Diets are to the month of January what Kardashian pregnancy news is to pop culture: they’re everywhere — anyone else’s Instagram feed clogged with #whole30 posts? — and, when it comes to which diets reign supreme, it can be hard to tell which claims are true and which are false. That’s where U.S. News & World Report’s annual Best Diets ranking comes in.
Every January, experts at U.S. News release their findings after analyzing dozens of diets and ranking them based on a slew of criteria (is it easy to follow? Is it nutritious? Is it safe? Will it actually help you lose weight? Does it help to protect against disease? And so on.) to help the new-year-healthier-me crowd navigate through the BS. And the diets that come in high and low on the list might just make you reconsider the Instagram hashtags you use. Sorry to break it to you, but some of the most talked about diets, like Whole30, Paleo and the Keto Diet, land at the bottom end of the ranking.
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Below, we’ve broken down the basic principles of the five diets that snagged the top spots in the 2018 Best Diets ranking — you’ve likely never heard of a few of them. Read up, then check out the full rundown of the rankings here.
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The lowdown: The DASH Diet, which has topped this list for nearly a decade, was created as a solution and prevention method for high blood pressure, but it turns out to be a pretty effective diet for dropping pounds, too (it ranks sixth for weight loss out of the 40 diets that were analyzed). The diet works to fend off creeping blood pressure numbers by emphasizing nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber while reducing intake of saturated fat, sugar and salt. On this diet, your plate is filled with whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean protein and low-fat dairy.
Ranking for weight loss: #6
The lowdown: For the first time, this diet, inspired those who live along the Mediterranean, tied for first place on the Best Diets ranking with the DASH Diet. When it comes to the rules, this diet starts outside of the kitchen: On the Mediterranean Diet food pyramid, an active lifestyle takes the largest slice of the pie. Then, for food, the diet limits intake of red meat, sugar and saturated fats while allowing plenty of room for fruits and veggies, whole grains and healthy fats, like nuts, olive oil, legumes and more. Oh! And red wine also snags a spot on the pyramid.
Ranking for weight loss: #14
The lowdown: Let’s call this the Non-Committal Person’s Vegetarian Diet. The idea is that you can reap the benefits of a vegetarian diet — think: weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease and cancer, and a longer life — without giving up your beloved burgers and bacon for eternity. The diet allows for meat-eating when the urge strikes, but otherwise makes plant-based proteins, like lentils, nuts and seeds, tofu, plus fruits, veggies and whole grains the main players in your meals.
Ranking for weight loss: #5
The lowdown: Oprah has taught me many things in life, one of them being that bread devotees don’t have to go cold turkey on their gluten addiction when doing Weight Watchers. (Remember her “I LOVE bread” commercial? Gold, I tell you.) Weight Watchers, which comes in fourth overall but snags the number-one spot for weight-loss diets, assigns point values to foods and drinks based on a set of criteria: nutrient density, filling factor, saturated fat and sugar counts, and more. You can essentially eat the foods you want to eat (hi, bread commercial), as long as you stick to your SmartPoints target. Then, the program increases chances for success with support through their mobile app and in-person group meetings.
Ranking for weight loss: #1
The lowdown: The Mind Diet combines the two leading diets on the Best Diets list, DASH, and Mediterranean, in an effort to promote brain health and prevent mental decline. (Get it? The MIND Diet?) This means you end up eating a lot of green leafy veggies, berries, nuts, legumes, whole grains and more while steering clear of the five unhealthy food groups: red meat, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food.
Ranking for weight loss: #23