August 15, 2018

A diverse diet is healthy, right? Think again.

Daily Briefing

    Nutrition experts have long held that the key to a healthy diet is balance across diverse food groups—but the American Heart Association (AHA) is now pushing back on that belief, saying it's unsupported by science and people instead should focus on consuming high-quality foods, Kristen Monaco writes for MedPage Today.

    Help your employees promote healthy habits—regardless of the newest diet fads

    Focus on quality, not diversity

    In a recommendation published this month in Circulation, AHA cited observational research published between 2000 and 2017 that studied the effects of diet on body weight and obesity in adults and determined that a diverse diet could lead to an increased intake of highly processed foods, refined grains, and sugary beverages.

    According to Marcia de Oliveira Otto from the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who co-wrote the recommendation, the research indicates a diverse diet "might be associated with eating a greater variety of both healthy and unhealthy foods," which, when combined, could "lead to increased food consumption and obesity."

    As such, AHA recommended that, instead of focusing on diversity, Americans should ensure they get an adequate intake of healthy foods, with a specific focus on a high-quality diet consisting of:

    • Lean proteins;
    • Low-fat dairy;
    • Nuts;
    • Plants; and
    • Vegetable oils.

    Otto said focusing on a high-qualify diet "is potentially better at helping people maintain a healthy weight than choosing a greater range of foods that may include less healthy items such as donuts, chips, fries, and cheeseburgers, even in moderation."

    Contradicting recommendations and limited research

    AHA's new recommendation contradicts the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends people "focus on variety" and "choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts," Monaco reports.

    But research on the subject so far has been limited and inconsistent, AHA said. The organization called for a more standardized measure for diet diversity. "Future research should include stratification by food healthfulness to help identify key food groups that could be targeted to help achieve and maintain healthy weight over time," AHA said (Monaco, MedPage Today, 8/9).

    Help your employees promote healthy habits—regardless of the newest diet fads

    understanding the employee wellness spectrum

    Programs aimed at promoting healthy habits among employees are likely to lead to improved employee engagement and productivity—but they're unlikely to reduce the total cost of care. To do that, you'll need to take a population health approach.

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