The media constantly bombards us with the latest diet craze promising to let us live longer, live better, or get slimmer. In this sea of diet media emerges rebel Dr. David Katz, physician and researcher at Yale University’s Prevention Research Center.
Dr. Katz and was invited by scientific publisher Annual Reviews to compare popular mainstream diets based on solid medical evidence. Katz was chosen because he was a respected, objective scholar with no biased affiliations. He told The Atlantic, “I don’t care which diet is best. I care about the truth.”
Katz and Yale colleague Stephanie Meller published their findings in which they compared major contemporary diets: low carb, low fat, low glycemic, Mediterranean, mixed/balanced (DASH), Paleolithic, and vegan. While they found no one “best” winning diet, the team did discover one common element that has been scientifically proven to always benefit health—real food.
“A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention,” Katz said to The Atlantic.
Eating patterns with proven health benefits (less heart disease, diabetes, and fewer cancers) include eating nutritionally-rich plant-based diets filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
The researchers could not definitively state that low-fat diets are better than diets high in healthful fats, like the Mediterranean diet. However, Katz and Meller did state to The Atlantic that the Mediterranean diet’s focus on high fiber intake, moderate alcohol and meat levels, and focus on fresh fruits and vegetables “is potentially associated with defense against neurodegenerative disease and preservation of cognitive function, reduced inflammation, and defense against asthma.”
Katz and Meller also found that carbohydrate-selective diets (with lower glycemic loads) are healthier than low-carbohydrate ones, and were associated with lower risks of heart disease, cancers, and diabetes, and worked best for controlling body weight.
Followers of the Paleo diet will be disappointed to know that Katz and Meller were harshest on the health benefits of this eating plan. They noted that most of the meat and plants today were not around during the Stone Age, and wrote: “if Paleolithic eating is loosely interpreted to mean a diet based mostly on meat, no meaningful interpretation of health effects is possible.”
In sum, Katz agrees with Michael Pollan’s nutritionism mantra: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
He concluded: “If you eat food direct from nature you don’t even need to think about this. You don’t have to worry about trans fat or saturated fat or salt—most of our salt comes from processed food, not the salt shaker. If you focus on real food, nutrients tend to take care of themselves.”