple A Day Keep Diabetes Away? You may have been told to avoid fruits if you are diabetic. In this article I reviewed a study showing that fruit consumption actually decreases your risk of diabetes. Of course, we are all different. If you have diabetes you need to figure out which fruits are your friends and which are your foes.

Do Whole Grains Keep Diabetes Away? You may have also been told to avoid grains if you are diabetic. In this article I reviewed a study showing that whole grain consumption actually decreases your risk of diabetes. Once again, we are all different. If you have diabetes you need to figure out which grains are your friends and which are your foes.

Heart Disease

Here is an interesting insight into nutrition and heart disease that may cause you to rethink your diet.

Is Dairy Bad For Your Heart? You have been told that dairy is bad for your heart AND that it is good for your heart. Which is correct? In this article I discuss some recent studies on the topic and conclude the answer is, “It depends”. It depends on your overall diet, your weight, your lifestyle, and your overall health.

Breast Cancer

Here are some facts about breast cancer every woman should know.breast cancer

The Best Way To Reduce Your Risk Of Breast Cancer In this article I review two major studies and the American Cancer Guidelines to give you 6 tips for reducing your risk of breast cancer.

The Truth About Soy And Breast Cancer You have been told that soy causes breast cancer, and you should avoid it. In this article I review the science and tell you the truth about soy and breast cancer.

Supplementation

Vitamin SupplementsSome “experts” claim everyone should take almost every supplement on the market. Others claim supplementation is worthless. What is the truth about supplementation?

What Do The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Say About Supplements? Every 5 years the USDA updates their Dietary Guidelines for foods and supplements. In this article I discuss what the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines say about supplements. Yes, the USDA does recommend supplements for some people.

Who Benefits Most From Supplementation? Not everyone benefits equally from supplementation. In this article I discuss who benefits the most from supplementation.

Should Cancer Patients Take Supplements? Doctors routinely tell their cancer patients not to take supplements. Is that the best advice? In this article I review a study that answers that question.

Can You Trust Supplements Marketed on Amazon? Amazon’s business model is to sell products at the lowest possible price. But do they check the quality of the products marketed on their site? In this article  I review a study that answers that question.

Is Your Prenatal Supplement Adequate? In this article I reviewed two studies that found most prenatal supplements on the market are not adequate for pregnant women or their unborn babies.

The Bottom Line 

I have just touched on a few of my most popular articles above. You may want to scroll through these articles to find ones of interest to you that you might have missed over the last two years. If you don’t see topics that you are looking for, just go to https://chaneyhealth.com/healthtips/ and type the appropriate term in the search box.

In the coming years, you can look for more articles debunking myths, exposing lies and providing balance to the debate about the health topics that affect you directly. As always, I pledge to provide you with scientifically accurate, balanced information that you can trust. I will continue to do my best to present this information in a clear and concise manner so that you can understand it and apply it to your life.

Final Comment: You may wish to share the valuable resources in this article with others. If you do, then copy the link at the top and bottom of this page into your email. If you just forward this email and the recipient unsubscribes, it will unsubscribe you as well.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

What Is The Truth About Low Carb Diets?

Why Is The Cochrane Collaboration The Gold Standard?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney 

low carb dietAtkins, South Beach, Whole30, Low Carb, high Fat, Low Carb Paleo, and Keto. Low carb diets come in many forms. But they have these general characteristics:

  • They restrict carbohydrate intake to <40% of calories.
  • They restrict grains, cereals, legumes, and other carbohydrate foods such as dairy, fruits, and some vegetables.
  • They replace these foods with foods higher in fat and protein such as meats, eggs, cheese, butter, cream, and oils.
  • When recommended for weight loss, they generally restrict calories.

What about the science? Dr. Strangelove and his friends tell you that low carb diets are better for weight loss, blood sugar control, and are more heart healthy than other diets. But these claims are controversial.

Why is that? I have discussed this in previous issues of “Health Tips From The Professor”. Here is the short version.

  • Most studies on the benefits of low carb diets compare them with the typical American diet.
    • The typical American diet is high in fat, sugar and refined flour, and highly processed foods. Anything is better than the typical American diet.
  • Most low carb diets are whole food diets.
    • Any time you replace sodas and highly processed foods with whole foods you will lose weight and improve your health.
  • Most low carb diets are highly structured. There are rules for which foods to avoid, which foods to eat, and often additional rules to follow.
    • Any highly structured diet causes you to focus on what you eat. When you do that, you lose weight. When you lose weight, your health parameters improve.
    • As I have noted before, short term weight loss and improvement in health parameters are virtually identical for the very low carb keto diet and the very low-fat vegan diet.

With all this uncertainty you are probably wondering, “What is the truth about low carb diets?”

A recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration (CE Naude et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 28 January 2022) was designed to answer this question.

The Cochrane Collaboration is considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine. To help you understand why this is, I will repeat a summary of how the Cochrane Collaboration approaches clinical studies that I shared two weeks ago.

Why Is The Cochrane Collaboration The Gold Standard?

ghost bustersWho you gonna call? It’s not Ghostbusters. It’s not Dr. Strangelove’s health blog. It’s a group called the Cochrane Collaboration.

The Cochrane Collaboration consists of 30,000 volunteer scientific experts from across the globe whose sole mission is to analyze the scientific literature and publish reviews of health claims so that health professionals, patients, and policy makers can make evidence-based choices about health interventions.

In one sense, Cochrane reviews are what is called a “meta-analysis”, in which data from numerous studies are grouped together so that a statistically significant conclusion can be reached. However, Cochrane Collaboration reviews differ from most meta-analyses found in the scientific literature in a very significant way.

Many published meta-analyses simply report “statistically significant” conclusions. However, statistics can be misleading. As Mark Twain said: “There are lies. There are damn lies. And then there are statistics”.

The Cochrane Collaboration also reports statistically significant conclusions from their meta-analyses. However, they carefully consider the quality of each individual study in their analysis. They look at possible sources of bias. They look at the design and size of the studies. Finally, they ask whether the conclusions are consistent from one study to the next. They clearly define the quality of evidence that backs up each of their conclusions as follows:

  • High-quality evidence. Further research is unlikely to change their conclusion. This is generally reserved for conclusions backed by multiple high-quality studies that have all come to the same conclusion. These are the recommendations that are most often adopted into medical practice.
  • Moderate-quality evidence. This conclusion is very likely to be true, but further research could have an impact on it.
  • Low-quality evidence. Further research is needed and could alter the conclusion. They are not judging whether the conclusion is true or false. They are simply saying more research is needed to reach a definite conclusion.

This is why their reviews are considered the gold standard of evidence-based medicine. If you are of a certain age, you may remember that TV commercial “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” It is the same with the Cochrane Collaboration. When they talk, health professionals listen.

How Was The Study Done?

Clinical StudyThe authors of this Cochrane Collaboration Report included 61 published clinical trials that randomized participants into two groups.

  • The first group was put on a low carbohydrate diet (carbohydrates = <40% of calories).
  • The second group was put on a “normal carbohydrate” diet (carbohydrates = 45-65% of calories, as recommended by the USDA and most health authorities).
    • The normal carbohydrate diet was matched with the low carbohydrate diet in terms of caloric restriction.
    • Both diets were designed by dietitians and were generally whole food diets.

The participants in these studies:

  • Were middle-aged.
  • Were overweight or obese.
  • Did not have diagnosed heart disease or cancer.
  • May have diagnosed type-2 diabetes. Some studies selected participants that had diagnosed type 2 diabetes. Other studies excluded those patients.

The studies were of 3 types:

  • Short-term: Participants in these studies followed their assigned diets for 3 to <12 months.
  • Long-term: Participants in these studies followed their assigned diets for >12 to 24 months.
  • Short-term with maintenance: Participants in these studies followed their assigned diets for 3 months followed by a 9-month maintenance phase.

What Is The Truth About Low Carb Diets?

The TruthAll the studies included in the Cochrane Collaboration’s meta-analysis randomly assigned overweight participants to a low carbohydrate diet (carbohydrates = <40% of calories) or to a “normal carbohydrate” diet (carbohydrates = 45-65% of calories) with the same degree of caloric restriction.

If low carb diets have any benefit in terms of weight loss, improving blood sugar control, or reducing heart disease risk, these are the kind of studies that are required to validate that claim.

This is what the Cochrane Collaboration’s meta-analysis showed.

When they analyzed studies done with overweight participants without type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight loss was not significantly different between low carb and normal carb diets in short-term studies (3 to <12 months), long-term studies (>12 to 24 months), and short-term studies followed by a 9-month maintenance period.
  • There was also no significant difference in the effect of low carb and normal carb diets on the reduction in diastolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.

Since diabetics have trouble controlling blood sugar, you might expect that type 2 diabetics would respond better to low carb diets. However, when they analyzed studies done with overweight participants who had type 2 diabetes:

  • Weight loss was also not significantly different on low carb and normal carb diets.
  • There was no significant difference in the effect of low carb and normal carb diets on the reduction in diastolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and hemoglobin A1c, a measure of blood sugar control.

Of course, the reason Cochrane Collaboration analyses are so valuable is they also analyze the strength of the studies that were included in their analysis.

You may remember in my article two weeks ago, I reported on the Cochrane Collaboration’s report supporting the claim that omega-3 supplementation reduces pre-term births. In that report they said that the studies included in their analysis were high quality. Therefore, they said their report was definitive and no more studies were needed.

This analysis was different. The authors of this Cochrane Collaboration report said that the published studies on this topic were of moderate quality. This means their conclusion is very likely to be true, but further research could have an impact on it.

What Does This Study Mean For You?

confusionIf you are a bit confused by the preceding section, I understand. That was a lot of information to take in. Let me give you the Cliff Notes version.

In short, this Cochrane Collaboration Report concluded:

  • Low carb diets (<40% of calories from carbohydrates) are no better than diets with normal carbohydrate content (45-65% of calories from carbohydrates) with respect to weight loss, reduction in heart disease risk factors, and blood sugar control. Dr. Strangelove has been misleading you again.
  • This finding is equally true for people with and without type 2 diabetes. This calls into question the claim that people with type 2 diabetes will do better on a low carb diet.
  • The published studies on this topic were of moderate quality. This means their conclusion is very likely to be true, but further research could have an impact on it.

If you are thinking this study can’t be true because low carb diets work for you, that is because you are comparing low carb diets to your customary diet, probably the typical American diet.

  • Remember that any whole food diet that eliminates sodas and processed foods and restricts the foods you eat will cause you to lose weight. Whole food keto and vegan diets work equally well short-term compared to the typical American diet.
  • And any diet that allows you to lose weight improves heart health parameters and blood sugar control.

If you are thinking about the blogs, books, and videos you have seen extolling the virtues of low carb diets, remember that the Dr. Strangeloves of the world only select studies comparing low carb diets to the typical American diet to support their claims.

  • The studies included in this Cochrane Collaboration report randomly assigned participants to the low carb and normal carb diets and followed them for 3 to 24 months.
    • Both diets were whole food diets designed by dietitians.
    • Both diets reduced caloric intake to the same extent.

What about the claims that low carb diets are better for your long-term health? There are very few studies on that topic. Here are two:

  • At the 6.4-year mark a recent study reported that the group with the lowest carbohydrate intake had an increased risk of premature death – 32% for overall mortality, 50% for cardiovascular mortality, 51% for cerebrovascular mortality, and 36% for cancer mortality. I will analyze this study in a future issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”.
  • At the 20-year mark a series of studies reported that:
    • Women consuming a meat-based low carb diet for 20 years gained just as much weight and had just as high risk of heart disease and diabetes as women consuming a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.
    • However, women consuming a plant-based low carb diet for 20 years gained less weight and had reduced risk of developing heart disease and diabetes as women consuming a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.

My recommendation is to avoid low-carb diets. They have no short-term benefits when compared to a healthy diet that does not eliminate food groups. And they may be bad for you in the long run. Your best bet is a whole food diet that includes all food groups but eliminates sodas, sweets, and processed foods.

However, if you are committed to a low carb diet, my recommendation is to choose the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet. It is likely to be healthy long term.

The Bottom Line 

The Cochrane Collaboration, the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, recently issued a report that evaluated the claims made for low carb diets.

All the studies analyzed in the Cochrane Collaboration’s report randomly assigned overweight participants to a low carbohydrate diet (carbohydrates = <40% of calories) or to a “normal carbohydrate” diet (carbohydrates = 45-65% of calories) with the same degree of caloric restriction.

If low carb diets have any benefit in terms of weight loss, improving blood sugar control, or reducing heart disease risk, these are the kind of studies that are required to validate that claim.

The Cochrane Collaboration Report concluded:

  • Low carb diets (<40% of calories from carbohydrates) are no better than diets with normal carbohydrate content (45-65% of calories from carbohydrates) with respect to weight loss, reduction in heart disease risk factors, and blood sugar control.
  • This is equally true for people with and without type 2 diabetes.
  • The published studies on this topic were of moderate quality. This means their conclusion is very likely to be true, but further research could have an impact on it.

My recommendation is to avoid low carb diets. They have no short-term benefits when compared to a healthy diet that does not eliminate food groups. And they may be bad for you in the long run. Your best bet is a whole food diet that includes all food groups but eliminates sodas, sweets, and processed foods.

However, if you are committed to a low carb diet, my recommendation is to choose the low carb version of the Mediterranean diet. It is likely to be healthy long term.

For more details on the study and what it means for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Omega-3s And Congestive Heart Failure

We Have Been Asking The Wrong Questions 

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Confusion Clinical StudiesToday’s Health Tip is a follow-up to the article I published last month on omega-3s and heart disease risk. In that article I pointed out the reasons why studies of the effect of omega-3s and heart disease risk have been so confusing.

One of the reasons is that many of the studies have been asking the wrong questions.

  • They were asking whether omega-3s reduced the risk of heart disease for everyone. Instead, they should have been asking who benefited from omega-3 supplementation.
  • They were asking whether omega-3s reduced the risk of all forms of heart disease combined. Instead, they should have been asking whether omega-3s reduced the risk of specific kinds of heart disease.

I also discussed a large clinical trial, the VITAL study, that was designed to answer those two questions.

The study I will describe today (L Djoussé et al, JACC Heart Failure, 10: 227-234, 2022) mined the data from the VITAL study to evaluate the effect of omega-3 supplementation on congestive heart failure, a form of heart disease that was not discussed in the VITAL study.

Everything You Need To Know About Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive Heart FailureCongestive heart failure is a killer. The term congestive heart failure simply means that your heart no longer pumps blood well. The initial symptoms are relatively non-specific and include things like.

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Reduced ability to exercise.
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
  • Persistent cough or wheezing.

However, as it progresses, the symptoms get much worse. Fluid builds up in your tissues.

  • Fluid buildup in your legs, ankles, and feet can make it difficult to walk.
  • Fluid buildup in your lungs makes it difficult to breathe. In advanced stages it can feel like you are drowning in a room full of air.

According to the CDC:

  • 4 million Americans have congestive heart failure (CHF).
    • It leads to ~380,000 deaths/year.
  • 83% of patients diagnosed with CHF will be hospitalized at least once.
    • 67% will be hospitalized two or more times.
  • CHF costs >$30 billion per year in health care costs and lost wages.

The risk of congestive heart failure is not spread evenly across the American population. Black Americans and Americans with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk.

According to the Framingham Heart Study:

  • Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of CHF 2-fold in men and 5-fold in women. The reasons are not entirely clear. However:
    • High blood sugar is thought to either damage cells in heart muscle, weakening it, or damage small blood vessels within the heart, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.
    • Some diabetes drugs that lower blood sugar also appear to increase the risk of congestive heart failure.

According to the CDC:

  • Black Americans are 2-fold more likely to develop CHF than White Americans. Again, the reasons are not clear. However:
    • Some experts feel it could be due to the higher incidence of untreated high blood pressure in Black Americans.

In summary:

  • Congestive heart failure is a serious disease. Its symptoms affect your quality of life, and it can lead to hospitalizations and death.
  • Black Americans and Americans with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of developing congestive heart failure.

How Was The Study Done?

The VITAL study, from which these data were extracted, was a placebo-controlled clinical trial designed to measure the effects of 1,000 mg omega-3 supplementation on the risk of developing heart disease. It enrolled 25,871 Americans aged 55 years or older and followed them for an average of 5.3 years.

The participants enrolled in the VITAL study represented a cross-section of the American population. Most were at low risk of heart disease, but there were subsets of the study group who were at higher risk of heart disease. A strength of the VITAL study was that it was designed so the high-risk subgroups could be evaluated separately.

The current study utilized data from the VITAL study to look at the effect of omega-3 supplementation on hospitalizations due to congestive heart failure. It also evaluated the effect of type 2 diabetes and race on the risk of hospitalizations.

Omega-3s And Congestive Heart Failure

Omega-3s And Heart DiseaseWhen the investigators looked at the whole population, most of whom were at low-risk of congestive heart failure, they did not see any effect of omega-3 supplementation on the risk of hospitalizations due to congestive heart failure.

However, when they looked at high risk groups, the story was much different.

In patients with type-2 diabetes:

  • Omega-3 supplementation reduced the risk of the initial hospitalization for congestive heart failure by 31%
  • Omega-3 supplementation reduced the risk of multiple hospitalizations due to congestive heart failure by 47%.

The effect of omega-3 supplementation on hospitalizations was greatest for the Black participants in the study.

In the words of the authors, “Our data show beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the incidence of heart failure hospitalizations in participants with type 2 diabetes but not in those without type 2 diabetes, and such benefit appeared to be stronger in Black participants with type 2 diabetes.”

We Are Asking The Wrong Questions

ScientistAs I said above, there is so much confusion about the effect of omega-3s on heart disease because we scientists have been asking the wrong questions:

  • We have been asking whether omega-3s reduce the risk of heart disease for everyone. Instead, we should have been asking who benefits from omega-3 supplementation.
  • We have been asking whether omega-3s reduced the risk of all forms of heart disease combined. Instead, we should have been asking whether omega-3s reduced the risk of specific kinds of heart disease.

In my “Health Tip” last month I discussed a large clinical study, the VITAL study, that was specifically designed to answer the right questions. Like so many other studies it found that omega-3 supplementation did not significantly reduce the risk of all kinds of heart disease for everyone.

However, what it did find was more important than what it did not find:

  • When they looked at the effect of omega-3s on heart disease risk in high-risk groups, they found that major cardiovascular events were reduced by:
    • 26% in African Americans.
    • 26% in patients with type 2 diabetes.
    • 17% in patients with a family history of heart disease.
    • 19% in patients with two or more risk factors of heart disease.
  • When they looked at the effect of omega-3s on heart disease risk in people with low omega-3 intake, they found that omega-3 supplementation reduced major cardiovascular events by:
    • 19% in patients with low fish intake.
  • When they looked at the effect of omega-3s on the risk of different forms of heart disease, they found that omega-3 supplementation reduced:
    • Heart attacks by 28% in the general population and by 70% for African Americans.
    • Deaths from heart attacks by 50%.
    • Deaths from coronary heart disease (primarily heart attacks and ischemic strokes (strokes caused by blood clots)) by 24%.

In other words, when they asked the wrong questions, they got the wrong answer. If they had just looked at the effect of omega-3 supplementation on all forms of heart disease for everyone (like most other omega-3 studies), they would have concluded that omega-3s are worthless.

However, when they asked the right questions, they found that omega-3s were very beneficial for high-risk populations and for certain types of heart disease.

The current study utilized the same data to analyze the effect of omega-3 supplementation on hospitalizations due to congestive heart failure. And the results were similar.

If they had asked the wrong question, “Does omega-3 supplementation reduce congestive heart failure hospitalizations for everyone?”, they would have concluded that omega-3 supplementation was worthless.

However, instead they asked, “Does omega-3 supplementation reduce congestive heart failure hospitalizations for certain high-risk groups” and were able to show that omega-3 supplementation significantly reduced congestive heart failure hospitalizations for people with type 2 diabetes and for Blacks.

We need to change the paradigm for clinical studies of supplements. The old paradigm asks the wrong questions. If we really want to know the role of supplementation for our health, we need to start asking the right questions.

The Bottom Line

There is perhaps nothing more confusing to the average person than the “truth” about omega-3 supplementation and heart disease risk. Much of the confusion is because we have been asking the wrong questions:

  • We have been asking whether omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of heart disease for everyone. Instead, we should have been asking who benefits from omega-3 supplementation.
  • We have been asking whether omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of all forms of heart disease combined. Instead, we should have been asking whether omega-3 supplementation reduces the risk of specific kinds of heart disease.

A recent study on the effect of omega-3 supplementation on hospitalizations due to heart disease is a perfect example.

If they had asked the wrong question, “Does omega-3 supplementation reduce congestive heart failure hospitalizations for everyone?”, they would have concluded that omega-3 supplementation was worthless.

However, instead they asked, “Does omega-3 supplementation reduce congestive heart failure hospitalizations for certain high-risk groups” and were able to show that omega-3 supplementation significantly reduced congestive heart failure hospitalizations for people with type 2 diabetes and for Blacks.

We need to change the paradigm for clinical studies of supplements. The old paradigm asks the wrong questions. If we really want to know the role of supplementation for our health, we need to start asking the right questions.

For more details read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Which Diets Are Best In 2022?

Which Diet Should You Choose?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Emoticon-BadMany of you started 2022 with goals of losing weight and/or improving your health. In many cases, that involved choosing a new diet. That was only a month ago, but it probably feels like an eternity.

For many of you the “bloom” has gone off the new diet you started so enthusiastically in January.

  • Perhaps the diet isn’t working as well as advertised…
  • Perhaps the diet is too restrictive. You are finding it hard to stick with…
  • Perhaps you are always hungry or constantly fighting food cravings…
  • Perhaps you are starting to wonder whether there is a better diet than the one you chose in January…
  • Perhaps you are wondering whether the diet you chose is the wrong one for you…

If you are rethinking your diet, you might want to know which diets the experts recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The diet world has become just as divided as the political world.

Fortunately, you have an impartial resource. Each year US News & World Report invites a panel of experts with different points of view to evaluate popular diets. They then combine the input from all the experts into rankings of the diets in various categories.

If you are still searching for your ideal diet, I will summarize the US News & World Report’s “Best Diets In 2022”. For the full report, click on this link.

How Was This Report Created?

Expert PanelUS News & World Report recruited panel of 27 nationally recognized experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes, and heart disease to review the 40 most popular diets.  The panel is not the same each year. Some experts are rotated off the panel, and others are added. The experts rate each diet in seven categories:

  • How easy it is to follow.
  • Its ability to produce short-term weight loss.
  • Its ability to produce long-term weight loss.
  • its nutritional completeness.
  • Its safety.
  • Its potential for preventing and managing diabetes.

 

  • Its potential for preventing and managing heart disease.

They converted the experts’ ratings to scores 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest). They then used these scores to construct nine sets of Best Diets rankings:

  • Best Diets Overall combines panelists’ ratings in all seven categories. However, all categories were not equally weighted. Short-term and long-term weight loss were combined, with long-term ratings getting twice the weight. Why? A diet’s true test is whether it can be sustained for years. And safety was double counted because no diet should be dangerous.
  • Best Commercial Diets uses the same approach to rank 15 structured diet programs that require a participation fee or promote the use of branded food or nutritional products.
  • Best Weight-Loss Diets was generated by combining short-term and long-term weight-loss ratings, weighting both equally. Some dieters want to drop pounds fast, while others, looking years ahead, are aiming for slow and steady. Equal weighting accepts both goals as worthy.
  • Best Diabetes Diets is based on averaged diabetes ratings.
  • Best Heart-Healthy Diets uses averaged heart-health ratings.
  • Best Diets for Healthy Eating combines nutritional completeness and safety ratings, giving twice the weight to safety. A healthy diet should provide sufficient calories and not fall seriously short on important nutrients or entire food groups.
  • Easiest Diets to Follow represents panelists’ averaged judgments about each diet’s taste appeal, ease of initial adjustment, ability to keep dieters from feeling hungry and imposition of special requirements.
  • Best Plant-Based Diets uses the same approach as Best Diets Overall to rank 12 plans that emphasize minimally processed foods from plants.
  • Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets is based on short-term weight-loss ratings.

Which Diets Are Best In 2022?

Are you ready? If this were an awards program I would be saying “Envelop please” and would open the envelop slowly to build suspense.

However, I am not going to do that. Here are the top 5 and bottom 5 diets in each category (If you would like to see where your favorite diet ranked, click on this link). [Note: I excluded commercial diets from this review.]

Best Diets Overall 

The Top 5: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet has been ranked #1 for 5 consecutive years.

#2: DASH Diet (This diet was designed to keep blood pressure under control, but you can also think of it as an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet.)

#3: Flexitarian Diet (A flexible semi-vegetarian diet).

#4: MIND Diet (This diet is a combination of Mediterranean and DASH but is specifically designed to reduce cognitive decline as we age.)

#5: The TLC Diet (This diet was designed by the NIH to promote heart health.)

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Whole 30 Diet (A whole food, restrictive diet, designed for a 30-day jump start to weight loss. It was not designed for long-term use).

#37: Modified Keto Diet (A slightly less restrictive version of the Keto Diet).

#38: Keto Diet (A high protein, high fat, very low carb diet designed to achieve ketosis).

#39: Dukan Diet (High protein, low carb, low fat diet).

#40: GAPS Diet (A diet designed to improve gut health).

Best Weight-Loss Diets

The Top 5: Weight Loss

#1: Flexitarian Diet

#2: Volumetrics Diet (A diet based on the caloric density of foods).

#3: Vegan Diet (A diet that only allows plant foods).

#4: Mayo Clinic Diet (A diet designed to establish lifelong healthy eating habits).

#5: Ornish Diet (A whole food, semi-vegetarian diet designed to promote heart health).

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Fertility Diet (A diet designed to improve fertility, but the experts were skeptical that it would increase your chances of becoming pregnant)

#37: Whole 30 Diet

#38: Alkaline Diet (A diet designed to make your blood more alkaline, but the experts were skeptical about that claim)

#39: AIP Diet (A diet designed for people with autoimmune diseases)

#40: GAPS Diet

Best Diabetes Diets

The Top 5: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet

#2: Flexitarian Diet

#3: Vegan Diet

#4: Mayo Clinic Diet

#5: DASH Diet

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Alkaline Diet

#37: Dukan Diet

#38: GAPS Diet

#39: Sirtfood Diet (a very low calorie, fad diet that emphasizes plant foods rich in sirtuins)

#40: Whole 30 Diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diets 

strong heartThe Top 5: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet

#2: Ornish Diet

#3: DASH Diet

#4: Flexitarian Diet

#5: TLC Diet

#6: Vegan Diet

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Keto Diet

#37: AIP Diet

#38: Whole 30 Diet

#39: Modified Keto Diet

#40: Dukan Diet

Best Diets for Healthy Eating

The Top 5: 

#1: Mediterranean Diet

#2: DASH Diet

#3: Flexitarian Diet

#4: MIND Diet

#5: TLC Diet

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Raw Food Diet

#37: Atkins Diet

#38: Dukan Diet

#39: Modified Keto Diet

#40: Keto Diet 

Easiest Diets to Follow

The Top 5: Easy

#1: Mediterranean Diet

#2: Flexitarian Diet

#3: Fertility Diet

#4: MIND Diet

#5: DASH Diet

The Bottom 5: 

#36: Modified Keto Diet

#37: Keto Diet

#38: Whole 30 Diet

#39: GAPS Diet

#40: Raw Foods Diet 

Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets

The Top 5 (Excluding Commercial Diets): 

#1: Atkins Diet

#2: Biggest Loser Diet

#3: Keto Diet

#4: Raw Food Diet

#5: Vegan Diet

The Bottom 5 

#36: Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet

#37: The Fertility Diet

#38: AIP Diet

#39: Alkaline Diet

#40: Gaps Diet

Which Diets Are Best For Rapid Weight Loss?

Happy woman on scaleThere are 3 take-home lessons from the rapid weight loss category:

1) If you are looking for rapid weight loss, any whole food restrictive diet will do. The top 5 diets are very different. For example, the keto and vegan diets are polar opposites, yet they both are in the top 5 for rapid weight loss.

  • The Atkins and keto diets are meat heavy, low carb diets. They restrict fruits, some vegetables, grains, and most legumes.
  • The Biggest Loser diet relies on restrictive meal plan and exercise programs.
  • The restrictions of the raw food diet are obvious.
  • The vegan diet is a very low-fat diet that eliminates meat, dairy, eggs, and animal fats.
  • I did not include commercial diets that rated high on this list, but they are all restrictive in one way or another.

2) We should ask what happens when we get tired of restrictive diets and add back some of your favorite foods.

  • If you lose weight on a vegan diet and add back some of your favorite foods, you might end up with a semi-vegetarian diet. This is a healthy diet that can help you maintain your weight loss.
  • If you lose weight on the Atkins or keto diets and add back some of your favorite foods, you end up with the typical American diet – one that is high in both fat and carbs. This is not a recipe for long-term success.

3) Don’t pay too much attention to the bottom 5 diets. None of them were designed with weight loss in mind.

Which Diet Should You Choose?

Food ChoicesWith rapid weight loss out of the way, let’s get back to the question, “Which Diet Should You Choose?” My recommendations are:

1) Choose a diet that fits your needs. That is one of the things I like best about the US News & World Report ratings. The diets are categorized. If your main concern is diabetes, choose one of the top diets in that category. If your main concern is heart health… You get the point.

2) Choose diets that are healthy and associated with long term weight loss. If that is your goal, you will notice that primarily plant-based diets top these lists. Meat-based, low carb diets like Atkins and keto are near the bottom of the lists.

3) Choose diets that are easy to follow. The less-restrictive primarily plant-based diets top this list – diets like Mediterranean, DASH, MIND, and flexitarian.

4) Choose diets that fit your lifestyle and dietary preferences. For example, if you don’t like fish and olive oil, you will probably do much better with the DASH or flexitarian diet than with the Mediterranean diet.

5) In case you were wondering, intermittent fasting ranked 26-30 and the Paleo diet ranked 26-33 on most of the list – not the worst diets, but a long way from the best. If you have a favorite diet I didn’t mention, check the US News website to find where it is ranked.

6) Finally, focus on what you have to gain, rather than on foods you have to give up.

  • On the minus side, none of the diets include sodas, junk foods, and highly processed foods. These foods should go on your “No-No” list. Sweets should be occasional treats and only as part of a healthy meal. Meat, especially red meat, should become a garnish rather than a main course.
  • On the plus side, primarily plant-based diets offer a cornucopia of delicious plant foods you probably didn’t even know existed. Plus, for any of the top-rated plant-based diets, there are websites and books full of mouth-watering recipes. Be adventurous.

The Bottom Line 

For many of you the “bloom” has gone off the new diet you started so enthusiastically in January. If you are rethinking your diet, you might want to know which diets the experts recommend. Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The diet world has become just as divided as the political world.

Fortunately, you have an impartial resource. Each year US News & World Report invites a panel of experts with different points of view to evaluate popular diets. They then combine the input from all the experts into rankings of the diets in various categories. In the article above I summarize the US News & World Report’s “Best Diets In 2022”.

There are probably two questions at the top of your list.

#1: Which diets are best for rapid weight loss? Here are some general principles:

  • If you are looking for rapid weight loss, any whole food restrictive diet will do.
  • We should ask what happens when we get tired of restrictive diets and add back some of our favorite foods.
  • Long term weight loss is possible if you transition to a healthy diet after you have lost the weight.

#2: Which diet should you choose? Here the principles are:

  • Choose a diet that fits your needs.
  • Choose diets that are healthy and associated with long term weight loss.
  • Choose diets that are easy to follow.
  • Choose diets that fit your lifestyle and dietary preferences.
  • Finally, focus on what you have to gain, rather than on foods you have to give up.

For more details on the diet that is best for you, read the article above.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Health Tips From The Professor