One of the great debates within the integrative community is which diet reins supreme amongst its counterparts. An estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, and with the abundance of misinformation available, it can be difficult to identify the most appropriate plan for specific goals and lifestyles.
Thankfully, U.S. News and World Report rounded up its picks for the top 40 diets based on internal evaluations by a panel of appointed health experts. The group analyzed some of the most popular diets and ranked them highest to lowest in seven categories: weight-loss, commercial, diabetes, healthy eating, fast weight loss, heart-healthy, plant-based, easiest to follow, and overall. To be a top-rated diet, the plan had to be easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, and protective against diabetes and hypertension. Each diet is assigned three scores on a 5-point scale for long- and short-term weight loss, how easy it is to follow, and how healthy it is.
Note, we at Integrative Practitioner believe nutrition protocols must be personalized, and are not in support of one plan over another. However, these rankings can be particularly useful when working with savvy clients who many mention or follow one of these programs. There’s a lot of information to parse through, so we broke it down to the highlights:
DASH and Mediterranean tie for first
The government-endorsed Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet tied for first place overall alongside the Mediterranean diet, with DASH coming in just 0.2 points ahead for weight loss.
Developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) DASH is pretty self-explanatory in that is is meant to prevent and lower high blood pressure. The process is standard—calculate how many calories you should be eating based on your age and activity level and follow the guidelines as to where those calories should come from (and go very easy on the salt). Alcohol is a no-go on this plan, but for the most part is simple and affordable to implement and stick to. The DASH guidelines are available by clicking here and here.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, doesn’t ban entire food groups (or an occasional glass of red wine, for that matter) and instead focuses eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, and flavorful herbs and spices; fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; and poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation; and saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. This is more of an eating pattern, rather than a structure plan, so you’re on your own to figure out how many calories you should eat, your overall menu, and your physical activity. The benefits with this diet have included weight loss, improved heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes control. Click here for more information.
Each diet received a 4.1 out of 5, with DASH ranking 0.1 points higher in both short-term and long-term weight loss, and Mediterranean ranking 0.2 points higher for being easier to follow.
Flexitarian takes a close second
With a 0.1 point difference, the Flexitarian diet took home second place for overall effectiveness and efficiency. Created more than a decade ago by Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, the plan combines “flexible” and “vegetarian” for a protocol aimed at improving weight loss and optimal health. Blatner emphasizes adding five food groups, rather than taking any away, which include “new meat” like tofu, beans, and lentils; whole grains; dairy, and “sugar and spice,” which ranges from dried herbs to agave.
The diet uses a five-week standard meal plan with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks following a three-four-five regimen—breakfast choices are around 300 alories, lunches 400 calories, and dinner 500 calories. Snacks average about 150 calories and two are allowed per day for an average daily caloric intake of 1,500.
The meals focus heavily on plant-based proteins and Blatner offers recipes, tips, and guidance for food preparation. The plan can be followed verbatim or customized with various recipe selections. The program is affordable in terms of food, though you will need to purchase “The Flexitarian Diet” book. Click here for more information.
Best Diets Overall
- DASH Diet
- Mediterranean Diet
- Flexitarian Diet
- Weight Watchers Diet
- MIND Diet
- TLC Diet
- Volumetrics Diet
- Mayo Clinic Diet
- Ornish Diet
- The Fertility Diet
- Vegetarian Diet
- Jenny Craig Diet
- The Traditional Asian Diet
- Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Flat Belly Diet
- Nutritarian Diet
- Spark Solution Diet
- Engine 2 Diet
- Biggest Loser Diet
- Nutrisystem Diet
- Vegan Diet
- Eco-Atkins Diet
- Glycemic-Index Diet
- South Beach Diet
- Zone Diet
- Abs Diet
- Macrobiotic Diet
- Slimfast Diet
- HMR Program
- Medifast Diet
- Acid Alkaline Diet
- Paleo Diet
- RAw Food Diet
- Supercharged Hormone Diet
- The Fast Diet
- Atkins Diet
- Body Reset Diet
- Whole30 Diet
- Dukan Diet
- Keto Diet
Source: U.S. News and World Report
Weight Loss, Volumetrics, and Jenny Craig
When it comes to weight loss, people are always looking for a quick fix, and Weight Watchers, Volumetrics, and Jenny Craig took home the top three spots, respectively, for being the most effective at shedding pounds.
Weight Watchers boasts to participants a 2-pound weekly weight loss, so long as you follow the point-based food ranking system, which assigns value to various foods based on its nutrition. Successful adherence results in consuming overall fewer calories, less saturated fat and sugar, and more protein. The Beyond the Scale program also focuses on three main components: eating healthier, fitness, and mindset. And, of course, Weight Watchers strongly emphasizes the power of community support, whether you attend meetings in person or online. However, the cost and potential confusion of calculating points gave it a lower scorecard (the plan ranks fourth overall). Click here for more information.
Volumetrics focuses on loading your plate with nutrient-dense (low-density), low-calorie foods, which are grouped in four categories (category one, low-density through category four, high-density). The focus is on “swapping” out high-density foods for low-density options—say, a pound of high-density peanuts for a pound of low-density carrots. The idea is getting more energy out of what you eat. It’s very easy to follow, but requires lengthy meal preparation and a lot of fruits, vegetables, and soups. Click here for more information.
The infamous Jenny Craig diet also showed optimal effectiveness for achieving short-term weight loss (long-term weight loss scored a 3 out of 5). You get a personalized meal and exercise plan, plus weekly one-on-one counseling with a Jenny Craig consultant (note, these are not nutrition professionals, but health-oriented customer-focused agents who complete a brief training course for certification). Caloric intake is calculate based on your current weight, fitness habits, and motivation and programs can last as long as it’s needed. For the first half of the program, you get three prepackaged meals and a snack, along with the mandatory five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and at least two nondairy products. Halfway through, you’ll start cooking for yourself twice a week using Jenny recipes. Upon completion of the program, you’ll spend four weeks transitioning back to cooking all of your own meals, and continue monthly consultation for weight regain prevention. The program has been proven effective, but can be expensive and infeasible for long-term health. Click here for more information.
When plant-based, go Ornish
Along with Mediterranean and Flexitarian, for plant-based dieters, clinical professor of medicine Dean Ornish’s program, the Ornish Diet, offers customizable approaches based on specific conditions, priorities, taste preferences, and level of commitment. Ornish is best known for his program to reverse heart disease, which limits calories from fat to 10 percent and bans most foods with any cholesterol, refined carbohydrates, oils, caffeine, and nearly all animal products except for egg whites and one cup per day of nonfat milk or yogurt. Nuts and seeds are allowed, and fiber and complex carbs are encouraged. Up to two ounces of alcohol is permitted per day.
Ornish also incorporates stress-management, exercise, and social support into his programs. Click here for more information.
The Flat Belly Diet received accolades as one of the best commercial diet plans. Participants can lose up to 15 pounds in 32 days and several inches of belly fat. The focus of this diet plan is adding lots of monounsaturated fatty acids, MUFAs, which potentially target belly fat, promote fullness, and prevent overeating, according to the diet’s creators, former Prevention magazine editor Liz Vaccariello and registered dietitian Cynthia Sass. Modeled after a Mediterranean approach with a daily 1,600 calorie limit, the diet called for precise servings of plant-based fats at every meal, which include nuts, deeds, chocolate, avocado, and olive oil. In addition, meals generally incorporate such ingredients as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, and fish.
The diet is broken down into two parts: a four-day jumpstart, which caps calories at 1,200 a day, and a four-week eating plan, which breaks eating down into three 400-calorie meals and one 400-calorie snack with no more than four hours between meals. Each meal must include a specified amount of MUFA. Click here for more information.
Diets that don’t make the cut
When it comes to overall effectiveness, practicality, and healthfulness, a few diets didn’t stack up. The bottom five included the Atkins diet (low-carb), the Body Reset diet (low-calorie, plant-based consisting of mostly smoothies), Whole30 (a 30-day reset which sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and legumes), the Dukan diet (a restrictive, protein-heavy approach, described by one panelist as “idiotic”), and the Keto diet (high-fat, low-carb). Click here for more information.