They're deadly, and they affect too many of us. Here's what you need to know.
Best Diets for Healthy Eating
The last thing you want from a diet is a risk to your health. Any diet should provide sufficient calories and not fall seriously short on important nutrients or entire food groups. The Best Diets for Healthy Eating rankings weigh nutritional completeness and safety, with particular emphasis on safety, based on ratings in those categories of 5 (best) to 1 (worst) by a panel of experts. (See how we did it.) Of the 32 popular diet programs ranked by U.S. News, the government-endorsed Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan stood at the top of the Healthy Eating list.
Experts had enough reservations to send South Beach to the lower end this list, but most didn’t consider it extremely nutrient-deficient or unsafe. It’s a little heavy on fat at the start in phase 1, short on carbs during phases 1 and 2, and low in potassium throughout. Some experts were concerned it might be too high in protein for those with kidney problems.
Although it outperformed traditional Atkins, the experts felt Eco-Atkins is too fat-heavy and carb-light. Still, dieters needn’t worry about malnourishment or overly rapid weight loss. Its 3-star score is middle-of-the-road.
The Engine 2 diet is healthful—if followers can get the right amount of all the important nutrients. Experts were skeptical about that prospect, and gave the diet a below-average 3.1 stars. They were also apprehensive about the plan’s exclusion of vegetable oils: “We have evidence that these offer a host of benefits,” one expert said.
The experts weren’t enthusiastic about the Acid Alkaline Diet. While they liked that it encourages plant-based choices, it needlessly eliminates other healthful foods. “This diet is low in calcium, potassium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and fiber,” one expert pointed out.
It doesn’t perfectly align with the government’s guidelines for healthy eating, experts concluded, because it provides a little too much protein and too few carbs. At 800 to 1,000 calories a day, it also dips low for many dieters. That’s less than half the amount recommended in federal guidelines for men from 21 to 40 and nearly that much less for women in that age group. The experts found it “moderately” safe.
Veganism can conform with a healthful eating plan, but it takes work, and the risk of insufficient amounts of key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, zinc, and iron is real. That worried experts a bit, but they still gave the diet a respectable 3 stars.
The expert panel found the macrobiotic approach moderately sound in this category. Experts liked that it emphasizes natural, organically and locally grown whole foods. On the daily menu: Lots of whole grains, veggies, beans, and tofu and tempeh. But planning is needed to make sure it meets government dietary recommendations. That worried the experts enough that they scored it below most of the other diets in nutritional completeness.
With just 2.5 stars, the Fast Diet fell more than a star below the average ranking for healthy eating and besting only the Paleo, Dukan, Atkins and raw food diets. That’s due to the widespread concern among experts of the diet’s potential to enable unhealthy eating habits, where calorie restriction is followed by overeating and poor nutritional choices.
If you want a healthy diet, look elsewhere, our panel concluded. The high amount of protein could lead to long-term health problems, and shutting out entire food groups poses a risk of nutritional deficiencies. Possible side effects include lethargy, bad breath, and constipation.
Slapping the diet with multiple low ratings, the experts couldn’t accept that entire food groups, like dairy and grains, are excluded, making it hard for dieters to get all the nutrients they need. It’s one of the few diets that experts actually considered somewhat unsafe and only somewhat complete nutritionally.