Published on January 12, 2021
U.S. News & World Report Says Mediterranean Diet is Best for 2021
What are the keystones of a healthy lifestyle? Many experts recommend regular physical activity and a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. These whole food ingredients are central to the Mediterranean diet, which is the “Best Diet Overall” for 2021, according to the U.S. News & World Report.1
For the fourth year in a row, the Mediterranean diet outranked the ketogenic diet, Atkins and 36 other popular meal plans. To determine the top spot, a panel of health experts including nutritionists and specialists in heart health, human behavior and weight loss reviewed detailed assessments prepared by U.S. News.
The Cancer Connection
Teresa Fung, ScD, RD, a professor of nutrition at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, was one of the experts who participated in the study. As a nutritional epidemiologist, Fung researches the relationship between diet and chronic diseases, such as cancer. In 2010, she led a study that found that diets low in carbohydrates but rich in plant-based fats and proteins were associated with a lower risk of mortality.
“This research indicates that all low carb diets are not the same, and the differences have an indelible impact,” Fung said. “One that is based on plant foods is a better choice than one that is based on animal foods.”2
According to the American Cancer Society, four in ten cancers could be preventable – yet the number of young people being diagnosed with breast cancer and colorectal cancer is on the rise. Consumption of processed foods, obesity and inactivity could be some of the culprits, but don’t tell the whole story. Fung and other experts have identified a connection between diet and cancer, and now researchers are working to identify the other pieces to this puzzle, including health inequities as a barrier to early cancer detection.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
People who live near the Mediterranean Sea do not eat a monolithic diet. What they have in common is access to fresh ingredients and walkable cities.
The food pyramid on this meal plan begins with whole grains, nuts and legumes. This foundation leads to the next most important part of the plan: fruits and vegetables. Ideally, the majority of meals based on the Mediterranean diet start with the freshest ingredients found in the produce aisle of the grocery store; or, when in season, a local farmer’s market. Eating food in-season and locally, when possible, benefits the local economy and the global environment, in addition to your health.
Not a big fruit eater? Smoothies with fresh fruits and yogurt can be a great way to get many of the nutrients needed to kick-start your day. Trying to eat less butter? Use extra virgin olive oil instead. There are many ingredients you can substitute to prepare food that is both healthy and delicious.
The Mediterranean diet also considers proteins an important part of meals. Fish, shellfish and chicken are all staples of the plan, as are select vegetables with enough protein to keep a person full and healthy. Chickpeas, edamame (soybeans), black beans and lentils are chock-full of protein and can be quite filling when paired with other healthy foods like quinoa (a whole grain that can replace white rice).3
Red meat is not forbidden on the Mediterranean diet – nothing is – “everything in moderation” is the key to success. Even dessert and an occasional glass of wine are okay. It’s really about knowing the nuances, like the difference in the health value of dark chocolate versus milk chocolate (dark chocolate is better for the heart and contains less sugar). A healthy lifestyle should be a sustainable one.
“To lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, choose a healthful dietary pattern that you are able to stick with for the long haul,” Fung said in a February 2019 interview with Harvard Women’s Health. "Ask yourself, can you continue this for the rest of your life?”4
Diet During Cancer Treatment
Before making any changes to your diet or starting a new exercise program, talk to your doctor. While the Mediterranean diet was ranked number one overall, only you and your medical team can decide which meal plan is right for you.
Here are three tips from cancer dietician Julie Lansford:
- Ask for help: If you are currently in treatment and having side effects related to nutrition – patients undergoing chemotherapy, for example, may discover that some foods taste different – ask your treatment center if a dietician is available for consult. “What I find is that a lot of people actually have a dietitian available, but it may never have been offered to them,” Julie said.
- Eat whole foods: Julie’s advice aligns with the tenets of the Mediterranean diet. “Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, lots of plant foods,” she said. “If you want to include meat and dairy, that's fine in moderation, but really the bulk of your food should be coming from plants that aren't [overly] processed.”
- Stay hydrated: It is just as important to stay hydrated during treatment as it is to keep your weight up. “You might find that you're fatigued, and that could be the result of dehydration,” Julie said. “A lot of chemos have a dehydrating effect, so you need even more fluids.” She recommends water, juice and smoothies as a way to increase your fluid intake.
Whatever nutrition plan you and your doctor decide is best, you don’t have to be a chef to make a delicious meal. To make things simple, consider subscribing to a meal kit plan that delivers recipes and healthy ingredients to your home. It can be fun to try new things! As Julie says, “The purpose of healthy eating and nourishing your body is so you can go out and live.”
Was this article helpful? Please share across social media. Looking for more cancer nutrition information? Sign up for Patient Power e-newsletters.
1Mediterranean Diet. U.S. News & World Report.
2Low Carb Diet Rich in Animal Fat and Protein Increases Risk of Death. Simmons College. PR Newswire.
3Eckelkamp S, Smith J. 20 High-Protein Vegetables to Add to Your Diet, According to Dietitians. Prevention.
4Can you eat away at your cancer risk? Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
Recommended for You: