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What Is the Best Diet?

The best diet, according to researchers, is rich in produce, whole grains and unsaturated fats. Levels of fat and carbohydrate don't matter much.
What Is the Best Diet?
Fresh organic artichokes on farmers market in Paris France

Battles have been waged online and even in the pages of nutrition science journals on whether low-fat or low-carb is the best diet. Now researchers have evaluated the correlation of such diets with mortality rates (JAMA Internal Medicine, Jan. 21, 2020). They concluded that what matters more than the proportion of fat or carbohydrate in the diet is the quality of the food.

How Can You Follow the Best Diet for You?

Harvard researchers and their colleagues analyzed data on more than 37,000 American adults from the US National Health and Examination Survey from 1999 to 2014. All of these people had filled out a 24-hour dietary recall questionnaire at the start of the study.

During the approximately 15 years of follow-up, almost 5,000 participants died. The analysis revealed no difference in mortality between people eating low-fat diets and those on low-carb regimens. But further analysis did show a difference. When the researchers factored in quality, they found that high-quality diets were associated with lower mortality.  The winning diets contained primarily whole rather than processed foods, protein mostly from plants rather than animals and unsaturated rather than saturated fats.

Pros and Cons of Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat:

This is not the first study to compare low-fat and low-carb diets. Previous research suggested that people with diabetes are more successful at controlling blood sugar and weight on a low-carb regimen. That appears to be the best diet for them. They still need to make sure that the carbs they do consume are from healthful sources such as low-starch vegetables. In addition, they should be choosing healthful sources of fat such as nuts or olive oil.

On the other hand, nutrition experts have long championed low-fat diets for people who need to control their cholesterol. To maximize the benefit, the person should choose primarily whole grains and produce rather than highly processed foods. Too often, people told to cut fat replaced it with cheap, readily available foods like cereal or snacks high in sugar and white flour. 

Have you found an eating plan that suits you? What principles do you follow? Let us know in the comments below. If you would like to learn more about some proven healthy diet plans, such as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or the Mediterranean diet, you’ll find useful information in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Shan Z et al, "Association of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets with mortality among US adults." JAMA Internal Medicine, Jan. 21, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.6980
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