Ask Dr Dairy: What Are the Most Recommended Diets Worldwide?

More than 100 countries around the world have developed food-based dietary guidelines for maintaining health. While each country has unique food availability, culinary cultures and eating habits, they share common principles. As it turns out, many countries have dietary guidelines with similarities to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA).

I recently had the honor to analyze current research and co-author a United Nations report on food security and nutrition within food systems as a member of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s High Level Panel of Experts. According to the report, “Diets should meet energy (i.e., calorie) needs, provide a diversity of high nutritional quality foods and be safe to consume. Beyond that, specifics of healthy eating patterns detailed in the report include an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains and a decreased consumption of foods high in saturated and total fat, trans-fat and added sugars – advice that is very similar to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating pattern. DASH also includes three servings of low-fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt or cheese) per day and studies have shown a reduction in blood pressure in adults who consume a DASH eating pattern.

And, some good news in the consumer space, because The DASH and Mediterranean meal eating plans were tied for first place as Best Diet Overall by a panel of health experts convened annually by U.S. News and World Report, indicating that the diets that are recommended by health experts are being recognized by the public, too — a critical connection between science and public health application. Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, who served on the U.S. News panel of experts, reminds us that healthy eating is built around whole, nutrient-rich foods you do eat, rather than a list of “bad” foods or nutrients (e.g., sugar, fat or sodium) that you don’t. Both plans have been researched extensively with numerous studies published over the last three decades. The DASH and Mediterranean diets have been recognized as healthy eating patterns in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Not many studies have compared food-based dietary guidelines available worldwide. A study comparing dietary guidelines in 30 North and South American countries found many similarities among them. Overall, they emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains (i.e., complex carbohydrate foods) and limiting saturated and trans-fat, sodium and added sugars.

Nutrition experts have been moving away from nutrient-specific or food-specific dietary guidance and toward a more holistic examination of eating patterns. A healthy eating plan is primarily made up of nutrient-dense foods – or those that supply relatively more nutrients than calories. Dairy foods make significant nutrient contributions to healthy eating patterns. Even at current consumption rates in the U.S. — which are below recommendations — on average for Americans 2 and older, milk, cheese and yogurt contribute 54% of calcium, 56% of vitamin D, 14% of potassium, 18% of protein, 29% of vitamin A, 28% of phosphorus, 27% of vitamin B12, 25% of riboflavin (B2), 12% of magnesium and 17% of zinc to the U.S. diet, but only 11% of total calories and 3% of added sugars.

The healthy eating plans described in the DGAs follow the overall principles of diets considered healthful worldwide. Dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese are a fundamental component of the DGA healthy eating plans, and three servings of low-fat/fat-free dairy are recommended in the Health U.S. Eating Style and the Healthy Vegetarian Eating Style. You can let your clients know that a healthy eating plan can be made by choosing nutritious foods within each food group that are delicious and fit well with their lifestyle. Registered dietitian nutritionists can help individualize eating plans for specific needs.