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When it comes to weight loss, people often make the experience more miserable than it needs to be. U.S. News & World Report 2019 Best Diets shows eating healthy doesn’t have to be so difficult, because common sense plans — such as the Mediterranean, DASH and flexitarian diets, as well as WW (formerly Weight Watchers) — perform very well.
“A diet doesn’t have to be extreme. It doesn’t have to be complicated,” Angela Haupt, assistant managing editor of health at U.S. News & World Report, told TODAY. “Weight loss will always be hard work … (but) losing weight doesn’t have to be some sort of dramatic experience because there are smart, sensible plans.”
For the first time in the list's nine-year history, the Mediterranean diet ranks as the No. 1 best overall diet. This diet focuses on whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats (such as olive oil), and even allows for some alcohol. Previously, the Mediterranean diet shared top honor with the DASH diet, a meal plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains. DASH is in second place, while the flexitarian diet, which promotes a predominately vegetarian diet with some meat, rounds out the top three best overall diets.
“I am not surprised that the DASH and Mediterranean diets have been No. 1 and No. 2 for several years. They are more lifestyle diets than fad type of diets,” Samantha Gollup, a registered dietitian at the University of Wisconsin Health, told TODAY. She was not involved in the list. “You are limiting processed foods, and you are increasing the amount of vegetables.”
Another first? The ketogenic diet tied for second in fast weight loss, or weight loss that occurs within a year or less. It's popular among dieters and used by doctors to help with certain conditions, such as epilepsy. But nutrition experts deride keto, because the low-carb, high-in-protein-and-fat diet can be tough to follow and unhealthy. Haupt said keto's high ranking comes with a lot of caveats.
“One expert said, ‘It is a quick weight loss, but its short-term effectiveness does not make a good idea,’” she said. “Another expert said, ‘It contradicts everything we know about long-term health.’”
When it comes to the best commercial diets and best weight loss diets, WW ranks number one in both categories.
“One of the things that people seem to really appreciate with WW is that no food is bad,” Haupt explained. “WW is the gold standard in providing support.”
Jenny Craig ranks second and Nutritarian Diet ranks third for commercial diets, while Volumetrics and flexitarian rank second and third respectively for best weight loss diets.
What separates the top and the bottom
Many popular diets, such as Whole30, keto, the Body Reset Diet and the Dukan Diet, ranked very poorly. That's because the experts agreed these diets were just so difficult.
“The diets that rank poorly, they are extremely restrictive and complicated to follow,” Haupt said. “There is no reason that you need to be so restrictive and exclude these major food groups to lose weight and be healthy.”
Gollup agreed, noting she would never recommend something so restrictive to patients, because it is simply too challenging. Instead, she has them focus on intuitive eating, adding more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats — exactly what the best diets encourage people to do.
“People should be thinking, ‘How can I incorporate more whole foods and fresh foods into my diet?’” Gollup said. “Any diet, in general, is hard to stick to if it is not really a lifestyle change.”