A Guide to Healthy Diets

Rob Jaska, BSc. PHARM

Pharmacist/Manager – Medical Centre Pharmacy

A healthy diet has been shown to promote and provide health benefits. There are many diets claiming to be the best for weight loss, weight management and optimal health but it can be overwhelming to make an informed decision. Although most specialty diets want you to believe that their diet is the one to magically aid in weight loss and good health, an important factor to consider is whether or not these claims have been evaluated and proven with actual evidence. The table below outlines the details and possible benefits of some of the most popular – and proven – diets. 

Diet Health Benefits Includes Restricts

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet has been very well documented to show increased longevity, reduced cardiovascular risk and preserved cognition. There is strong evidence that this diet may be associated with lowering the risk of developing diabetes.

Lowers:

Type 2 diabetes

Retinopathy

Cancer incidence and mortality

Cardiovascular incidence and mortality

Age-related cognitive decline

Promotes weight loss

Fish

Monounsaturated fats from olive oil

Fruits

Vegetables

Whole grains

Legumes/nuts

Moderate alcohol consumption

Red meat

Refined grains

Refined sugars

DASH Diet

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. As the name implies, this diet plan was first devised as a method for reducing blood pressure without the use of medication. It was found that the DASH diet offered other health benefits such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Lowers:

Cardiovascular risk factors

Blood Pressure

Low-density lipoprotein

Age-related cognitive decline

Promotes weight loss

52% – 55% carbohydrates

16% – 18% proteins

30% total fats

Rich in:

Fruits

Vegetables

Whole grains

Low-fat dairy products

Saturated fats

Cholesterol

Refined grains

Refined sugars

Sodium – less than 2,400 mg/day

Vegetarian/Vegan Diet

Research shows that although there are benefits such as weight loss and a reduced risk for diabetes in some cases, there are also some risks. Eating only plant foods can lead to nutritional deficiencies. If following the vegetarian diet, care should be taken to eat foods from all food groups. Vegan diets can result in vitamin deficiencies, in particular vitamin B12, making vitamin supplements a necessity.

Vegetarian:

Lower rates of type 2 diabetes

Lowers risk of coronary artery disease

Vegan:

Lower rates of hypertension

Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease

Promotes healthy weight

Plant-based foods:

Grains

Plant oils

Nuts Seeds

Legumes

Fruits

Vegetables

Vegetarian excludes:

red meat

pork

poultry

fish

possibly eggs

Vegan excludes:

all animal products

in some cases, honey

Low-fat Diet

Low-fat diets typically focus on lowering the daily fat intake of total daily calories. Medical research shows definite evidence that the quality of the fat should be the focus, not the quantity of fat. Diets that favour unsaturated fats from sources such as oily fish, seeds, nuts and olive oil result in fewer heart disease incidences when compared to diets that have diets using saturated fat and animal-derived fat.

Low-Carbohydrate Diet

There are many variations of low-carb diets but the common thread to all of them is the restriction of the types and amounts of carbohydrates you eat. The benefits of low-carb diets include weight loss which in turn can lead to decreased risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Adverse health conditions can result if carbohydrates are restricted to less than 20 grams a day so a balanced approach is required. If a low-carb diet plan is followed, it is vital to choose foods with healthy unsaturated fats and healthy proteins.

It can be overwhelming when trying to choose the best option for a healthy diet that provides all the necessary nutrients and health benefits. Some diets promote making big changes for rapid weight loss, but that’s not necessarily the healthiest way. A healthy weight is important to overall your health, but diet is about so much more than weight loss. The best way to achieve overall health benefits is to stick to a diet that has been medically proven to prevent and/or lower the risk of chronic diseases.