Diet & Weight Loss

A healthy weight is an important element of good health. How much you eat—and what you eat—play central roles in maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight. Exercise is the other key actor.

For years, low-fat diets were thought to be the best way to lose weight. A growing body of evidence shows that low-fat diets often don't work, in part because these diets often replace fat with easily digested carbohydrates.

Hundreds of diets have been created, many promising fast and permanent weight loss. Remember the cabbage soup diet? The grapefruit diet? How about the Hollywood 48 Hour Miracle diet, the caveman diet, the Subway diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, and a host of forgettable celebrity diets?

The truth is, almost any diet will work if it helps you take in fewer calories. Diets do this in two main ways:

  • getting you to eat certain "good" foods and/or avoid "bad" ones
  • changing how you behave and the ways you think or feel about food

The best diet for losing weight is one that is good for all parts of your body, from your brain to your toes, and not just for your waistline. It is also one you can live with for a long time. In other words, a diet that offers plenty of good tasting and healthy choices, banishes few foods, and doesn't require an extensive and expensive list of groceries or supplements.

One diet that fills the bill is a Mediterranean-type diet. Such a diet—and there are many variations—usually includes:

  • several servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  • whole-grain breads and cereals
  • healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and olive oil
  • lean protein from poultry, fish, and beans
  • limited amounts of red meat
  • moderate wine consumption with meals (no more than two glasses a day for men; no more than one a day for women

A Mediterranean-style diet is a flexible eating pattern. People who follow such diets tend to have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and other chronic conditions.

Diet & Weight Loss Articles

Harvard researchers continue to support their healthy eating plate

Harvard Health Publishing, in conjunction with nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) first unveiled the Healthy Eating Plate in 2011. It's an evidence-based visual guide that provides a blueprint for eating a healthy meal. Like the U.S. government's MyPlate, the Healthy Eating Plate is simple and easy to understand—and it addresses important deficiencies in the MyPlate icon. "Unfortunately, like the earlier U.S. Department of Agriculture Pyramids, MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating," said Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. "The Healthy Eating Plate is based on the best available scientific evidence and provides consumers with the information they need to make choices that can profoundly affect our health and well-being." View the Healthy Eating Plate. More »

Healthy Eating Plate

The Healthy Eating Plate was created by Harvard Health Publishing and nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health. It offers more specific and more accurate recommendations for following a healthy diet than MyPlate, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Service. In addition, the Healthy Eating Plate is based on the most up-to-date nutrition research, and it is not influenced by the food industry or agriculture policy. Click to enlarge More »

New dietary guidelines offer sketch for healthy eating

The latest edition of the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans tries to nudge people toward healthier eating habits and patterns. For example, an entire chapter offers advice about foods you should try to reduce in your diet. Another focuses on foods and nutrients that are worth increasing. A six-page table offers practical tips for eating more fruits and vegetables, eating out, cutting back on sodium, and more. More »

June 2011 references and further reading

Markel H. "When it rains it pours": endemic goiter, iodized salt, and David Murray Cowie, MD. American Journal of Public Health 1987; 77:219-29. Dasgupta PK, Liu Y, Dyke JV. Iodine nutrition: iodine content of iodized salt in the United States. Environmental Science and Technology 2008; 42:1315-23. Tayie FA, Jourdan K. Hypertension, dietary salt restriction, and iodine deficiency among adults. American Journal of Hypertension 2010; 23:1095-102. (Locked) More »

Weight-loss surgery can help - and harm - the heart

It's important for readers to understand that although weight-loss surgery tends to improve heart health in the long run, in the short term the operation places a tremendous strain on the heart. Heart attacks and other cardiac problems account for as many as one in five post-surgery deaths. This likely reflects years of obesity-related damage to the heart and blood vessels. (Locked) More »

Obesity: Unhealthy and unmanly

Excess body fat raises levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides while also lowering HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. Obesity impairs the body's responsiveness to insulin, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. Obesity increases the risk of male maladies, ranging from erectile dysfunction to BPH and prostate cancer. It also increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, cancer, osteoarthritis, obstructive sleep apnea, fatty liver, and depression. Obesity and lack of exercise are responsible for about 1,000 American deaths each day, and if present trends continue, they will soon overtake smoking as the leading preventable causes of death in the U.S. More »