So many of us want to know which diet is optimal to help keep us healthy. The topic of nutrition is constantly being debated, and whether you are a news newbie or a news junkie, the cacophony of current diets can make your head spin. From articles claiming the superiority of keto, low-carb, low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, intermittent fasting, Paleo, and Dash diets, it can be overwhelming  to understand what these diets are doing for us, and which is most likely to improve our lives, help us feel our best, and increase longevity.

Recent recommendations were released from a real-time survey of 515 U.S. physicians across 27 specialties in November 2019 regarding this issue. The top vote-getters for long-term weight maintenance were: Mediterranean at 51%, DASH at 16%, intermittent fasting at 7%, Vegan at 6%, and Keto at 5%. The Mediterranean diet, which was found to be the most effective and sustainable, consists of a higher volume of fruits, vegetables, complex carbs, olive oil, and a moderate amount of fish. The DASH diet is similar to Mediterranean, with the emphasis on nuts and low-fat meats, but this diet provides a low sodium target (under 2300 mg per day). For the best source of protein, a majority of physicians (64%) felt that a combination of plants and meat is best. The second best was vegetarian (16%), followed by meat (9%). 

Interestingly, 80% of physicians blamed our societal food environment — primarily filled with fast food, processed ingredients, and easy-to-access sugary beverages and snacks — as being responsible for our ever-increasing rates of obesity. Only 17% assigned the blame to willpower, and a remarkably low 3% blamed genetics. They found that the top three strategies for long-term weight loss included mindful eating at 78%, exercise at 78%, and self-monitoring at 53%. 

The research on the effects of these diets are certainly helpful — but in order to see what is truly working, we feel it’s important to look at Blue Zone areas, where there are higher proportions of centenarians than in other regions of the world. These areas — such as Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Icaria, Greece, and the Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California — inform us with nutrition information that is more compelling, and more relevant. 

Here are the food guidelines that many individuals in these regions follow:

  • 95% of your food items should be plant-based.
  • Stop eating when 80% full.
  • Eat a half-cup of beans daily.
  • Eat your largest meal at breakfast and the smallest at dinner.
  • Snack on a handful of nuts daily.
  • Cook majority of your meals at home.
  • Maintain a good social circle to interact with on most days.
  • Get moderate daily physical activity.

By looking at the daily food habits of individuals who live in areas that are known for longevity, it’s important to acknowledge the simplicity and clarity in their general guidelines. As we embark on 2020 determined to tackle our goals, perhaps we can learn from these regions instead of fixating on the newest diet fads that complicate our lives and add stress to eating healthy. When it comes to feeling our best, we’re likely better off focusing on simple ingredients, home cooking, and staying active.