December 1, 2023

Healthy Choice

Healthy Choice The Only Solution

Research Suggests Most Popular Diets Have Poor Diet Quality

Every other day there seems to be a new diet that comes along, which many individuals believe to be a…

Every other day there seems to be a new diet that comes along, which many individuals believe to be a healthy choice. Or at least healthier than they’re currently eating. But unfortunately, as revealed in a recent study, that isn’t typically the case.

The study, which was published in September in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition, concludes that greater efforts are needed to encourage dietary patterns that include a variety of high-quality food groups rather than food group restrictions, as seen in many of today’s popular diets.

[READ: How to Eat Like the Mediterranean Diet With Food From Other Cuisines]

Comparing Popular Diet Plans

The study gathered dietary data from almost 35,000 adults. Within the study they did not specifically ask participants the type of diet they were on — such as low-carb, paleo, keto or vegan — because prior research shows people are often inaccurate in categorizing their own diet. For example, a keto diet would include only 5% of daily energy needs from carbohydrates and 80% to 90% from fat, yet no one’s dietary patterns reflected that.

Instead, researchers looked at what food and nutrients people were actually consuming, compared it against the National Institute of Health’s recommendations and created the diet categories to be reviewed from there. The final list included: restricted carbohydrate, low-grain, high-protein, vegetarian, pescatarian and time-restricted. They also included a general population diet, which didn’t fall into the other categories.

To assess the quality of each of these diets, the researchers used the Healthy Eating Index metric, which scales diets from zero to 100, in compliance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The results showed that a pescatarian diet pattern had the highest diet quality, followed by vegetarian, low-grain, restricted carbohydrate, time-restricted and high-protein diet patterns. To be clear, most diets had a failing grade. Only the pescatarian and vegetarian diet scored higher than the general population diet. For example, the general population diet scored around a 57 out of 100, while the pescatarian diet was about 65 out of 100.

[See: 13 Best Fish: High in Omega-3s — and Environment-Friendly.]

Unhealthy Diets

“There is more than one way to eat an unhealthy diet,” says lead author Zach Conrad, a nutritional epidemiologist and assistant professor at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia.

What the researchers then did was try to improve each diet by replacing one food high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat or refined grains. Surprisingly, their diet scores did not change that much. They even went as high as replacing three categories. Still the scores were not significantly higher.

“What occurred to us is that most people are consuming their foods as mixed dishes that contain multiple ingredients,” says Conrad. “Some of these ingredients are healthy and others are not, so swapping these mixed dishes led to an increase in both healthy and unhealthy ingredients. The overall effect was still positive, but a lot of it washed out.”

“For example, take pizza. It’s a good source of dairy and provides some vegetable toppings, but it’s also rich in saturated fat, sodium and refined grains,” according to Conrad. ” Replacing refined grain pizza with whole-grain pizza will make it healthier, but you’re still left with the saturated fat and sodium. It’s all about trade-offs.”

[See: 7 Top Healthy Protein-Rich Foods.]

Small, Healthy Changes

Conrad assured me though that, in the long run, that any healthy small change will have a positive health effect. It’s just not always possible to see results immediately. He also stresses the importance of sustainable dietary lifestyle changes. I couldn’t agree more. This study further supports that dietary restriction, with one food group or another, at the end of the day does not necessarily equate to a high-quality diet.

We need to look at the sum of all parts of our diets, which includes both micro and macro nutrients to reach a higher diet quality. For example, if you eliminate carbohydrates, a macronutrient, from a diet, you may also lose out on many micronutrients, including fiber, B vitamins and vitamin C. Perhaps instead of spending so much time labeling or naming our dietary patterns (or diets) to begin with, we should all simply focus more on the foods we are actually choosing.

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