What’s the healthiest diet? Experts give tips for optimal eating and debunk myths
The big picture: Sifting through nutritional recommendations has become increasingly complicated. USC experts on healthy behavior, diet and aging recently discussed the best way to eat for optimal health.
- They also broke down some diet myths and misinformation.
- The Dornsife Dialogues event took place Jan. 25, hosted by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Why diet matters: A healthy diet reduces inflammation in the body, says Maryann Pentz, a behavioral health specialist. Poor diets contribute to inflammatory processes that can lead to conditions like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, and certain cancers.
Diet also affects mental health. “We get a better sense of well-being overall if we’re eating right, and that’s true for adults, adolescents and children,” says Pentz, professor of population and public health sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC.
What’s the healthiest diet? A recent analysis of diets around the world found that those who live the longest generally adhere to these food guidelines:
- A mostly vegetarian or pescatarian (seafood) diet
- A diet high in legumes, whole-grains and healthy fats like nuts and olive oil
- Low consumption of red meat
While low-carb, high-protein diets have seen rising popularity, biogerontologist Valter Longo advises against these for longevity: “I’ve gone everywhere in the world and met centenarians [those who live into their 100s]. I’ve never met one that said, ‘I have a low carb diet.’”
Watch the full discussion here:
Find a transcript of this audio here under the transcript tab.
It’s never too late to start: No matter what age you start, you can add years to your lifespan by switching from the standard Western diet to this “longevity diet.”
- “Even if you start at 80, [you can add] 3 to 4 years of life expectancy,” says Longo, professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
You don’t have to punish yourself to achieve benefits: Longo says that conducting just two, 5-day, low-calorie fasts a year can improve your health
How to change behavior: Instilling healthy eating habits in children is important but can be challenging. Pentz has some suggestions:
- Reach for fruits with high-water content, like oranges, as snacks instead of chips or candy.
- Adjust favorite foods rather than ditching them. If a child enjoys hamburgers, for instance, swap the beef patty with a fish patty instead.
- Introduce vegetables in small amounts, like adding a little spinach into scrambled eggs.
Watch your water: Hydration is important, but too many carbonated beverages (even sugar-free ones) can erode teeth enamel. Pentz says stick to a can or two of sparkling water a day and to drink mostly flat water.