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Diet Plans in Review: Mediterranean, DASH, and Vegetarian

Diet plans, meal plans and eating programs are everywhere. How many have you tried and how long did they last? Knowing what to eat can be overwhelming. So, let’s look at the evidence behind some popular diet plans like the Mediterranean, DASH and Vegetarian diet plans.

Mediterranean Diet Plans

The Mediterranean diet plan encourages a whole foods diet with lots of produce and healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and fish. The diet also has low amounts of red meat, sugar and saturated fats. A diet plan like this is known to promote heart health and improve longevity.

Research Says:

Meta-Analysis reviews demonstrate reduction in heart disease by improving blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose and reducing weight. The benefits of this diet plan can be seen when the plan is adopted as an eating pattern and lifestyle, not just a diet. By incorporating fiber rich whole grains you can demonstrate the improvements in inflammation, cholesterol and blood pressure.

Registered Dietitians Say:

Most clients find the Mediterranean plan realistic without too much restriction, which enhances long term compliance. It allows for a variety of foods and can also be easily applied when eating out!

The DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet plan focuses on low sodium food and drink options. The initial diet started in the 1990’s based off research from the National Institutes of Health. DASH limits packaged items where sodium hides and focus on whole food sources including whole grains, low fat dairy and produce.

Research Says:

Reviews continue to demonstrate that the diet plan improves blood pressure and decreases cardiovascular disease. In fact, overweight individuals who follow this plan in combination with weight loss and exercise, may benefit from greater blood pressure improvements.

Registered Dietitians Say:

This plan offers gradual steps towards a more whole foods, less packaged lifestyle. It draws eyes to food labels and clients are surprised to learn where sodium is hiding in their foods. Eating out may be challenging without access to nutrition information, but for many restaurants this can be accessed online quite easily.

Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Plans

Plant-based diets have been around for a long time and have different variations. Strict vegan plans incorporate fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts/seeds and non-meat proteins like soy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume eggs and dairy foods, whereas Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy foods but not eggs.

Research Says:

Adventist Health Study 2 notes “lower body mass index, lower prevalence and incidence of diabetes, lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome and its component factors, lower prevalence of hypertension, lower all-cause mortality, and in some instances, lower risk of cancer.”

Other reviews note improvements in longevity and cognitive function.

Registered Dietitians Say…

While the research shows decrease in chronic disease, plants offer extra benefits including fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and anti-inflammatory benefits. Therefore, working closely with a nutrition expert will help to optimize a vegetarian diet to ensure no nutrition gaps. However, please be cautious of overly processed vegetarian options and opt for whole foods that will help to maximize the benefits.

My Diet Plan Recommendation

As you can see, this short list reminds us that although endless nutrition plans are available, not all are created equal. At a basic level, I encourage clients to partner with a healthcare provider they trust when adopting a new plan, avoid short-term diets, eat more plant foods and search for a plan that allows you to feel your best.

For more guidance on the best diet plan for you, reach out to our Nutrition Services department.

Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE, IFNCP™
Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE, IFNCP™

Ellen Thomsen, MS, RD, LMNT, CDE is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner. She is the diabetes education program coordinator at CHI Health and sees patients at the Millard Clinic. She works with patients to identify root causes to health conditions and make changes to improve overall health. Ellen’s passion is to help others develop lifestyle habits that allow them to feel their best.

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