Mayo Clinic Diet Overview

Scorecard

Overall
Weight Loss Short-term
Weight Loss Long-term
Easy to Follow
Nutrition
Safety
For Diabetes
For Heart Health

Scores are based on experts' reviews

Pros & Cons

  • Nutritionally sound
  • You shape your diet
  • Lots of grunt work
  • Somewhat pricey

Do's & Don'ts

Do: Raid the produce section of your supermarket See more Do's & Don'ts

Overview

Type:

Balanced.

Resembles these U.S. News-rated diets:

Volumetrics, DASH Diet

The aim:

Weight loss.

The claim:

You’ll shed 6 to 10 pounds in two weeks and continue losing 1 to 2 pounds weekly until you’ve hit your goal weight.

The theory:

You recalibrate your eating habits, breaking bad ones and replacing them with good ones with the help of the Mayo Clinic’s unique food pyramid.

The pyramid emphasizes fruits, veggies, and whole grains. In general, these foods have low energy density, meaning you can eat more but take in fewer calories. Think of it this way: For about the same amount of calories you could have a quarter of a Snicker’s bar or about two cups of broccoli.

How does the Mayo Clinic Diet work?

With the Mayo Clinic Diet book as your guide, you’ll work your way through two parts: “Lose it!” and “Live it!” Part 1 focuses on 15 key habits—ones to add and ones to ditch. You don’t count calories, and you can snack all you want on fruits and veggies. After two weeks, you begin part 2, learning how many calories you should eat to either lose or maintain weight and where those calories should come from. No food group is completely off-limits—you’re developing a pattern of healthy eating you’ll follow for life. Expand this section for more detail on each phase.

In “Lose it!” you’ll add: a healthy breakfast, lots of fruits and veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. You’ll ban: eating while watching TV, sugar (except what’s found in fruit), snacking (except on fruits and veggies), consuming too much meat and full-fat dairy, and eating out (unless the food you order follows the rules). If you’re really motivated, you’ll also adopt bonus habits such as keeping food, activity, and goal diaries; exercising 60 or more minutes per day; and eating natural or minimally processed “real food.”

In “Live it!” you’ll use what you learned in the first phase but be allowed to occasionally break the rules. You’ll also calculate the number of calories you can eat while still losing a couple of pounds a week. But instead of counting the calories in every grain of (brown) rice you eat, you’ll focus on servings. On a 1,400-calorie plan, for example, you’re allowed four or more servings each of fruits and veggies, five servings of carbs, four of protein/dairy, and three of fats. What’s a serving? For fruit it’s the size of a tennis ball; for protein, no bigger than a deck of cards. Round out “Live it!” with regular physical activity and you’re set for life.

Will you lose weight?

Likely, provided you follow the rules.

Although the only research specifically evaluating the diet comes from the Mayo Clinic itself, preliminary results are promising. The principles behind it are backed by substantial research, which suggests its potential for weight loss and weight maintenance.

In a 2008 pilot program of 53 obese Mayo Clinic employees who followed “Lose it!” for two weeks, average weight loss was 8 pounds. Nearly all of the 46 who finished lost 4 or more pounds, and most lost between 6 to 10 pounds. There was no control group.

In general, diets rich in low-energy-dense foods have been shown to deliver weight loss, promoting fullness on fewer calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a study of 97 obese women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, researchers randomly assigned dieters to either a low-energy-dense, low-fat diet, or a low-energy-dense, low-fat diet that emphasized fruits and vegetables. After a year, both groups lost weight, and the fruits-and-vegetables dieters lost even more—14 pounds compared with 11 pounds. More studies, particularly large controlled trials, are needed to confirm the findings.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Yes. Mayo Clinic’s approach reflects the medical community’s widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet. An eating pattern heavy on fruits, veggies, and whole grains but light on saturated fat and salt is considered the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

The approach is generally viewed as an ideal eating pattern for both.

Prevention: Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. If the Mayo Clinic Diet helps you lose weight and keep it off, you’ll almost certainly tilt the odds in your favor. Most experts consider an approach like that which Mayo promotes to be the gold standard of diabetes prevention—it emphasizes the right foods, discourages the wrong ones, and mandates physical activity.

Control: The diet’s guidelines mirror those encouraged by the American Diabetes Association. And because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged meals, you can ensure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.

Are there health risks?

No indications of health risks or side effects have surfaced.

Still, Mayo Clinic advises that all dieters, especially those with health conditions, talk with their doctor before trying the plan. And while the book is primarily aimed at adults, there are no specific age restrictions; Mayo’s healthy eating pattern and behavioral advice is applicable to children and teens, too.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?

Fat. Thanks to its emphasis on fruits, veggies, lean meat, and low-fat dairy, you’ll likely stay on the low end of the government’s recommendation that between 20 to 35 percent of daily calories come from fat.

Protein. You should hit a middle-of-the-road 21 percent of daily calories from protein, compared with the 10 to 35 percent the government recommends.

Carbohydrates. It’s within the acceptable range for carb consumption.

Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older, African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, that limit is 1,500 mg. Fruits and (unsalted) veggies account for much of your calories on the Mayo Clinic Diet, so you shouldn’t have trouble. Just be sure to read labels, shelve the salt shaker, and get a good low-sodium cookbook.

Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:

  • Fiber. Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. Veggies, fruits, beans, and whole grains—all major sources—are encouraged on this diet, so you should easily meet the recommendation.
  • Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. How much potassium you get on the Mayo Clinic Diet is entirely up to you, but because you’re almost certainly eating more fruits and veggies than you were before, you’ll likely get more potassium than most.
  • Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. While difficult to meet the goal, you should succeed with low-fat dairy products and by choosing calcium-fortified juices and cereals.
  • Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Fish like salmon and trout, along with yogurt and fortified cereals, are good sources.
  • Vitamin D. Adults who don’t get enough sunlight need to meet the government’s 15 microgram recommendation with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. Just 3 ounces of sockeye salmon, which packs almost 20 micrograms of vitamin D, will satisfy the requirement. Low-fat dairy and fortified cereals will also help.

Supplement recommended? No.

How easy is it to follow?

Most dieters will find the restrictive “Lose it!” phase difficult. That’s why it only lasts two weeks. Once you develop your plan in “Live it!” and find no foods completely off limits, you’ll be more likely to stay on the wagon.

Convenience:

You’re free to eat out, as long as you let Mayo’s food pyramid direct your menu choices. Alcohol might be restricted a little more than you’d prefer. And while a slew of Mayo guides make developing your plan easier, there’s just no way to avoid the grocery store and stove.

Recipes. Although the book only offers a handful of recipes, Mayo’s companion Fix-It and Enjoy-It Healthy Cookbook is packed with ideas. Once you understand healthy eating and serving sizes, you can scour outside recipe websites for free.

Eating out. It’s discouraged in “Lose it!”, but the fine print says you technically still can if you don’t stray from the guidelines.

Alcohol. Not allowed during “Lose it!” and should be considered a treat in “Live it!” with no more than roughly 500 calories from alcohol per week.

Timesavers. None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them, and prepare them. And you can’t pay someone to exercise for you.

Extras. The book provides meal planning, grocery shopping, and dining out guides; a crash course in nutrition basics; and advice for staying motivated. Mayo doesn’t have any book-specific resources online, but you can peruse its large database of diet-related articles.

Fullness:

Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. You shouldn’t feel hungry on the Mayo Clinic Diet. In part 1, you can snack on unlimited veggies and fruits, and later, when you’ve got a calorie cap, the emphasis on low-energy-dense fruits, veggies, and high-fiber whole grains should keep you feeling fuller longer.

Taste:

You’re making everything, so if something doesn’t taste good, you know who to blame.

How much does it cost?

Whether it’s pricier than your current grocery tab depends, of course, on what you put in your cart. Fruits, veggies, and whole-grain products are generally more expensive than sugary cereal, white bread, and frozen pizzas. But there’s no membership fee, and the diet’s individualized nature gives you financial wiggle room—by making dinner from whatever produce is on sale, for example.

The Mayo Clinic Diet book, an essential guide, is $26.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Anyone can follow the Mayo Clinic diet—choose your preference for more information.

The bulk of the diet—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—are staples for vegetarians and vegans. While the book doesn’t offer specific guidance, its principles will guide you as they would any other dieter.

No specific tips. Just choose gluten-free foods that are in line with Mayo’s guidelines.

It’s up to you to make sure your choices are low-sodium, but such a heavy emphasis on fruits and veggies (stick with fresh or sodium-free frozen) should make your job easier. It’ll also help that you’re eating meat and dairy—often high-sodium culprits—in moderation.

Yes, you have the freedom to use only kosher ingredients.

Yes, but it’s up to you to ensure your food conforms to halal guidelines.

What is the role of exercise?

It’s part of the plan.

You should be moving at least 30 to 60 minutes each day, but what you do and when you do it are completely up to you. Mayo Clinic offers pointers, from sneaking more exercise into your daily routine (like parking your car farther away at the mall and taking the stairs to your office) to overcoming common obstacles and physical limitations.


Last updated by Kurtis Hiatt | December 12, 2013

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