Best ranked diets of 2017
In case you missed the announcement at the beginning of the year, the two diets voted the best were the DASH & Mediterranean diets.
What is the difference between them? Harvard Health have put together a great guide to answer just that. What you'll notice if you visit the page, is that although DASH is prescriptive (ie tells you how much to eat in servings (then you have to look up what a serving is etc) the Med Diet is more of an eating guide. I believe that is it's simple beauty. If you don't want to read the Harvard article, just know that the DASH diet was created to help those with hypertension (high blood pressure).
In a nutshell the differences in 'allowed' food boil down to two fundamental categories - meat/chicken/fish and dairy. More meat is potentially recommended on the DASH diet, because it's lumped in with fish (which we should be encouraging a higher consumption of) and chicken, and you're to decide which one(s) you eat. I wonder what most hypertensive men would choose?!? Most importantly for me however, is that it prescribes low fat dairy. Good luck getting anyone from the Mediterranean (or with taste buds) to eat low fat yoghurt and cheese - and why should they? It tastes meh. Pass...
If it's not already evident, I'm not a huge fan of prescriptive diets. They're hard to stick to and most people end up fixated on food. Thinking about food because you need to plan it hours before you're eating is a horrible way to live. There's hardly any down-time because then it's time for the next meal plan! There is a fancy term for how you're torturing yourself this way - it's called the 'anticipatory response'. You're thinking about food all of the time, and your brain is expecting you to eat food - all of the time! But you don't. Well, not at first anyway. Eventually, you know you'll be eating something when you think you shouldn't be. It might even be, heaven forbid, a non-prescribed serving! Now what? Everything is ruined! Might as well binge on all that full fat dairy you haven't been allowed (pass me the Connoisseur icecream!). Why do it to yourself? But we do. Over and over again.
We tell ourselves that this time it will be different. After all, it's only about willpower, isn't it? As we Aussies like to say... Yeah, nuh. If only it was that simple. There's a little thing called the gut-brain axis that loves to put a spanner in the works of your best laid plans. What you eat isn't always something you can control, and we're just beginning to understand why. Those little gut bugs I'm obsessed with appear to be influencing our cravings, and there's millions of them. We don't stand a chance! Not yet anyway, but at least we are starting to understand it isn't as simple as a bit of individual willpower. So take that, skinny people!
I have previously mentioned that everyone's gut microbiome is unique, so by extension their response to food will very probably be different also. Research into 'personalised nutrition' looks at post-prandial (after eating) blood glucose level differences among participants. Could our microbes be responsible for this? Perhaps not entirely, it's probably multi-factorial (more than one reason/cause), but my simple musings are that the more you feed your gut microbes the food they like, the more of them there will be! Millions of microbes will release a lot of metabolites which will influence your health and more importantly, your cravings. They will displace other microbes which may or may not be 'good guys'', and that will also have effects, and so on - what we scientists like to call a 'cascading effect'. Another of my favourite subjects - epigenetics - come into play too. Bottom line, our gut bugs are super important to our health and wellbeing - both physical and mental. So why not feed the 'good guys' what they like - for example legumes and wholegrains (someone pick Paleo Pete and his followers up off the floor)?
Which leads me back to the Med diet and it's wonderful simplicity: Here's a list of foods. Eat "not too much, mostly plants", as Michael Pollan famously said. That's pretty much what you need to know about the Med diet before you can go off & create mouth-watering meals that are both a delight to eat and good for you.
Now pass me the tzatziki made with full fat Greek-style yoghurt, the crispy olive oil fried Tassie salmon, and the Greek salad! Trust me when I tell you that if I could get my hands on full fat proper Greek yoghurt (ie made from sheep's milk), I would. For now, I'll make do with good old Aussie cows. Those fat ones in the paddock chewing on grass over there.