The end of each year brings with it the annual U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets” list.
While the internet is rife with false and misleading claims about diet and nutrition, one of the best things about this annual list is the rigorous testing the diets undergo and the very reputable experts who serve on the selection panel.
The annual report features a variety of diet categories, such as Best Diets Overall, Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Diabetes Diets and Best Heart-Healthy Diets.
Experts on the selection panel compare efficacy, research, reliability of claims and nutrient adequacy when selecting award recipients.
This year, the “Best Diets Overall” category features the following winners:
- DASH Diet – Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, originally designed to fight high blood pressure but helpful for many other conditions
- TLC Diet – the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change diet, created by the National Institutes of Health is cited as having “no major weaknesses”
- Mayo Clinic Diet – helps adherents make healthy eating a lifelong habit and is also helpful in the fight against diabetes and can help promote weight loss
- Mediterranean Diet – a primarily plant-based diet with an emphasis on healthy fats, this diet is coming up roses with a lot of supporting research indicating its effectiveness at limiting chronic disease risk
- Weight Watchers – always the favorite commercial plan among nutrition experts, Weight Watchers teaches you that what you put in your mouth matters! Easy to follow and draws on the importance of a support group, either in person or online to help promote adherence.
For a full list of all of the winners in each of the diet categories, check out the full U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets list available here.
With the new year upon us, it’s time to tackle what’s going to be trendy in 2016. Here are a few hot food items you’re sure to see popping up in the coming months:
Sprouted grains are gaining traction for their increased nutrient bioavailability and whole grain nutrient cred. Look for sprouted grains in snack foods, or recipes that promote using your own.
Plant Based Diets
With the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans likely publishing in early 2016, there will be an increased focus away from animal foods and towards more plant-based foods. Look for plant based proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds to be big in 2016.
Sustainable Food Practices
Waste not want not will be big in 2016. A backlash against the incredible amount of food thrown away in the US that started in 2015 will likely continue into the New Year. Look for food rescue programs and imperfect produce to make a comeback.
Fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha will be big in 2016. Advocates tout their digestive health benefits and probiotic content to get your gut back in shape.
Ancient grains had their day in the sun in 2015. For 2016 look to pulses such as dried beans and peas and lentils to be big. As a plant-based protein, these are great nutrition givers, but they also pack fiber and other valuable nutrients and are affordable to boot.
Good fats are back! The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans will likely highlight the importance of eating good fats vs. eating less fat. Think olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil instead of butter, lard and coconut oil. Avocados and nuts will likely get their day in the sun too as they are sources of heart-health unsaturated fats.
Sugar alcohols are a type of low-calorie sweetener that turn up in all sorts of diet foods in our food supply. When you chew sugar free gum or eat sugar free candy, you’re almost certainly containing sugar alcohols.
Despite their name, sugar alcohols contain neither sugar nor alcohol. Sugar alcohols are a classification of carbohydrates that are different from artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’n Low) or sucralose (Splenda) which contribute no calories. Sugar alcohols yield between 0.2-2.7 calories per gram, although they are so intensely sweet they can be used in such small quantities that they sweeten without contributing many calories.
The sugar alcohols most readily seen on today’s food ingredient lists include those that end in “-ol”, such as:
Short of allowing you to ingest sweet-tasting foods with a reduced caloric burden, sugar alcohols are not necessarily worth adding to your diet for any added benefit, although what they protect against may be of interest: tooth decay.
The FDA has an approved health claim for sugar alcohols, saying that, “Frequent between-meal consumption of foods high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay. The sugar alcohol in [name of food] does not promote tooth decay.”
The drawback with sugar alcohols is that they can lead to gastrointestinal distress and have a laxative effect. If you’ve ever found your stomach hurting after eating sugar free jelly beans or sugar free chocolate, you have sugar alcohols to thank.
Sugar alcohols are not entirely absorbed or digested by the human gut. Rather, they are fermented in your large intestine, which can cause gas or diarrhea in some people.
Your best bet is to consume any food with sugar alcohols in moderation. Just because a candy or chocolate is “sugar-free” certainly does not mean it is calorie-free. Sugar free desserts are often loaded with refined grains and other empty calories.
You – and your gut – may be better off just having a smaller slice of the real thing!