Don’t spend the holiday season counting calories, sugars, sodium, or carbs

More Americans than ever are dietingaccording to a large treasure trove of new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately though, most of them are going about it all wrong! 

In fact, as I’ve reported time and again, the healthiest diet on the planet doesn’t require you to furiously count calories, sugars, sodium, or carbs. Instead, this diet allows you the freedom to follow a healthy, sensible, and satisfying pattern of eating. 

I’ll tell you more about this easy-to-adopt, healthy diet in a moment. But first, let’s dive into the new data released by the CDC… 

More people than ever following “special” diets 

The new data came from the ongoing National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES). This massive, ongoing study consists of in-person interviewsphysical exams, and dietary recall interviews. 

Over the last several decades, scientists have used the NHANES data to formulate some major conclusions about health and nutritional statusincluding some of my own published analyses with Nobel laureates and other colleagues. 

For the new NHANES analysis, researchers looked at data on the proportion of adults who reported following a special diet from 2007-2008 and 2017-2018.  

Participants reported following many different types of diets, including 

  • Weight loss or low calorie 
  • Low fat or low cholesterol 
  • Low sodium 
  • Sugar free or low sugar 
  • Low fiber 
  • High fiber 
  • Diabetes diet 
  • Low carb 
  • High protein 
  • Gluten free 
  • Weight gain  

I should note that the researchers did not provide the participants with standard definitions of the different diets. They simply asked the participants to select which diet from the list best described their own eating pattern. 

Given thatI shudder to think about what people considered to be a diabetes diet, for example. (Remember, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about how to effectively manage diabetes and high blood sugar. In fact, of the American Diabetes Association’s five dietary recommendations, only one involves cutting sugars and carbs!) 

Differences by gender, age, ethnic background, and weight 

Overall, 17 percent of men and women involved in the NHANES survey reported following a special diet between 2017 and 2018. That figure represents an increase of about three percent from the initial study period of 2007 to 2008. 

In addition, there were some interesting differences in dietary pattern—according to gender, age, ethnic background, and weight 

For example, as you might expect, more women (19 percent) compared to men (15 percent) reported following a special diet. In addition, more people ages 40 and older (19 percent) compared to those younger than 40 (13 percent) reported dietingAnd more whites (18 percentreported dieting than black or Asian Americans (15 percent each) and Hispanics (16 percent).  

The proportion of people who reported following a special diet also increased according to body weight. In other words, more overweight and obese men and women reported following a special diet compared to normal or underweight folks.   

The highest proportion of participants followed a “weightloss/lowcal” diet. And, in fact, that proportion increased over the past decade from 7.5 percent of participants in 2007-2008 to 10 percent of participants in 2017-2018. 

In addition, the proportion of people following a lowcarb diet doubled over the decade, while the proportion following a lowfat/lowcholesterol diet decreased by nearly half. That finding means some of the real science is finally getting through to folks, which is good news for health. 

What’s it all mean for you? 

Still, I found it quite interesting that the one “special” diet NOT found on the list is the one everyone should follow… 

A healthy Mediterranean-type diet.  

As I mentioned earlier, when you follow this healthy pattern of eating, you don’t have to furiously count calories, sugars, or sodium. You don’t even have to count carbs! Because on the Mediterranean-type diet, you can enjoy whole foods—including some whole grains in moderation, like brown rice and quinoa.   

You can also enjoy these wholesome, satisfying foods: 

  • Full-fat dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and yogurt (Remember, in the Mediterranean, they eat cheese at each and every meal. But health experts typically overlook that point because it doesn’t fit their “anti-fat” narrative.) 
  • Wild-caught fish and seafood 
  • Grass-fed and -finished, free-range, organic beef, chicken, and especially lamb, which has the best nutritional profile of all meats 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Six to eight servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day 
  • Alcohol, in moderation 

You can still find many of these fresh, organic foods at your local farmers market. Just remember, some local farmers can’t afford to pay for the right to use the “organic” labels, although they do grow their own produce and raise their animals using standard organic practices. So—get to know your farmers and ask questions! 

I recently helped my daughter run her Farmer’s Market in rural Maryland, since she just had our first grandchild, baby Charlotte Gracethis fall. So, iyoure in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, consider visiting their market. You can find them online at:  

P.S. It’s no secret that America’s poor dietary choices are bad for our health. But did you know they can actually be considered a threat to national security? I talk all about this in the current November issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“What’s behind American’s poor diet and chronic health problems?”). Not yet a subscriber? Click here now! 


“Special Diets Among Adults: United States, 2015–2018.” National Center for Health Statistics, 11/2020. (