U.S. News and World Report recently released its annual assessment of the top 35 trending diets as it has for the past 10 years. This review was accomplished by 25 experts representing a wide range of health professionals in the fields of nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes and heart disease.
Note that the word diet in this context means pattern of eating. It is not just limited to diet meaning a diet for weight loss, but includes eating patterns followed for other health goals as well.
The comprehensive evaluation included consideration of health and nutritional completeness, safety, ability to achieve short- and/or long-term weight loss (sustainability), ease of following, and the potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.
The diet assessments were categorized by best diet overall, best for general weight loss, best commercial plan, best for diabetes, best for overall healthy eating, best for fast weight loss, most heart-healthy, best plant-based diet, and easiest to follow.
This assessment of various patterns of eating can provide individuals with information that can help them to decide what eating style best fits their needs. It also encourages looking at the bigger picture of health rather than singular goals in isolation.
For instance, most rapid weight loss diets may be successful short-term, but are usually difficult to sustain and often result in regaining the weight lost. They tend to be lacking in many nutrients for health, can create stress for the body, and can lead to side effects like fatigue and/or loss of muscle mass.
So how did the judges rate the diets for 2020? For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet came out on top as the best diet overall. It also placed first for healthiest diet (tied with the DASH diet), for easiest to follow, for best plant-based diet, and as the best diet for those with diabetes. It was noted that it was also good for cardiovascular health and reducing the risks of dementia, breast cancer, and high blood pressure, while increasing the chance for longer life.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes less processed plant-based foods; limited intake of red meat, sugar, saturated fats; inclusion of omega three fatty acids, seafood, and olive oil; moderate intake of red wine; time spent socializing with family and friends at meal times.
This diet is balanced, safe, can be maintained long-term, is palatable, includes a wide range of nutrients, is family-friendly, and has a lot of science to support its recommendations.
Tied for second in best diet overall were the DASH diet and Flexitarian diet. Next in line was Weight Watchers followed by a triple tie by the MIND diet, the Mayo Clinic diet, and Volumetrics. It was noted that all of these were safe, sensible, and backed by science.
The guidelines in all of these diets are also very similar. The DASH diet includes a lot of high fiber plant-based foods with moderation in animal protein intake and places a limitation for sodium intake. The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. The Flexitarian diet is more solidly plant-based (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, plant-based proteins) with occasional intake of red meat and fish.
In looking beyond the category of best diet overall, the best diet for heart health was the Ornish diet, followed by the Mediterranean and DASH diets. The best diet for general weight loss was determined as the Weight Watchers diet. The emphasis on support from others in attempting to achieve weight loss was deemed a plus for this diet as well. Weight Watchers also came in first for best commercial diet.
Best for rapid weight loss was the Health Management Resource Program. Note that the diets touted for rapid weight loss ranked very low in other areas of the assessment which placed them near the bottom of best diets overall. These would include diets such as Optavia, Jenny Craig, Atkins, the Dukan diet, and the Ketogenic diet. Some of the reasons for concern were difficulty following and sustaining, the potential for malnutrition and low intake of specific nutrients, weight loss that is too rapid (leading to loss of muscle, hormonal changes, detriment to other body tissues/organs), and potential negative impact for persons with certain medical conditions.
If you are interested in the details of this years diet rankings, check out the report online. Looking at the criteria used in the evaluations can expand your thoughts about what to consider as you determine your own best pattern of eating. Besides the rankings, the report also goes into more specifics about each of the diets.
Think of your own personal goals for health. What pattern of eating is safe, reasonable, and realistic for you? Are there tips from the reviewers that you could use to fine tune your current eating habits? What eating goals can you sustain for both short- and long-term health? What personal and family medical concerns do you need to keep in mind? You have one body for a lifetime. How do you plan to take care of it?
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She has also been the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and is Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas).