Which diet is best for me?

From the Mediterranean to Keto, learn which diet may work best for your unique needs
A senior man serving food from a bowl at a table.

Many people resolve to improve their eating habits in the New Year. This time, do it right! Avoid short-term fad diets in favour of an eating plan that fits your life and benefits your health for the long term.

There is no single diet that is best for everyone. The right eating plan for you depends on your food preferences, medical needs, cooking skills, budget, religious and cultural influences  and more. Your diet should be  sustainable over time – if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick with it.   

Here we’ll explore some of today’s popular diets, including who they are meant for and which foods they include, so you can make the best choice for yourself. 

Plant-based diets

Research supports plant-based diets for heart health. These diets range from being entirely vegan to including some meat, fish and poultry. Either way, plants like vegetables, grains and beans form the “base” of the diet.  

Canada’s Food Guide Plate

What is Canada’s Food Guide Plate? Canada’s Food Guide features a plate model to help plan your diet. The plate features a plant-based eating plan. 

Which foods are included on Canada’s Food Guide Plate? The plate is divided into three quadrants: 

  • Half plate: vegetables and fruit (plants) 
  • Quarter plate: whole grains (plants) 
  • Quarter plate: protein foods from plants (tofu, beans, nuts) or animals (dairy, meat, poultry, egg, fish, etc.) 

Which foods are minimized on Canada’s Food Guide Plate? This diet limits highly processed foods such as sugary drinks, sweets and salty snacks.   

Who is Canada’s Food Guide Plate for? Anyone can try the plate! It suggests “proportions,” but does not specify individual foods. You can create meals based on preferred vegetables, fruits, proteins and whole grains to meet diverse medical, budgetary, cultural and religious needs.

The DASH diet

What is the DASH diet? Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a diet designed to help lower blood pressure levels. Similar to Canada’s Food Guide plate, this diet encourages whole foods and minimizes highly processed foods. 

Which foods are included in the DASH Diet? The diet encourages foods that are high in protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It includes vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and beans. It also recommends lower-fat dairy products and allows for poultry and fish. The full DASH diet is outlined here.  

Which foods are minimized on the DASH Diet? This diet limits fatty meats, full-fat dairy, sugar sweetened beverages, sweets and sodium. 

Who is the DASH diet for? Originally meant to manage high blood pressure, this plant-based diet also helps cholesterol management. It can even be used by people without high blood pressure to help prevent heart disease.

Mediterranean Diet

What is the Mediterranean diet? This heart-healthy, plant-based diet consists of foods traditionally grown in Mediterranean countries. It can be adapted with non-Mediterranean ingredients too! 

Which foods are included in the Mediterranean diet?  

  • Vegetables, fruit, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil: daily 
  • Fish and seafood: at least twice a week 
  • Milk, cheese, eggs and yogurt: daily or weekly in moderate amounts 

Which foods are minimized on the Mediterranean diet? Meats and sweets are minimized.  

Who is the Mediterranean diet for? The diet is a good choice for heart disease prevention. Studies show it can also help reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol, dementia and certain cancers. 

Popular diets

These diets are popular, but there may not be enough science to support their use for heart health or for disease prevention. Research is ongoing. Here’s what we know right now. 

Keto diet 

What is the Keto diet? The Ketogenic diet is a very high fat (70% of calories), low-carb weight loss diet. It puts the body into ketosis, meaning that you burn fat for energy instead of carbs. 

Which foods are included on a Keto diet? A standard Keto diet includes:

  • Oil, butter and cream 
  • Meat, poultry and fatty fish 
  • Eggs 
  • Cheese 
  • Low-carb vegetables such as peppers, cucumbers and celery 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Avocado and coconut 

Note: Keto plans may not differentiate between healthy fats (salmon, olive oil) vs. less-healthy fats (lard, bacon). That’s a red flag for people with heart disease. You can plan a heart-healthy Keto diet, but food choices are limited and it’s hard to follow long-term.

Which foods are minimized on Keto? The Keto diet excludes or reduces carbs from bread, pasta, rice, fruits, starchy vegetables, beans, sugars and baked goods. It’s often low in fibre, which is detrimental for heart health.   

Who is Keto meant for? This dietary pattern was originally developed for children with seizure disorders. It has since been adopted for diabetes management and for weight loss. If the diet includes a high amount of saturated fat, it may increase cholesterol levels and is not meant for people with heart disease.

Intermittent fasting 

What is intermittent fasting? This diet is about WHEN you eat, not what you eat. It dictates periods of eating and fasting.  

Which foods are included when intermittent fasting? You can follow any of the diets above intermittently. The most common patterns are: 

  • 12/12 fasting: eat for 12 hours, fast for 12 hours 
  • 16/8 fasting: eat for eight hours, fast for 16 hours 
  • 5:2 approach: eat regularly for five days, limit calories for two days 

Who is intermittent fasting meant for? Early studies suggest it may reduce heart disease risk and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and lead to weight loss, but more research is needed. Caution: People with diabetes need to consult a dietitian before trying intermittent fasting as it can affect blood sugar levels. 

Fad diets

A fad diet is a short-term plan used as a quick fix for weight loss. A fad diet promises miraculous results, severely restricts calories, bans certain foods and promotes ‘magical’ food combinations. Examples of fad diets include:  

  • juice cleanses and detoxes 
  • paleo diet 
  • carnivore diet  
  • raw diet 
  • blood type diet  
  • liquid diet 
  • cabbage soup diet 
  • apple cider vinegar diet 
  • alkaline diet 

These fad diets are not recommended for heart health because they are restrictive, lack nutrients and cannot be maintained for the long-term.

Bottom line

Your diet is a personal choice. The best diet for you must be safe, meet your medical and budgetary needs, match your food preferences, offer optimal nutrients, be sustainable for the long-term. Need help figuring that out? Ask a dietitian.  

How to find a dietitian: If you’re not sure which diet is right for you, consult with a registered dietitian. You can make a fee-based appointment here, or inquire about free dietetic services at your local public health unit. Some areas offer free access to dietitians by phone (if your area is not listed, free services may not be available).  

  • Alberta: Dial 8-1-1 
  • BC: Dial 8-1-1 
  • Manitoba: Dial 1-877-830-2892 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: Dial 8-1-1 
  • Ontario: Dial 8-1-1   
  • Saskatchewan: Dial: 1-833-966-5541

About the author

Cara Rosenbloom

Cara Rosenbloom

Cara Rosenbloom RD is a registered dietitian, health journalist and owner of the nutrition communications company Words to Eat By. Her work has been published in over 75 publications worldwide, including the Washington Post, Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Allrecipes and Healthline. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Nourish (2016) and Food to Grow On (2021). Read nutrition articles at https://www.wordstoeatby.ca/