Every year “U.S. News & World Report” comes out with its diet rankings. This year it ranked 41 different diets. I call it the diet war for determining which diet is the best of all. Every year there are a lot of folks pulling for this or that diet to be the winner to justify what they tell others.
U.S. News breaks the diets down into these classifications:
● Best Diets Overall
● Best Weight-Loss Diets
● Best Diabetes Diets
● Best Diets for Healthy Eating
● Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
● Best Heart-Healthy Diets
● Best Plant-Based Diets
● Easiest Diets to Follow
Then it ranks the best diets for each category. That way there are more winners and happy marketers. This year’s across the board landslide winning diets were the Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet, and The Flexitarian Diet. The overwhelmingly favorite foods of choice are nearly the same as they have been since the 1950s and 60s. They are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, plant-based protein, and olive oil. Only small morsels of lean meat were allowed and then most preferred skinless chicken. Most of the popular diets fear red meat primarily because of its saturated fat and cholesterol. Nearly all diets recommend low fat and restricted salt intake. By and large, except for some diets recommending fish and monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the prominent U.S. News diets are mostly vegetarian and low-fat oriented.
Naturally the Paleo Diet didn’t shine. It ranked 33 out of the 41. One of the concerns was “Can you get used to the idea of breadless sandwiches? Or having your milk and cookies without either milk or cookies?” Then the experts at U.S. News summed up Paleo’s high-protein diet for being too restrictive to be healthy or sustainable. Apparently we need bread, milk, and cookies to be healthy and stay on a particular diet.
The Ketogenic diet ranked 38 out of 41. Amazingly U.S. News was kinder in its Keto review than with Paleo. At least the panel of experts didn’t say Keto was not healthy or sustainable although for sure it is a very complex diet to follow. More than in any other diet review, the Keto review had several mentions of grass-fed meats, fish, no sugar, and lots of fat.
Diet reviews generate interest because they’re like comparing religions. Many people have inflexible viewpoints as to what is proper and what is not. Most people do not read nutritional scientific literature other than newspaper reviews of sensational studies that soon drop from sight because they were invalid. Consequently most people will agree with the common knowledge which is drummed into them every day of the year. And that consists of:
● Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans;
● Using olive oil rather than vegetable oil;
● Cutting off the fat, choosing low fat, and restricting salt;
● Eating some fish, maybe a little skinless chicken breast, but rarely if ever red meat.
Fifty years ago my mother started practicing the fundamental principles of the USDA Food Pyramid which was a little like today’s Mediterranean Diet. Even today the USDA MyPlate diet is considered to be a sensible and prudent diet which is why most doctors recommend it. Unfortunately my mother’s many chronic ailments only got worse and she eventually died of Alzheimer’s. So why was that? What was she missing in her well-rounded diet?
Looking back at her diet, I believe she ate too many carbohydrates, sweet fruit, and foods with high ratios of Omega-6 to Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). In other words she suffered from a skewed overall nutrient profile including an Omega-3 deficiency. That set her up for arthritis, heart disease, cancer, and eventually Alzheimer’s.
The Paleo Diet came into being based on the idea that prior to the birth of agriculture 10,000 years ago, humans had been around for about four million years and were adapted to surviving on foods that were readily available. Those foods were primarily animals, fish, and seasonal, above-ground plant-based foods. And only the animals were available 365 days a year.
Agriculture’s advantage was that grain and other seasonal crops could be grown in abundance and stored to be eaten when they were out of season. Therefore, through farming, humans could eat more seeds, dried fruits, nuts, and tubers in place of animals. This shifted their foundation food away from the green leaf at the bottom of the food chain and significantly changed the nutritional chemistry of their diet.
The animal kingdom’s tie to the green leaf is critical. As life developed in the sea and then on land, it was always green leaves that were at the bottom of the food chain. They provided the essential nutrients, energy, and the proper EFA balance animals required. Of course, animals also ate other animals for the same thing, but green leaves were still the basis for life.
Now I’m not saying that we should try to exactly mimic prehistoric man’s diet. What I am saying is we should do our best to mimic the chemistry of those foods. Wild game can be replaced with grass-fed meats, Omega-3 meats, and wild-caught seafood. The surface plants of old can be replaced with modern green leafy vegetables. Ancient fruit was seasonal and not very sweet which is a good reason to eat fruit in moderation and avoid the high glycemic varieties. Prehistoric man certainty ate a few handfuls of grain now and then when it was in season. He may have even dug up a tuber and raided a bee hive. But he never had copious quantities of grain, tubers, and sweets throughout the year.
How good was the caveman’s diet? Other than it wasn’t always plentiful, in terms of its array of nutrients, it could be called “perfect.” As part of the animal kingdom, wild animals and fish required the same spectrum of nutrients humans required in about the same ratios. The green leafy plants at the bottom of the food chain were probably kissing cousins of kale and spinach. Consequently all the required essential proteins, fats, minerals, amino acids, vitamins, and sterols would be included in the diet and in turn they would also be provided in the meat of animals.
The initial recommendations to eat low fat and low salt foods were not based on good science. That’s why in modern scientific circles the advice to avoid animal fats and salt is being called into question. The evidence is overwhelming that low fat does not make people skinny and salt is essential. Concerns about saturated fat and cholesterol, fats our bodies can regulate, do not correlate with heart attacks. Topping that off is the Omega-3 deficiency which few if any diets address properly including Paleo and Keto.
Science has shown that incidences of many chronic diseases accelerate when the EFA ratio exceeds 4:1. The best ratio is believed to be lower than 2:1. Yes, more studies are underway. But the evidence keeps piling up in favor of the lower ratio. In spite of that I do not know of one popular diet that says the totality of foods consumed should keep the EFA ratio below 2:1. If they mention Omega-3 at all, they just say eat some Omega-3 foods. There is a big difference because most Americans get some Omega-3, it’s just that their EFA ratios are up around 15:1 which is the definition of the Omega-3 deficiency.
The U.S. News diet rankings do not take into account the overall incidences of chronic disease. For more than 50 years the “winning” diets have been about the same yet obesity has never been worse. Diabetes is almost universally commonplace. Heart disease deaths are down because of intervention, but the incidences of heart disease remain the same. Incidences of cancer have not declined. Arthritis and back pain are considered normal for elders. I could go on and on, but the point remains, what are the popular diets doing to us rather than for us? And what about the diets which do the best job across the board for reducing incidences of chronic disease and for actually curing some chronic diseases? Why don’t they get priority?
Change comes slow to large institutions which is why I have no illusions we’ll soon reach a point where there is only one diet that only recommends foods that are:
● Low Glycemic
● Nutrient Diverse and Dense
● With 1:1 EFA balances
When the Food Tables are studied one discovers that these three parameters are very restrictive yet they will provide the full spectrum of nutrients the body requires for optimal function. The foods that excel are the grass-fed meats, Omega-3 meats, wild caught seafood, and the green leafy vegetables. Other foods can be eaten too in moderation if the goal is to keep the EFA ratio less than 2:1.
As health conscious people worry about what to eat they should keep in mind that following the status quo is rarely the best policy as Dr. Frakt explains.
At a March 13, 2019 health policy conference sponsored by America’s Health Insurance Plans, Austin Frakt, PhD said that “Only 0.1% of all spending in healthcare is on any evaluation of what we’re doing.” Frakt, a director of the Partnered Evidence-Based Policy Resource Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System continued, “And what is even harder than generating [that] evidence is paying attention to it. Even when we know when something doesn’t work, deinstitutionalizing it is hard; it can take years or decades to stop doing something that doesn’t work. [And] even though we have the data, it’s ‘dark data’ -- it’s out there but we’re not seeing it and not paying attention to it.”
To your health.
Ted Slanker has been reporting on the fundamentals of nutritional research in publications, television and radio appearances, and at conferences since 1999. He condenses complex studies into the basics required for health and well-being. His eBook, The Real Diet of Man, is available online.
Don’t miss these links for additional reading:
Best Diets 2019 from U.S. News & World Report
The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease by James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, et al.
The Wrong White Crystals Not Salt but Sugar as Aetiological in Hypertension and Cardiometabolic Disease by James J. DiNicolantonio, PharmD, et al.
What is Paleo Diet? Reviewed by U.S. News’ team of expert panelists
What is Keto Diet? Reviewed by U.S. News’ team of expert panelists
USDA Choose MyPlate by the USDA
Essential Fatty Acids in Health and Chronic Disease by Dr. Artemis P Simopoulos
More Data Needed on What Works in Healthcare, Expert Says by Joyce Frieden, MedPage Today
6 Graphs That Show Why The “War” on Fat Was a Huge Mistake by Kris Gunnars, Bsc at Healthline
How the Ideology of Low Fat Conquered America by Ann F. La Berge in the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Get Your Own Omega-3 Blood Test and use slanker as a code for a discount
Too fat? Eat Fat by Ted Slanker
It All Began in the Sea . . . by Ted Slanker
Man Is an Extension of the Leafy, Green Plant by Ted Slanker