Every week, it seems a new diet trend pops up that claims to solve all our problems and help each one of us get healthy, fast! But which food plans are really up to snuff? To help us navigate through the noise, the folks at U.S. News & World Report annually publish an expert-approved analysis of 35 diets. The panel of nutritionist and specialists in health, diabetes, human behavior, and weight loss rate each based on seven categories, including short- and long-term weight loss, ease of compliance, safety and nutrition. As we make plans to eat healthier this year, we dug into the 2020 list to learn more about how these diets affect every type of body and health need—because, remember, there's no one right diet for everyone.
Best Diet for Overall Health
Praise around the Mediterranean diet is abundant, and its fans are clearly on to something: For the third year in a row, the diet that encourages eating produce, nuts, beans, and whole grains, while limiting red meat, sugar, and saturated fat took the top spot as U.S. News' best overall diet. (It also nabbed the No. 1 spot on the Best Diabetes Diets, No. 1 on the Easiest Diets to Follow, and No. 2 on the Best Heart-Healthy Diets, and No. 1 on the Best Plant-Based Diets.) Perhaps its biggest selling point is that the Mediterranean diet restricts nothing, meaning you can still enjoy (one glass of) red wine with dinner. Plus, with so many flavorful ingredients, there are plenty of ways to keep the diet fresh and delicious. We love that this eating plan is easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective at weight loss, and can help fight diabetes and heart disease. Science backs up these claims, and then some: A 2018 study led by the University of College London, for instance, showed that following the Mediterranean diet helped its longtime followers from becoming frail in old age.
Best Commercial Weight-Loss Diet
If you're willing to shell out money to begin your weight-loss journey ($3-$14 per week), U.S. News suggests WW. Known for more than 50 years as Weight Watchers, the diet became well known for its points system, which assigned a number value to foods based on calories, protein, sugar, and fat. The company iterated on that system, launching a more customized program called myWW in late 2019, in which each participant is assigned an individualized number of Smartpoints based on your age, weight, height, and sex.
"Weight Watchers has made it this long for a reason," says BHG.com's senior food editor and registered dietitian, Sheena Chihak. "No food is off-limits and the community or coaching element helps keep dieters accountable."
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Best Diet for Healthy Eating
Along with the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is tops on U.S. News' list of best diets for healthy eating. The DASH plant emphasizes produce, lean meats, low-sodium options, and foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. And it works: Scientists backed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) conducted studies to compare the DASH diet with a typical American diet. The results showed that the DASH diet lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (that's the "bad" cholesterol) in participants' blood.
Which Diets to Avoid
None of the fast weight-loss diets (think Slimfast, Atkins, and Biggest Loser) ranked high overall on U.S. News' list. "As a dietitian, I struggle with any diet plan that completely eliminates a food or entire category of food like Keto, Paleo, and Atkins," Chihak says. "Especially when 'banned' foods are full of good nutrition like beans and fruits."
While it ranked higher (tied No. 3 with the Jenny Craig Diet) as a way to lose weight fast, the popular Keto Diet was second-to-last in the best overall diet list, ranking at No. 34. Others at the bottom of the best overall diet list include the Dukan Diet (carb-limited, high-protein diet that claims to shed up to 10 pounds in one week), Whole30 Diet (whole foods focus that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy), and Atkins Diet (a diet that starts with an extremely low amount of carbs, then increases in four phases).