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Healthiest Diet: National Cancer Institute launches Dietary Patterns Methods Project

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The National Cancer Institute has launched a new program called the Dietary Patterns Methods Project.

The project’s goal is to establish links between various diets (rather than individual nutrients) and mortality rates in three large US population databases. Many government and special interest groups now conduct these studies because of their concern about the health of our society. People do not eat as healthy as they should and it is lowering the life expectancy all over the country. As a result, getting involved in the nutrition education industry is an outstanding career choice, as those who following through with this degree can apply for jobs with government agencies and nonprofit organizations that wish to make a change. Overall, the need for nutritionists and dietitians is expected to increase by 20 percent in the coming years, making it a good choice for those looking to start a new career.

The first paper from the project has just been published in the Journal of Nutrition. It followed 424,000 subjects for 15 years. Subjects had an average age of 62 at the study’s beginning, with 86,000 dying during the 15-year period. Death rates were then correlated with four well-defined dietary patterns selected by the investigators.

All four diets followed a similar pattern, recommending consumption of whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and plant proteins. And all four proved more or less equally effective for decreasing cardiovascular, cancer, and all-cause mortality rates by 12 to 28% when compared to less-healthy diets.

The National Cancer Institute has launched the Dietary Patterns Methods Project to establish links between various diets and mortality rates in three large US population database

The National Cancer Institute has launched the Dietary Patterns Methods Project to establish links between various diets and mortality rates in three large US population database

“All four diet quality indexes that we examined showed similar associations with mortality,” the research team notes.

The four diets were: the Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010, the Alternate Mediterranean Diet, and the DASH Diet.


They differ slightly in the degree to which they favor, or disfavor, certain foods and food types, such as the following:

  • The Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers low-fat dairy products a plus
  • The Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010: Considers nuts/legumes a plus, as well as moderate alcohol consumption. Trans fats, sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus
  • The Alternate Mediterranean Diet: Considers fish, nuts/legumes, and moderate alcohol a plus; red meat, a minus
  • The DASH Diet: Considers low-fat dairy and nuts/legumes a plus; sugary beverages, salt, and red meat get a minus

As an indication of how closely the four diets tracked each other, here are the mortality hazard ratios for men and women when comparing those who scored highest on each diet index vs. those who scored lowest. A lower ratio indicates a decreased mortality risk.

Men: HEI 2010, .78; aHEI 2010, .76; aMED, .77; DASH, .83.

Women: HEI 2010, .77; aHEI 2010, .76; aMED, .76; DASH, .78.

The authors believe that their study is the first to compare various diets within the same large US population databases. Previously, different diet definitions and different population databases made comparisons difficult to summarize.

In conclusion, it doesn’t matter much what name-brand diet you follow, so long as the diet emphasizes the basics: whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and plant proteins.