Are the US News '2018 best diets' family friendly?

It’s still early on in 2018, and it can be a renewed chance to eat healthier and for some of us, try out a new diet. This may sound familiar and is often a daunting task, but U.S. News & World Report recently issued their Best Diets of 2018 list intended to help over 45 million Americans reach their nutrition goals.

As a nutritionist, I always review these types of reports to determine if there are new diets I should be recommending to my clients, or warning them to stay away from. Many of these new diets offer good advice for individuals with specific nutrition goals, but are they appropriate for the whole family?

Defining best diet

How do we define the best diet? No one diet fits for everyone. The Best Diets list is generated by nutrition and medical experts.  These experts analyzed 40 diets and categorized them based on each diet’s purpose, contents, cost, and effectiveness.  Whether you need to lose weight, reduce heart disease and diabetes risk, or just want to eat healthier, a realistic “best” diet should be based on scientific evidence, safe, and sustainable.

The best diet for 2018

There’s not just one best diet for 2018, there are two. The Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets were tied for best diets this year. Both diets emphasize eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and lean meats and fish.  Reducing red meat, saturated fat, processed foods, and added sugars is a common theme among both diets as well.  While the Mediterranean diet encourages eating cheese, yogurt and red wine in moderation, the DASH diet’s focus is lowering blood pressure by going easy on the salt.

Tips for parents

Even if your kids don’t have high blood pressure or need to lose weight, both the Mediterranean and DASH are not considered “fad diets”, and are sound nutrition plans for the whole family (with the obvious exception of kids drinking red wine). Parents can start by adding the following to their family’s nutrition plan:

  • Eat more whole grains – choose brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole wheat bread
  • Add a serving of fruit to each meal or snack
  • Reduce sodium by using herbs and spices instead of sprinkling on the salt
  • Add healthy fats by snacking on unsalted nuts, eating fatty fish and avocado, or adding olive oil to your salads and veggies
  • Make half of your dinner plate vegetables, or try eating a meatless meal at least once a week

The best diet for families

As parents and caregivers, it’s important to stress maintaining a balanced diet, inclusive of healthy and less healthy foods. Strict adherence to eating only healthy foods, orthorexia, or following “fad diets”, can lead to eating disorders and an unhealthy preoccupation with dieting. The word diet often has a negative connotation associated with it, and most people view it as a restriction and/or limit on what they can eat.

Instead, families should try to focus more on healthy eating patterns and, perhaps, using the word “nutrition”, rather than “diet”. Selecting a healthy nutrition plan for your family, as opposed to focusing on individual eating habits, is more effective long-term, and has a much better chance of continuing throughout 2018 and beyond.