Jan. 3, 2024 – Losing weight and eating healthier aren’t at the very top of the list of 2024 New Year’s resolutions, at least according to one survey. Saving money is, cited by 59% of more than 400 respondents. But 47% said eating healthier was a resolution, and 35% picked losing weight.

Guidance for both goals is just out from U.S. News & World Report, which issued its 14th annual ranking of the best diet plans today. 

The Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on overall diet quality rather than a single food group or nutrient, swept the categories. It won in the category of Best Diets Overall, along with Best Diets for Diabetes, Best Heart-Healthy Diets, Easiest Diets to Follow, Best Diets for Bone and Joint Health, Best Family-Friendly Diets, and Best Diets for Healthy Eating.

It wasn’t a surprise to Gretel Schueller, MA, managing editor of health at U.S. News. “Science continues to support it,” she said of the eating plan, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs, and spices. The diet can also be adapted to any cuisine, she said. “You can do a Japanese version. You can do a vegan version.”

The Process

This year, 43 independent experts, none with a vested interest in commercial diet programs or a specific diet approach, evaluated the diets for U.S. News, Schueller said. 

The publication begins to look at diet plans every January, considering which are trending and finding out if a particular diet is developing a following, she said, or if previously “fringy” diets have new science behind them. 

“By spring, we [usually] have a list of over 50.” The group pares that down, and this year picked 30 diets to rank, six more than the total for the 2023 rankings. Other diets that aren’t ranked get write-ups on the site, to provide information of interest to consumers who want more details on those plans.

The rankings follow a system devised by the publication in partnership with The Harris Poll, with input from the expert panel of medical doctors, registered dietitians, nutritional epidemiologists, and academic weight loss researchers.

Here, the winners in the 11 categories:

Best Diets Overall

After the Mediterranean diet:

  • DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet came in second. It fights high blood pressure and focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
  • MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet was third. It combines DASH and Mediterranean diets with a focus on improving brain health. 

Best Weight Loss Diets

  • Weight Watchers, now known as WW, took first. It uses a points-based program to set a daily goal, includes support via meetings, and encourages physical activity.
  • Mediterranean diet, second.
  • Volumetrics, third. It focuses on eating healthy foods that make you feel full, with a goal of long-term weight loss.

Best Fast Weight Loss Diets

  • The keto diet is in first place, repeating last year. The high-fat, low-carb diet aims to produce quick weight loss through fat burning.
  • The Atkins diet got second place. It restricts carbs when you start it, then gradually adds them back in.
  • The HMR (Health Management Resources) program got third. It’s based on structured meal plans and behavioral coaching.

Best Diabetes Diets

  • Mediterranean diet got first place.
  • DASH came in second.
  • Flexitarian was third. It focuses on fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods but allows meat occasionally.

Best Diets for Bone and Joint Health

  • Mediterranean took the top spot.
  • DASH was second.
  • Flexitarian took third.

Best Diets for Healthy Eating

  • Mediterranean, first.
  • Flexitarian, second.
  • DASH, third.

Best Diet Programs

  • Weight Watchers, or WW, first place.
  • Mayo Clinic Diet, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as helping people improve their eating habits, took second place.
  • Noom diet, which focuses on low-calorie foods, personalized calorie ranges, and coaching to meet goals, took third place.

Best Family-Friendly Diets

  • Mediterranean, first.
  • Flexitarian, second.
  • DASH, third.

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

  • Mediterranean, first. 
  • DASH, second. 
  • Ornish diet, focusing on plant-based foods, limited animal products, daily exercise, and stress reduction, was third. 

Best Plant-Based Diets

  • Flexitarian got first place.
  • Mediterranean got second.
  • Vegan got third. It focuses on plant-based foods, with no foods from animals, including dairy products.

Easiest Diets to Follow

  • Mediterranean, first.
  • Flexitarian, second.
  • DASH, third.

Feedback from Diet Plans

WebMD reached out to Herbalife Nutrition, included in the rankings for the first time, and SlimFast. Herbalife, along with the Dukan diet and raw food, were ranked 28th of 28 diets for best weight loss. SlimFast, which used shakes, smoothies, and meal bars to replace two of three meals a day, was ranked 30 of 33 for best overall diets.

In a statement, Kent Bradley, MD, MBA, MPH, chief health and nutrition officer for Herbalife, said: “We are confident that our healthy diet and lifestyle program encourages a balanced, accessible, and education-based approach to help meet the diverse nutritional, social, and cultural needs of our global consumer population in more than 90 countries around the world. A key to the success is our community nutrition model that provides a network of supportive resources to help consumers set and achieve healthy active lifestyle and nutrition goals aligned with global public health standards. Our program provides convenience and a flexible meal replacement program based on nutrition science and clinical studies.

“Herbalife’s meal replacement strategies are evidence-based and target adequate protein intake based on lean body mass within the Allowable Macronutrient Range for Protein at about 30% of calories recognized as appropriate for weight management by the World Health Organization. The approach to weight management using products including shakes, bars, soups and prepared foods has been validated by many. …”

SlimFast declined to provide a comment at this time.

Dietitians Weigh In

The new rankings reflect “the importance of choosing a diet that is maintainable, enjoyable and meets nutritional needs,” said Connie Diekman, MEd, former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a food and nutrition consultant in St. Louis. 

As a dietitian, she said, she is pleased to see the Mediterranean diet at the top of the list, followed by two other sound choices, DASH and MIND. “These diets all focus on including more plant foods, leaner and lower-fat animals foods, while providing enough options in each food group to meet a variety of dietary, cultural, and personal enjoyment perspectives.”

Overall, Diekman said, the rankings support the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the advice she gives to the consumers she counsels on nutrition. 

She was surprised to see the Keto diet win top spot in the Best Fast Weight Loss category. She advised getting input from a registered dietitian if following the keto plan to be sure all nutritional needs are met.

Another expert also welcomed the high rankings given the lifestyle diets that focus on plant foods. “The healthiest eating patterns focus on whole foods – mostly, but not exclusively, plants – and minimize refined grains and added sugars,” said Samantha Cassetty, RD, MS, a registered dietitian and wellness expert in New York City. 

Her advice for anyone shopping for a new diet plan is to start with gradual changes. “The biggest mistake I see is for people to be excited about lifestyle changes initially, so they tackle too many changes at once, which is overwhelming.”

If you feel overwhelmed, “step back and focus on one specific goal, such as eating fruit with breakfast 4 days a week or cooking three meals [a week] at home.” That’s the best way to ease yourself into healthier eating, she said.

Her final tip: “Remember that healthy bodies come in all sizes, and you don’t need to be thin to be healthy. Most people experience health benefits from losing just 5% of their [excess] body weight.”

Points to Remember

Personalizing a diet plan to fit your lifestyle is important, Schueller said. “The number 1 diet may not be the number 1 diet for you.”

She suggested people look at the rankings as “the perfect starting point” to change the way you eat and how you approach food.

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