Top weight loss plans for your heart, brain health

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Most of us diet because we want to slim down.  But, some weight loss plans offer serious health benefits, too.

US News & World Report evaluated 38 popular weight loss plans, looking at the pros and cons of each.  This year, the publication picked 3 "Best Diets Overall."

Emory Healthcare internist Dr. Sharon Bergquist says the top finisher this year is the DASH Diet, which designed to lower and prevent high blood pressure.

Created by the National Institutes of Health, the DASH Diet is heavy on fresh, whole foods.

“Lots of fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Bergquist. “Whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy products and very low-fat poultry or fish."

Tied for 2nd place in the “Best Diets Overall” is the MIND Diet.  It’s a cross between the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet.  The focus here is on boosting your brain health to help protect against Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders.

"So, it breaks it down into 10 categories.  Five are very healthy for brain health, and 5 are categories of foods that generally work against you for cognitive functioning,” says Bergquist.  "So, for example, not just all vegetables, but the green leafy vegetables.  Not just all fruits, but really berries and blueberries in particular have chemicals that affect brain health."

Also in 2nd place overall is a newcomer, the TLC Diet, which stands for the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet.

"And the emphasis of the TLC Diet is to reduce cholesterol, mostly the LDL, which is the ‘bad’ cholesterol," says Dr. Bergquist.

The TLC diet requires cutting back on saturated fats and promises to lower your LDL cholesteral by 8 to10% over 6 weeks.

"What they all have in common that they avoid is that they're all low in fast food, low in fried food, low in butter and margarine, and they're low in the fatty meats,” explains Dr. Bergquist.

All three plans push lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or non-fat dairy, and lean poultry or fish, usually in smaller amounts.

So, how do you find the right weight loss plan for your needs?

“I think the most important thing when you're looking for a diet is to not look at something you're just going to do for a certain amount of time and then you're done with it.” Says Dr. Bergquist. “I think it's important to view a diet as a lifestyle.” 

To succeed, Bergquist says, you need a plan that is sustainable, something you can do day in and day out.

"And the best kinds of diets are the ones that improve your health, that reduce your risk of heart disease, of Alzheimer's, of dementia, of high blood pressure, of high cholesterol,” she says.

But, even though these 3 plans don’t focus on weight loss, that may be an added benefit to getting healthier.

“Because if you can do that, indirectly, you are going to lose weight and you're going to feel better,” says Dr. Bergquist.  “You’re going to have less chronic disease, and you're going to live longer."

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