Replacing certain foods in an individual's diet can improve its quality and result in better health outcomes.
The quality of popular diets in the U.S. could benefit from substituting different foods for others, resulting in better health outcomes, new research from the College of William and Mary and Ohio State University has determined.
Researchers examined dietary survey data from 34,411 adults over the age of 20, collected between 2005 and 2018, noting that all the popular diet patterns they evaluated were low quality. Using the "Healthy Eating Index-2015," they were able to further evaluate the quality of each diet and model changes to figure out substitutions that would improve quality.
Dietary quality indexes compare the intake of different food groups and nutrients based on an individual's preferred diet, to the recommended intakes, using algorithms to generate a summary score. The higher the score, the better the diet aligns with dietary guidance and results in better health outcomes.
Few studies, the paper stated, have evaluated broader popular diet patterns for their quality; and those that have were limited in their analyses.
Based on the data, the diet quality of popular diet patterns was found to be "far below optimal."
Other notable findings include:
Pescatarian diets—eating fish and seafood, but not meat and poultry—had the highest dietary quality, followed by vegetarian and low-grain diets.
The quality of restricted carb, time-restricted, and high-protein diets were lower than that of the general population.
The modeled replacement of less than three daily servings of foods high in added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, or refined grains resulted in modest improvements in diet quality.
When foods high in added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and refined grains were replaced, there were some changes in quality noted, though they were "far from optimal."
"[Individuals] may be more likely to initiate and sustain moderate diet and lifestyle changes than more comprehensive modifications, which is known as the 'small changes’ approach," the study said. "One way to implement this approach is to make targeted food replacements rather than adopt an entirely new diet pattern."
By making small dietary changes such as replacing food or drinks with healthier alternatives, the study explained, it will be easier to implement other healthy changes in an individual's lifestyle.
“[Individuals] may be more likely to initiate and sustain moderate diet and lifestyle changes than more comprehensive modifications, which is known as the 'small changes' approach.”
study, Quality of Popular Diet Patterns in the United States
Improving the quality of someone's diet may be as simple as replacing some foods with others.
The quality of many popular diet patterns was found to be "below optimal."
Substituting different parts of someone's diet with healthier options can make it easier to introduce healthier choices in other areas of their life.