Report Looks at Best Diets, Easiest to Follow

Experts Examine 25 Diet Plans, Rate Them Seven Different Ways

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Elizabeth Klodas, MD, FACC

Jan. 4, 2012 -- Who isn't looking for a diet this month? Whether you're resolving to lose weight, eat healthier, or manage or prevent health problems, here's help.

Just out today: the U.S. News & World Report's Best Diets 2012, a rating of 25 different diet plans.

And the winner is?

The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a plan to prevent high blood pressure, took the top spot in the best diets overall category.

Next were:

  • Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), a diet that's high in fiber and low in fat, developed by the National Institutes of Health, took second place.
  • Mayo Clinic Diet, the Mediterranean, and Weight Watchers all tied for third place overall.
    • Mayo Clinic Diet includes foods with low energy density, such as fruits and vegetables, and allows dieters to eat more while eating fewer calories.
    • The Mediterranean plan includes whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil, and red wine in moderation.
    • Weight Watchers focuses on portion control and encourages plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.

A panel of 22 experts also rated the plans six other ways, such as best diabetes diet, best commercial plan, and easiest diets to follow.

The entire list is here.

Best Diets: How to Use the Lists

"The diets near the top of the lists are sensible," says David Katz, MD, MPH, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, and a panel member.

Those on the bottom? "Frankly, we are saying we wouldn't recommend you choose one of those," Katz says.

Diets on the bottom of the overall list include the Dukan Diet, a high-protein, low-fat, low-carbohydrate plan, and the Paleo Diet, which encourages eating like ancient hunter-gatherers, with fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins. Those diets tied for last place.

Still, if a patient asked him how to pick from the lists, Katz would say: "You're the boss. You're in the driver's seat. You can go shopping. I like the idea of empowerment."

Before choosing, think of your priority, says panel member Andrea Giancoli, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Do you want most to eat better? Lose weight? Prevent or manage diabetes?

"We're so fixated on that New Year's resolution of losing weight, we lose sight of the big picture -- to be at a healthy weight and maintain the healthy weight and get the nutrition your body needs," says Giancoli, a Los Angeles dietitian.

Best Diets: Other Categories

The experts rated the diets in six other ways.

Easiest to follow:

For best weight-loss diets:

  • Weight Watchers
  • Tied for second place were Biggest Loser, Jenny Craig, and raw food.
    • Biggest Loser focuses on weight loss and includes fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
    • Jenny Craig is a commercial program that uses consultants and portion control, among other measures, to help people lose weight and eat better.
    • Raw-food diets focus on eating plant foods in unprocessed or uncooked states.

For best diets, commercial plans:

  • Weight Watchers
  • Jenny Craig
  • Biggest Loser

For best diabetes diets:

  • Biggest Loser and DASH tied for first place.
  • Mayo Clinic, Ornish, and vegan were next, all tied.
    • The Ornish plan is a very low-fat diet for weight loss and prevention and reversal of health problems such as heart disease.
    • Vegan diets exclude meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.

For best diets that are heart-healthy:

  • Ornish
  • TLC
  • DASH

Best diets for healthy eating:

  • DASH
  • TLC
  • Mediterranean

Best Diets? More Advice

Before picking a plan, think about whether it will fit your lifestyle, Giancoli says. If the diet calls for you to prepare food, think about whether you like or hate spending time in the kitchen. If you don't like it, or don't have the time, a plan that doesn't require extensive food preparation may be better.

Get more information on the diet before plunging into it, says Marion Franz, MS, RD, a Minneapolis dietitian and another panel member. A couple of key questions: How successful were people who followed the diet? And, if it's a weight loss plan, how long did they keep off the weight?

"Most people will be successful for the first six months [on a diet]," she says. "The real question is what happens after six months."

If a plan can show you long-term results past that time, that's ideal, Franz tells WebMD.

Think very long term, says panel member Sachiko St. Jeor, PhD, RD, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Nevada. The long haul, she says, often means making permanent diet changes, not changing your eating just for a few months.

No diet is perfect, she says: "All have good, bad, and limitations."


Weight loss occurs in the belly before anywhere else. See Answer

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SOURCES: U.S. News & World Report's Best Diets Rankings, 2012.Marion Franz, MS, RD, nutrition consultant, Minneapolis, Minn.Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, Los Angeles registered dietitian and spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.Sachiko St. Jeor, PhD, RD, professor of clinical medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno.David Katz, MD, MPH, founding director, Yale University Prevention Research Center.

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