For the fifth year in a row the Mediterranean diet ranks as the overall best diet according to U.S. News & World Report’s best diets for 2022. DASH, a way of eating focused on lowering blood pressure, and flexitarian, a modified vegetarian diet, tied for second place in overall diets.
Of the 40 diets, the experts examine across nine different categories, the top five overall diets are:
- The Mediterranean diet
- DASH and flexitarian (tie)
- The MIND Diet
- WW (formerly Weight Watchers), TLC Diet, Volumetrics and Mayo Clinic Diet (tie)
The experts are not surprised that the top ranking diets continue to perform so well.
“They’re less about following a ‘diet’ and more about making modifications that are long-term and sustainable,” Maya Feller, a registered dietician and founder of Maya Feller Nutrition in Brooklyn, told TODAY. “It’s easier for people in general to think about what can I replicate over and over again? And what can I add in … that supports my overall health and goals?”
What’s new for 2022?
This year the experts examined two new diets, intermittent fasting and the Sirtfood diet. While both diets have received a lot of attention recently, they ranked closer to the bottom of best overall diets. Intermittent fasting came in at No. 27 while the Sirtfood diet was No. 32.
“The most important aspect of a healthy eating plan is one that you actually stick with. It’s the one that is going to work for you, your family, your lifestyle, your budget, not just now, but six months from now, a year from now,” Gretel Schueller, managing editor of health at U.S. News & World Report, told TODAY. “If someone is doing, for example, the Sirtfood diet … if it works for them, that’s what works. ... (But) what many of our experts did point out is this is not a diet you’d want to do for the long-term.”
The reason? The diet is “extremely, extremely restrictive,” Schueller said. Being tough to stick with also contributes to intermittent fasting’s middling rankings.
“It is really hard to follow,” Feller said. “Patients end up seeing — especially the more complicated the intermittent fasting gets — it might not actually be sustainable.”
Intermittent fasting can also be challenging because it takes some socialization away from eating. People often celebrate over a meal and when someone is following a restrictive eating schedule, they might miss those moments.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get all of the foods you need,” Brianne Thornton, a clinical nutritionist at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, told TODAY. “To be successful with intermittent fasting it has to be in that same eating window and that doesn’t work when life happens.”
Using the list to boost health
For people hoping to make some changes to how they eat, a list like this can seem daunting. But knowing how to approach it can make it a good resource. The experts advise that people shy away from anything too restrictive — often those diets rank lower on the overall list. Diets that rank poorly on the best diets overall list, such as Atkins, might help with quick weight loss but experts don’t recommend that.
“Just be really careful with what the messaging is,” Feller said. “If the messaging is 'Fill up on water and liquids to displace your desire with food,' well in my book that’s a really dangerous pattern."
Instead, the experts encourage people to focus on ways of eating that align with their health goals and life.
“For people who are looking to make shifts that really prioritize health and inclusion of food, I feel comfortable saying look at how (Mediterranean, DASH and flexitarian) can fit into your life,” Feller said.
Often people think of Italy or Greece when they think of Mediterranean food, but the region is much larger, including 22 different countries. That offers variety when it comes to eating and can add fun to it. This could be someone’s chance to learn to cook Moroccan, Israeli, French or Turkish food as they’re being healthy.
“This is an opportunity to expand what you’re thinking about when you quantify what Mediterranean means,” Feller said. “It is about food in its whole and minimally processed form with limited additives. Mediterranean specifically is really leaning into whole grains, fermented dairy products, a lot of seafood, so lean proteins, really beautiful oils that are mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. If you think about … of what it can encompass then the lane is really wide open. “
The top performing diets really allow people to focus on developing lifelong habits.
“It’s really getting down to the basics — whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats,” Thornton said. “These diets are focusing on more of what your body needs and less restrictions.”
These ways of eating are often easier to follow for people at various income levels and of different backgrounds, too.
“The level of entry can fit multiple people, multiple cultures, multiple food ways so you can engage in eating food that you already know, food that you like and food that gives you pleasure,” Feller said. “I’m thinking about socioeconomic status and access. That’s where I really say think about including frozen, canned, jarred fruits and vegetables that don’t have additives as a way to expand what’s showing up on the plate.”
What’s more, these ways of eating don’t encourage people to eschew meals, eliminate food groups or drink their calories.
“(Diets) should really focus on nutrient dense foods. So getting at least one to two servings of fruit per day, two to three cups of vegetables a day,” Thornton said. “You really should be eating regularly to support your metabolism, not skipping meals, getting enough water.”
She also recommends that people look for plans that encourage movement. But adopting healthy eating habits should be fun, not overwhelming.
“It should be something that’s enjoyable,” Thornton said. “So that it’s achievable for you and realistic.”