If you have a past history of following all the gimmicky and trendy diets with repeated failures (weight comes back, health issues persist), then maybe it’s time to commit to one of these highly regarded diets.
For a diet to qualify as “beneficial for weight loss and health for the masses,” it needs to meet many criteria. It should be science-based — meaning there is some research to support the program — and it should have a track record of success. It should be relatively easy to follow inside and outside your home. It should not cut out entire food groups, though it certainly may emphasize the superstars from specific food groups. It should be somewhat modifiable to fit your specific needs in terms of overall calories or other specific parameters, while you adhere to the core principles.
The following diets are discussed in order of ranking by U.S. News & World Reports. “DASH” to try the first one!
The Dash Diet
The DASH Diet was originally created with the goal of helping to prevent or lower hypertension. Since hypertension often precedes frank heart disease, and heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women, this healthy eating plan is a winner and typically helps with weight loss too. It emphasizes foods rich in potassium, calcium, protein and fiber. You will eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, and mostly avoid red meat and highly processed foods and treats. You will be required to track sodium, and exercise is also part of the plan. The only “con” (which is a pro in the long run) is dramatically cleaning up your diet which can take time, so ease into this diet. Planning and shopping with a list and learning easy recipes to cook at home will help.
Quick tip: Use herbs, spices and sautéed vegetables like onions to replace salt.
The Mind Diet
The Mind Diet was really ranked as #1/#2 because it takes the best elements of the Dash Diet and the Mediterranean Diet and focuses on the foods in each plan that affects brain health. It actually tied with the TLC Diet (#2 in 2015) as soon as it released. It also ranks #16 for weight loss, and #4 for best diabetes diet. MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. It focuses on preventing Alzheimer’s disease by emphasizing brain-healthy foods. The top ten are: green, leafy vegetables, all other vegetables, nuts, berries, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine. This diet was shown to lower Alzheimer’s disease risk by 35 percent when mostly followed and by 53 percent by those who follow it religiously. One caveat—recent studies have questioned the benefits of red wine, so a few small glasses per week rather than a daily glass is a better goal.
The Mediterranean Diet
No surprise that The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet is still considered a solid plan. It promotes heart health and it’s called the “very healthy, safe complete” diet by many experts. It’s a do-it-yourself diet. You will cut back sharply on saturated fat (fatty meats, red meat, whole milk dairy products and fried foods), and eat a lot of high fiber foods. It also ranked #16 in weight loss. The diet requires you to be a label detective before you eat any processed foods, so make it a habit to always turn that product around and read before buying.
The Fertility Diet
The Fertility Diet got high marks with experts because it’s also a good diet for preventing diabetes, and it’s relatively easy to follow with an excellent nutritious core. Improving your overall diet (men and women should do this if pregnancy is the goal), losing some excess weight, and exercising can certainly improve your chances of getting pregnant, though it’s not a guaranteed slam-dunk. Data from the Nurses’ Health Study fueled the outline of this program. You will emphasize measured portions of good fats, while avoiding trans fats and saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, and red meat. The one caveat may be its emphasis on whole fat dairy versus skim milk and fat free dairy products. Check with your doctor on that one aspect of the diet.
The Mayo Clinic Diet
The Mayo Clinic, a world-renowned health destination and medical center, has its own version of “eating healthy.” The goal of the Mayo Clinic Diet is a lifelong commitment to eating foods that support health. The diet will help to lower the risk for Type 2 diabetes, and help with moderate weight loss. The Mayo Clinic has its own food pyramid as a guide to the diet, swapping out bad habits and less healthy foods for nutrient dense choices.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet tied with the Mayo Clinic Diet because of its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices. You will eat fish at least twice a week (more is better), and you will also enjoy poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation. Meats, desserts and processed foods are allowed, but with significant limitations (they are treats) and you can enjoy wine within certain parameters. You willalso fully commit to exercise. The caveat? The Mediterranean Diet is not a structured plan but rather a style of eating, so if you are trying to lose weight you should consult with a dietician or nutritionist to set up a calorie-specific plan that follows the lifestyle. The science on the benefits of a Mediterranean Diet is robust!
Weight Watchers also tied for fourth place, surpassing other commercial diet plans because of the short term and long term weight loss data, and the fact that it is a nutritionally sound diet (thanks to its recent re-vamp). You will eat loads of vegetables and fruit, and choose from a long list of other nutrient-dense foods. The support groups and online support are also key elements in the success of the program and to the high ranking of this diet.
The Flexitarian Diet
The Flexitarian Diet is often described as a diet plan the whole family can follow. The plan marries the concepts of “flexible” and “vegetarian.” Dietician Dawn Jackson Platner created the diet to allow people to still have steak or a burger when the urge strikes, but to mostly eat a healthy, plant-based diet filled with nutritious foods that support health and your waistline. It ranks #7 for weight loss and ties for #4 Best Diabetes Diet.
Volumetrics actually scores really high in most of the individual elements of the diet rankings (weight loss, heart health, limiting diabetes risk). Since most of us eat the same amount of food daily, this diet, with its very filling foods (high fiber, high water volume) will likely help you to eat less overall, though portion sizes remain very robust. Low-density foods (like vegetables) which are highly satiating but low in calories will help to keep you satisfied while you lose weight. You basically fuel up with fewer calories by eating fruits, vegetables, beans and soups.
Diets also worthy of mention
Some other diets worth the mention: Jenny Craig ranked as #10 with a sound eating program and good data for weight loss. The drawback is the cost, and long term commitment to buying their foods. The Biggest Loser Diet gets good marks for weight loss and diabetes prevention, but there really was nothing special or unique about the plan compared to other well-reviewed diets. The Ornish Diet has been around for decades and has excellent data for heart health and weight loss but it is extremely rigorous with severe fat restrictions. Traditional Asian Diet landed in the middle of the pack for health benefits, but may not be useful for targeted and sustained weight loss. Vegetarianism ranked #15, as did the Anti-inflammatory Diet. There are different versions of vegetarianism (including or not including fish and eggs) and it will support heart health. The Anti-inflammatory Diet doesn’t have enough science yet to show that the dietary yields weight loss or reduction of body inflammation.
These diets may not be such winners
Despite its popularity, The Paleo Diet scored #36 out of #38. Its premise “to drop all the junk and processed food we eat” is worthy, but saying goodbye to grains and dairy completely may mean you miss out on vital fiber and calcium sources. In individual scores it ranked between #32 and #38 for ease, weight loss, heart health, and diabetes prevention. It can also be pricey. Finally, The Atkin’s Diet was considered a winner for short term weight loss but not for overall health, and the Raw Food Diet, though very healthy, may be really hard to sustain because of laborious and tedious meal prep requirements.
One clear message is that you need to choose a sustainable dietary approach that fits your lifestyle and goals, whether health, weight loss or both, AND the diet should have some science and data to back its claims.
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Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”