Mediterranean diet named the best for 2019

If you're a fan of the Mediterranean diet, get ready to do a victory dance. For the first time, the Mediterranean diet has won the gold as 2019's best overall diet in rankings announced Wednesday by US News and World Report.

The analysis of 41 eating plans also gave the Mediterranean diet the top spot in several subcategories: best diet for healthy eating, best plant-based diet, best diet for diabetes and easiest diet to follow.

The high accolades are not surprising, as numerous studies found the diet can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer. Meals from the sunny Mediterranean region have also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and longer life. Oh, and weight loss, too.

The diet features simple, plant-based cooking, with most of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra virgin olive oil. Say goodbye to refined sugar and flour except on rare occasions. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all.

Meat can make a rare appearance, usually only to flavor a dish. Instead, meals may include eggs, dairy, and poultry, but in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet. Fish, however, is a staple.

"It's more than a diet, it's a lifestyle," said Atlanta registered dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi, who teaches the Mediterranean diet to her clients. "It also encourages eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating your favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise for a complete healthy lifestyle."

To judge the diets, a panel of experts in heart disease and diabetes, nutrition, diet, food psychology and obesity reviewed research about the diets from medical journals, government reports and other resources.

Angela Haupt, assistant managing editor of health for US News and World Report, said the experts then ranked the diets in seven categories: "how easy it is to follow, its nutritional completeness, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its safety and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease."

In 2018, the top spot for best overall diet was a tie between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension, or high blood pressure. This year, DASH came in second.

What do these diets have in common? They require the use of minimally processed foods and focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds, said internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist, who founded the lifestyle medicine and wellness programs at Atlanta's Emory University.

"These minimally processed plant-based foods affect our health in a very deep way," explained Bergquist, who was not on the US News and World Report panel of experts.

"They reduce inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, balance our gut bacteria, and they're getting at the root cause of disease," she added. "It's the same consistent theme that helps with overall health."

CNN contributor and registered dietitian Lisa Drayer says the highest-ranked diets have another important commonality: They allow for the occasional indulgence.

"Whether it's a glass of red wine on the Mediterranean diet or a piece of cake on Weight Watchers, it allows people to plan for an indulgence that would otherwise be forbidden," Drayer said. "So much about weight loss is mental, and being able to incorporate all foods, including a treat, is important for any healthy eating plan."

The lowest-ranked overall diets were the Dukan diet, the Body Reset diet, the Whole30 diet and the popular keto diet, which all focus on high-protein or high-fat foods with minimal carbohydrates.

"Those are diets that have few substantiated claims, are extremely restrictive, harder to follow, and they eliminate entire food groups, which is not something that's substantiated by science," Bergquist said.

The Mediterranean diet ranked first in best diet for diabetes and tied for first place in best heart-healthy diet.

"The foods in the Mediterranean diet are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber, which are all key components for reducing the risk for chronic disease," said Al Bochi, who is also a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The six-way tie for best heart-healthy diet also includes the DASH diet; the MIND diet; the vegan diet; the Dr. Dean Ornish diet, which he says is the only scientifically proven program to reverse heart disease in a random clinical trial without drugs or surgery; and the TLC diet, short for therapeutic lifestyle changes.

The Ornish diet program to reverse heart disease focuses on more than an extremely restrictive diet; it also addresses exercise, stress reduction and social support.

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The Gayly – February 12, 2019 @ 7:20 a.m. CST.