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Core foods in the top-ranked diets.

In the yearly diet rankings from U.S. News & World Report, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet earned the top spot for the best overall diet, followed closely by the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet, an eating plan created by the National Institutes of Health. In the healthy eating category, these two diets also came in first and second, and in best heart-healthy diets, TLC placed second, while DASH placed third.

The DASH and TLC diets took top honors in multiple categories because of the foods that they encourage, as well as the ones they discourage.

Key foods in the top diets. So, what are the essential elements in the DASH and TLC diets?

"DASH and TLC are very similar when you look at their meal plans. They both encourage fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat meats, poultry, and fish, and low-fat and/or nonfat dairy products," explains Barbra Heller, RD, a dietitian at Weill Cornell's Iris Cantor Women's Health Center. "These diets ranked the highest because, if you follow them, you will lower LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and blood pressure, lose weight, increase fiber consumption, and improve intestinal health and blood sugar."

Both of these diets include minimal amounts of fats and oils, as well as sweets and added sugars, and they don't include red or processed meats or full-fat dairy products that are high in saturated fat.

Choosing the best diet for YOU.

Women choose diets for a number of different reasons; often, the goal is to lose weight, but many women also want to take steps to protect their heart and brain health and prevent or manage other chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. How can you figure out which diet is best for you?

It can be challenging to figure out what diet is the best fit for you. If you have tried several diets but haven't had success, you know that making decisions about which diet to follow can be confusing and frustrating. This is where a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can be very helpful.

Help is available. "When you have a consultation with an RDN, he or she will help you determine the appropriate diet based on your lifestyle and your dietary likes and dislikes. Just making it to the first appointment and admitting you need help is part of the battle," says Heller. "However, once you get to that first meeting, you are on your way; from that point forward, you and the RDN work on a plan together, and you continue to work together to stay on that path until your goal is reached."

Some insurance plans cover services provided by RDNs. For example, Medicare and many other plans cover weight-loss services for patients who are obese or overweight and have weight-related health conditions, such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

Heller says that you do not need to be referred by a doctor in order to see an RDN. However, she says, "I prefer a doctor's referral, because I can get an overall view of the patient's situation by reviewing her lab results, medical history, and other information that will assist me in helping her achieve her goals."

Other notable rankings. Some of the other dietary categories included:

* Heart-Healthy Diets: The Ornish Diet scored highest in this category, followed by TLC and DASH. The defining characteristic of the Ornish Diet is its emphasis on minimal fat intake; it advises keeping total daily fat intake to 10 percent (the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board recommends getting 20 to 35 percent of daily calories from fat). The Ornish Diet has been shown to reduced blockages in arteries, as well as lowering blood pressure and total and LDL cholesterol levels. However, this diet is not easy to stick with for most people.

"The Ornish Diet is restrictive and difficult to follow. In all my years of practicing, I've known one person who has chosen this plan," notes Heller.

* Easiest Diets to Follow: Weight Watchers took first place and Jenny Craig took second place in this category; they also took first and second in the best commercial diets category. However, these diet plans include the extra expense of membership and/or of purchasing pre-packaged meals.

"Plans that include meals, such as Jenny Craig and NutriSystem, work well for women who have little time to plan or little desire to cook. However, when a woman reaches her weight goal and she stops the pre-planned meals, she might find it difficult to maintain the weight loss," advises Heller.

* Lowest-ranked diets: Reviewers had concerns about nutritional deficiencies for the diets that fared the worst. The Paleo Diet and the Dukan Diet tied for last place in terms of overall diet rankings. The Paleo Diet is high in meat, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables--foods that our ancestors ate more than 10,000 years ago--but bans dairy, grains (even whole grains), and legumes. The Dukan Diet is high in protein and lower in fat and carbohydrates and is very restrictive, especially in its initial phase. Other low-ranked diets included the Raw Food Diet, the Atkins Diet, the Fast Diet, the Body Reset Diet, and the Supercharged Hormone Diet.
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Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:May 1, 2015
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