Ornish diet ranks first for healthy eating

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Experts SAY the best weight-loss plans help people shed pounds while promoting cardiovascular health and creating good long-term eating habits. Several popular diets meet those criteria, a recent study shows, while others fall short.

The Ornish, Weight Watchers high-carbohydrate, and the New Glucose Revolution plans topped a comparison of 10 diets. Seven characteristics were evaluated: ratio of red meat to white meat, ratio of polyunsaturated to saturated fats, and the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, cereal fiber, and trans fats. Each category was allotted 10 points, for a maximum score of 70.

“The highest performing plans fared well due to an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, higher whole-grain composition, and lower trans fats,” said co-author Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian with the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Ornish is a completely vegetarian diet, excluding all meat and permitting only egg whites and nonfat dairy products. It led the pack with a score of 64.6 (J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107:1786-1791).

The Atkins/45-g carbohydrate diet made the poorest showing at 42.3. It calls for the least amount of fruit and had the worst scores for red meat and trans fat.

The 2005 USDA Food Guide pyramid ranked sixth at 48.7, a finding the study team called “unexpected.” Lead author Yunsheng Ma, PhD, MD, MPH, also with the University of Massachusetts, believes that may be a result of its genesis. “The guidelines were originally devised to prevent nutrient deficiencies. We need to modify or rebuild the pyramid to look into cardiovascular disease prevention,” he observes. Here’s how the diets compared (possible scores ranged from zero, the worst, to 70, the best): 1. Ornish (64.6)
2. Weight Watchers high-carbohydrate (57.4)
3. New Glucose Revolution (57.2)
4. South Beach/Phase 2 (50.7)
5. Zone (49.8)
6. 2005 Food Guide Pyramid (48.7)
7. Weight Watchers high-protein (47.3)
8. Atkins/100-g carbohydrate (46)
9. South Beach/Phase 3 (45.6)
10. Atkins/45-g carbohydrate (42.3)

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