What is the best diet for 2020? Mediterranean, Flexitarian and DASH top list

Diets that rank high in U.S. News & World Report's list focus on including foods, rather than excluding them, and add extra health benefits.
The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil.
The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and olive oil.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

It's tempting to try the latest diet fad to lose weight, but it turns out sticking with the basics remains the best way for a healthier 2020.

For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet is the No. 1 overall diet according to U.S. News & World Report 2020 Best Diets. It also ranked highly in several other categories, including easiest diets to follow, best diets for healthy eating, best diets for diabetes and best plant-based diets.

“There are really no surprises,” Angela Haupt, managing editor of health at U.S. News & World Report told, TODAY. “We can fully expect that the same diets that perform well traditionally to perform well again this year and those are the diets that are safe, sensible, backed by sound science.”

When it comes to best overall diets, the Flexitarian and DASH diets tied for second. DASH — which was developed by the National Institutes of Health to lower blood pressure — had ranked in the top spot in previous years because of its focus on vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

The Flexitarian diet also emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains with less meat, though it doesn’t advocate completely giving up meat like vegetarian or vegan diets. The Mediterranean diet relies on similar foods as the DASH diet, but encourages the consumption of healthy fats, such as olive or vegetable oils, and permits occasional alcoholic beverages.

“We were excited to see that the Flexitarian diet tied for No. 2 for best diets overall for the first time,” Haupt said. “The experts (liked) its flexibility about the idea that more plant-based eating is better.”

When it comes to commercial diets, WW, formerly Weight Watchers, ranks No. 1 followed by Jenny Craig and Nutritarian. The ketogenic diet, a moderate protein, high-fat, low-carb diet, remains very popular, but it only ranked well in one category: best fast weight-loss diet.

“Our experts say, ‘Yes, it works for fast weight loss. You will drop pounds in the short term if that is your goal,’” Haupt said. “However, that doesn't translate to healthiness. Losing weight quickly does not mean you were doing it in a healthy manner and it certainly doesn't mean you can expect to keep those pounds off.”

More is better

Regimens that provided benefits in addition to weight loss and maintenance ranked higher than those that did not. Research has shown the Mediterranean diet, for example, can add years to one’s life and reduces the likelihood of developing some illnesses. The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure and the MIND diet, which tied for third in the easiest diets to follow, might bolster brain health.

“The best diets may also have some other things going for them. They are easier to follow and incorporate some healthy eating habits and are value-added,” Leslie Bonci, a nutritionist and owner of Active Eating Advice, told TODAY. “They’re helping us to live longer or for our brains to be healthier.”

Well regarded diets also include foods rather than exclude them.

“The Mediterranean diet is a really good example of the fact that dieting can taste good — it doesn't have to mean bland or pre-packaged food,” Haupt said. “You're getting all those fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and spices and herbs and olive oil.”

Diets that eliminate a lot of food, such as the Dukan diet, keto and Whole 30, rank poorly — in 35, 34 and 33 place, respectively — overall. People struggle to adhere to so many rules.

“(Restrictive diets are) difficult to follow, especially if they're cutting out an entire group of food, like no dairy, no wheat or to completely eliminate meat,” Sarah Van Riet, a registered dietitian at University of Wisconsin Health, told TODAY.

Avoiding foods can cause health problems and bad behaviors, such as binge eating, she said.

“The research shows that any sort of restrictive diets,” Van Riet said, “do not work and they actually cause harm.”

Lifestyle changes, not quick fixes

Diets that rank highly are less of a quick fix and more of a lifestyle change.

“Common sense is starting to prevail over nonsense,” Bonci said. “Consumers are starting to understand we want (eating habits) to last for the long haul.”

Van Riet said that while the high ranking diets do include holistic modifications, a list may not help people understand truly how to eat.

“I'm not sure that they're actually telling the average person much about healthy lifestyle,” she said.

Still, she believes the list can provide somewhere to start for those who do not have access to a dietitian.

“It's interesting to look at qualities of these different guidelines that overlap and learn a bit more about different dietary patterns,” she noted.