What Is The Harvard Diet And How Can It Benefit Your Health?

Even though everyone can't get into Harvard, anyone who wants to can get into the Harvard diet. No good grades are necessary, only good food choices are required to excel at this methodology rooted in science and designed to level up the quality of your eating habits.

The Harvard diet seeks to improve upon MyPlate, the U.S. government's healthy eating roadmap that identifies specific foods and the quantities you should include on your plate as part of a healthy diet. Harvard's Healthy Eating Plate — colloquially known as the Harvard diet — launched in 2011 in response to what Harvard nutrition experts saw as MyPlate's shortcomings, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The experts at Harvard state that MyPlate has numerous faults. For instance, they explain that MyPlate neglects to prioritize high-protein food options, such as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. Additionally, the MyPlate diet blueprint leaves out admonishments against sugary beverages, groups potatoes in with other vegetables, and overlooks mentioning the importance of exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Obesity impacts close to 115 million American adults and children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Poor diet and low levels of physical activity are major factors increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases, and are huge contributors to the nation's obesity epidemic. As people look to live longer, healthier lives, the Harvard diet provides mindful guidance that asks people to be more intentional about what they put into their bodies.

Here are the foods included on the Harvard diet

Don't be put off by the word "diet." The foods you get to eat on the Harvard diet are probably some you're eating already, and you won't have to deprive yourself. Even so, the diet encourages you to double down on healthier foods. For instance, Lilian Cheung, a nutrition lecturer at Harvard's School of public health, tells CNBC that while protein should make up one-quarter of your meal plate, you should be mindful of the type of protein. In other words, go for fish, chicken, and even duck over bacon, sausage, and other processed meats.

Now that 25% of your meal set-up is squared away, it's time to fill the rest of your plate. The Harvard diet says that half of your plate should be filled with colorful veggies and fruits, emphasizing veggies over fruits, and whole fruits over fruit juice. Round out your plate with whole-grain foods such as quinoa or brown rice. Avoid refined grains, which, though often enriched, tend to have fewer vitamins and minerals. This means staying away from white bread, white rice, and white-flour pasta. The body absorbs these types of processed grains quickly, which can cause blood sugar to spike, and over time lead to insulin resistance and put you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

According to the results of a recent Harvard study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, stick with a healthy eating structure like the Harvard diet and you may very well increase your lifespan, per CNN.

Harvard diet vs Mediterranean diet

The Harvard diet is often compared to the Mediterranean diet, as both share common food recommendations and studies have shown both help prolong life. But which diet is better?

Both the Harvard diet and the Mediterranean diet are guidelines rather than prescriptive diets, per News.com.au. Each focuses on healthy proteins, good fats — such as olive oil – colorful vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The primary difference is that the Harvard diet is far more restrictive when it comes to refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks, and processed fats compared to the Mediterranean diet.

Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian, tells Healthline that she is a fan of the Harvard diet model because it is based on long-term research and is a commonsense approach that supports optimal health. Also a supporter of the Harvard diet, Antonette Hardie, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, notes that limiting processed foods and bad fats helps reduce the risk of developing serious health conditions.

So, is one of these diets better than the other? Both the Harvard and Mediterranean diets promote healthy eating, so you can't really go wrong with either. However, you shouldn't feel pressured to adhere to either diet exactly, especially if their approaches are unsustainable for you. It's better to view both diets as a jumping-off point for adopting a healthier eating structure.