Health Watch -- The Best Diet

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

You've heard of low-fat diets. You've heard of low-carb diets. Which is best?

The best diet for your health may lie somewhere between the low-fat and low-carb extremes. That's what researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found when they studied the Mediterranean diet. This diet has more fat than the low-fat diet that's often recommended to prevent heart disease, but it's fat from more healthful sources, such as olive oil, nuts, fish and avocados. The diet also emphasizes complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Researchers found that people who ate this kind of diet, along with getting daily exercise, lowered their risk of dying from heart disease or cancer by at least 25 percent. It also lowered their death rates from other causes.

Researchers have long known about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It's been shown to lower heart disease risks. Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that this kind of diet is a viable alternative for people with type 2 diabetes to help them maintain heart health. But the Harvard study was the first large test of this diet to see how it affected otherwise healthy people.

The Mediterranean diet allows about 40 percent of calories to come from fat, compared to the 30 percent often recommended. The difference is that most of this fat is monounsaturated, which is better for you than the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products. Meat is used sparingly and often comes from fish. Olive oil is used in place of butter.