Emory doc rates diets

Cardiologist weighs in on nation’s most popular plans

For the third year, Emory cardiologist Laurence Sperling helped U.S. News & World Report rate the country’s top diets. Sperling joined a panel of 20 experts to evaluate 29 diets from Atkins to Zone. Fortunately for Sperling, medical director of Emory’s Center for Heart Disease Prevention, he didn’t have to actually try them all.

How did you pick the best plans?
We get sent all the scientific information related to the diets, but a lot of them don’t have a lot of scientific information. We had to rank them in seven different categories including the ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, heart health, and how likely would it be that someone could remain on the diet long term.

Which diets were standouts?
A Mediterranean-type diet is good for most people. That’s lean proteins, low-fat dairy, lots of fruits and vegetables, and healthy carbohydrates in the right portion. Weight Watchers helps teach people important principles and gives them accountability and people can follow it long term. The DASH diet to lower hypertension is also very similar to the Mediterranean diet.

Which was your personal favorite?
The whole concept of popular diets, well I’m not a fan. People can lose weight on popular diets but the more restrictive they are, people aren’t going to stay on them and the harder they are to follow. Unless you have a personal chef and have your own garden and farm, it would be hard to execute these diets for a long period of time. I advocate a plan for life versus, “Hey, I’m on a diet this month.”

But if you were going to pick one…
The helpful diets have the same common threads: a balanced diet, portion control, lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, sparingly sweets, and low-fat protein.

Were there any that were just plain bizarre?
U.S. News picked these particular diets because these were ones that a lot of people were interested in. There was nothing like the watermelon diet or anything too crazy. The Raw Food Diet – that’s a little over the top.

How do you eat?
I don’t follow any popular diet. What I’ve done is incorporate healthy dietary habits into my daily life and certainly the life of our family. My wife (who is also a doctor) and I don’t take our kids to fast food restaurants. We follow a Mediterranean-type diet that is predominantly vegetarian.

What dietary issues do you think are specific to the South?
Here in Atlanta I often hear “I drink three sweet teas or sodas a day.” We make people aware of the empty calories in those. Over a course of a year, have water and you could lose 30 pounds. Sweetened beverages like sweet teas and colas are part of the culture. And certain foods that could be healthy are translated into non-healthy variations – like green beans cooked in fat back or fried okra.

What’s good about where we live?
Weather-wise, it’s more conducive to growing fresh fruits and vegetables and access to fresh fruits and vegetables is unique. I love the Dekalb Farmers Market! From a food standpoint, Atlanta lets you have the world’s food choices at your fingers…shop healthy, cook healthy, and eat healthy.