By Caroline L. Young, MS, RDN, LD, RYT
In 2018, I had multiple nutrition counseling clients come to me, seeking refuge after trying extreme fad diets. The side effects they experienced run the gamut, but they were all negative -- severe GI distress, food preoccupation, unnecessary guilt, dramatic weight loss followed by more weight gain than lost, feelings of failure and more.
But these issues did not take me by surprise because extreme diets all have something in common: nutrient imbalance, unnecessary restriction and exclusion of nutrient-dense foods. For example, those on low-carbohydrate diets are missing out on whole grains, which are sources of fiber, B vitamins and other important nutrients. And those on diets that exclude legumes (including peanuts), which some of the fad diets do, are missing out on excellent plant-based sources of protein. Read more about why extreme diets aren’t a good idea here.
What about 2019?
As you probably know, extreme and restrictive diets are still hot, despite the fact they are unsustainable and unhealthy.
But there are other popular, science-backed “diets,” or eating patterns, that you can follow this year -- without risking nutrient deficiencies or sacrificing taste. The most researched and well-known is the Mediterranean Diet, which was actually named as the number one best diet for this year by U.S. News & World Report’s list, created by health experts. To make their list, diets have to be safe, nutritious, and protective against diabetes and heart disease. Click here to learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, along with the newer Flexitarian Diet, which ranked number three on the same list.
Plus, there is some promising new research emerging around another eating pattern that’s health-promoting, well-balanced and (gasp) enjoyable.
Enter … The MIND Diet
This year in the nutrition world, there will be a focus on eating for brain and cognitive health. And research continues to emerge around the MIND Diet – an eating pattern fusing the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diets. It emphasizes foods like olive oil, leafy green vegetables, other vegetables, berries, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts and legumes . It happened to be number four on U.S. News & World Report’s list.
To date, research shows the MIND Diet is associated with better brain health, including reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). In a 2015 prospective study of 923 participants, ages 58 to 98, 144 participants developed AD over 4.5 years of follow-up in the study, which was published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Researchers concluded moderate adherence to the MIND Diet may decrease AD risk. That’s because the MIND Diet is scored on a number scale, with 2.5-6.5 being the lowest, 6.5-8.5 being the middle and 8.5-12.5 being the high group. They found the individuals who scored in the highest group had a 53 percent reduction rate of developing AD, compared the low group, and those in the middle group had a 35 percent reduction rate when compared to the low group.
Like all studies, this one has its limitations, including use of food-frequency questionnaires to record dietary intake, which can always result in human error. Additionally, this study can only draw an association to reduced risk of AD – not cause and effect – because it is not a randomized dietary intervention trial.
Dietary eating patterns like the MIND and Flexitarian Diets offer healthier and often more pleasurable nutrition guidelines. Peanuts and peanut butter fit right in there too!
However, there is still no one-size-fits all approach to nutrition, as we all have individual mental and physical needs. Schedule an appointment with a local registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), who can help you come up with an individualized eating plan that aligns with your needs and personal preferences.
To learn more about developing a healthy eating pattern, click here.
Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9): 1007-1014. doi: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.11.009.