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If you’re thinking about ‘going on a diet’, what’s the best one?

If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolutions include eating healthier and getting more activity. Maybe you want to lose weight? If your first resolution was to “go on a diet” then what is the ‘best’ diet?

Many use the word ‘diet’ as a verb, as in “restricting oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.”

If you are ‘going on a diet’ then know that ALL weight loss diets work. When you change your typical eating habits and stop consuming the kind of foods and portions that made you overweight, and you instead eat according to someone else’s prescribed program, it’s going to change the status quo. Translated — you’ll lose weight.

Image: RandyGlasbergen.com

Approximately 45 million Americans “go on” diets each year to lose weight, and millions more do likewise around the world. However, some people change their diets for other reasons. Some decide that this is the year to eat less meat or no animal foods at all. Maybe their weight is fine but they need to improve some health condition such as hypertension or high cholesterol.

Each year U.S. News & World Report evaluates and ranks different types of diets with “input from a panel of health experts” including scientists, academics, physicians, registered dietitians, health writers, and policy makers.

To be top-rated in the “overall” category, a diet had to be “fairly easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, and protective against diabetes and heart disease.” “Through an in-depth survey, each panelist scored the 41 diets in seven areas, including ease of compliance, likelihood of losing significant weight in the short and long term, and effectiveness against cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

After tying with the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) last year as the top diet, The Mediterranean Diet moved into No. 1 Best Overall Diet spot.

A delicious and immune-boosting approach to healthy living —the Mediterranean-type eating plan.

Research shows that the Mediterranean-type of eating plan works for improved health, better weight, and enhanced immunity. The Mediterranean Diet also ranked No. 1 in Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Diets for Healthy Eating, Best Diets for Diabetes, and tied for Best Diet for Heart Health.

The Flexitarian Diet

Flexitarian – not entirely vegetarian, with occasional dairy, seafood, eggs, even meat.

Rated No. 3 overall, being a ‘flexitarian’ means eating a mainly plant-based diet (more vegetarian) but being flexible — you don’t have to eliminate all animal foods, but make them occasional, and focus on plants.

Ranked also are Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets. Why? Because some people want to see results immediately and are focused on short-term goals. The highest-rated ‘diets’ are the most restrictive and structured. Typically these diets mean a radical change from your usual diet, as in the case of the HMR Program (Health Management Resources Program).

Ranked No.1, with HMR you buy according to the website’s evaluation of you — shelf-stable meals and some snacks are delivered (so that means it’s out for those living in Cuenca). I went to the website to look at the ingredients in their Beef Stroganoff with noodles and read the ingredient label.  Full of unpronounceable additives, flavors, and preservatives, all the meals and snacks were similar in that way — it’s the additives that make them shelf-stable. You supplement with your own fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a very structured program, calorie-controlled, but it is nutritionally balanced and doesn’t eliminate any one nutrient. Expensive.

The veteran ‘Atkins Diet’ and ‘Keto Diet’ tie for No. 2 Quick Weight Loss. Dr. Robert Atkins wrote the 1972 book “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution,” and according to Atkins.com the diet involves four phases, starting with very few carbs and eating progressively more until you get to your desired weight. Your focus is on achieving ketosis at the start — by severely limiting all carbohydrates it causes you to burn all of your stored glucose in your liver that provides fuel for your body and brain. This causes your body to create ketone bodies from stored fat.

The Keto Diet also severely carbs but also limits protein and focuses on fat because it’s hard for adults to achieve ketosis. About 70 percent of your calories come from fat, only about 5 percent from carbohydrate. With Atkins, ketosis should be limited to only a couple of weeks before you start adding whole and unprocessed carbohydrate choices in very small amounts back into your diet with the goal of achieving a more balanced and enjoyable (and nutritious) menu. With the Keto diet, you’re supposed to stay in ketosis.

The Keto Diet is also ranked close to last (#38) in the Best Overall category and fits the definition of an unsustainable, unbalanced and unhappy ‘weight-loss diet’. Eating mostly fat is boring, unpalatable, and unnecessary, but it does get some quick results. For both Atkins and Keto, once you deplete your glycogen stores and transition into ketosis, yes, you’ll lose weight but you’ll experience symptoms including muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, mental fogginess, and hunger. The Keto advocates will tell you the symptoms are temporary. However, it’s a diet. A four-letter word that in this case means deprivation.

The Mediterranean Diet is not a ‘diet’ per se, but it is a way of eating. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, “It’s generally accepted that the folks in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than most Americans from cancer and cardiovascular ailments. The not-so-surprising secret is an active lifestyle, weight control, and a diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts and other healthful foods. The Mediterranean Diet may offer a host of health benefits, including weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control. By following the Mediterranean Diet, you could also keep that weight off while avoiding chronic disease.

There isn’t “a” Mediterranean diet. Greeks eat differently from Italians, who eat differently from the French and Spanish. But they share many of the same principles. Working with the Harvard School of Public Health, Oldways, a nonprofit food think tank in Boston, developed a consumer-friendly Mediterranean diet pyramid that offers guidelines on how to fill your plate – and maybe wineglass – the Mediterranean way.”

Cuenca is the perfect place to adopt and enjoy a Mediterranean-type diet. We have an enormous variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, great seafood, lots of beans and whole grains and quinoa, and ample opportunity for exercise.

The fruit and vegetable stalls at Feria Libre market in Cuenca are overflowing.
© www.uncorneredmarket.com

Up next: let’s continue the discussion about the difference between a ‘diet’ (noun) and ‘to diet’ (verb). I talk with my clients and patients about using the word ‘diet’ exclusively as a noun. The true definition of a diet is, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats: a plant-based diet; a specialist in diet.

If you use the word diet as a verb, as in ‘to go on a diet’ when you ‘go off the diet’ and return to your usual habits, you’ll regain the weight. More than 90 percent of people do.

Stay tuned!


Susan Burke March, MEd, RDN, CDE, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered Dietitian, and  Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Do you have a food, nutrition or health question? Write to her at SusanTheDietitian@gmail.com