DASH, TLC, and Weight Watchers Snag Top Spots Among Best Diets
Many Americans stepped into the new year vowing to eat better and perhaps drop 10 or 20 or 100 pounds in 2013. While these healthy resolutions are often accompanied by good intentions, they're also elusive without a specific plan. In an effort to take some of the guesswork out of healthy eating, U.S. News has published the third annual Best Diets 2013 rankings. With help from a panel of diet and nutrition experts, U.S. News scrutinized 29 diets and paid special attention to their safety, nutritional completeness, the likelihood that dieters would lose weight or be protected against conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and more. The DASH and TLC diets claimed spots No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in terms of best diets overall, while Weight Watchers topped the lists of weight-loss diets, commercial diets, and easiest diets to follow. The 2013 rankings also include a brand-new category for plant-based diets, in which the Mediterranean Diet claimed the top spot. U.S. News also ranked diets in terms of diabetes prevention and maintenance, heart healthiness, and healthy eating.
Plant-Based Diets: A Primer
There was a time when vegetarianism was one thin euphemism away from just plain weird. Subsisting on plants seemed like some kind of kooky California fad or college experimentation and was discussed with an eye roll and hushed tone. Then again, there was a time when Whole Foods was the province of hippies, Bill Clinton ate burgers with bravado (the former commander in chief has since gone vegan to stave off heart disease), and vegetarianism marked the rare dietary restriction at a dinner party. Of course, we weren't quite so hungry then for solutions.
We all know Americans have become fatter but less nourished, and that we face a public health crisis, the likes of which we've never seen before. Our children, one-third of whom are overweight or obese, may, for the first time in our nation's history, be dealt a shorter life span than their parents. Blame it on a sedentary lifestyle coupled with the consumption of cheap, processed food. In any case, the prognosis has us scrambling to literally save our lives by learning how and what to eat.
Meanwhile, food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances, and about a million other complicated factors, from health concerns to culture and ideology, have created a nation of idiosyncratic diets, often as individual as the dieters themselves.
However, as data increasingly points to the protective and restorative power of so-called plant-based diets, many of us are turning to the whole fruits and vegetables our mothers and their mothers insisted upon. That's not to say Americans are adopting vegetarianism (vegetarians represent just 5 percent of the adult population, and a mere 2 percent identify as vegans, according to a July 2012 Gallup poll). Today, we talk about "plant-based diets." [Read more: Plant-Based Diets: A Primer]
What Is the 'Best Diet' for You?
What makes a diet best? In Best Diets 2013, the latest set of exclusive rankings from U.S. News, the DASH diet beat out 28 others, including Atkins, Jenny Craig, and Slim-Fast, to win the "Best Diets Overall" crown. Among the 12 commercial diet programs marketed to the public, Weight Watchers came out on top. (Our methodology explains how.) We also ranked the diets on likelihood of weight loss, ability to prevent and control diabetes and heart disease, healthiness, and how easy they are to follow. And this year, we added one new rankings category: Best Plant-Based Diets, a nod to the healthfulness and burgeoning popularity of these plans. The Mediterranean diet snagged the top spot on the plant-based list, followed by the Flexitarian diet.
Our analysis puts hard numbers on the common-sense belief that no diet is ideal for everybody.
Take DASH, the Best Diets Overall winner. It wasn't created as a way to drop pounds, but as a means of combating high blood pressure (it stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The federal government, which funded the research behind DASH, doesn't even call it a diet—it's an "eating plan." If losing weight is your No. 1 goal, a diet in our Best Weight-Loss Diets rankings would be a more likely choice. Or if you have diabetes, you might want to look especially hard at Best Diabetes Diets.
That's why we're giving you lots of tools. Each diet was scored by a panel of experts in short-term and long-term weight loss, on how easy it is to follow, how well it conforms to current nutrition standards, and on health risks it may pose—plus its soundness as a diabetes and as a heart diet. On the data page, you can reorder the 29 diets in any of these categories with the click of a mouse. [Read more: What Is the 'Best Diet' for You?]