Jan. 4, 2021 — If you’re struggling to shed weight gained during the pandemic or just want to eat healthier, there’s a diet plan for you. Just out is U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of diet plans. The publication ranked 39 plans this year, the 11th time for the report.
For the fourth consecutive year, the popular Mediterranean diet ranks first in the overall category and also scored well in many other categories. It’s followed by the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the flexitarian diet (mostly plant-based), which tied for second place overall.
While dieting is always a popular New Year’s resolution topic, the weight and the weight gain blamed on its stay-at-home restrictions may make it even more pressing. The pandemic, with its isolation and changes in habits, means people are looking for different things in diet plans, says Angela Haupt, managing editor of health at U.S. News.
“I think now more than ever, we need support, we need connection,” Haupt says. “This year, more than ever, people will be interested in those diets that offer built-in support.” Two good examples, she says, are Noom, an app-based plan that includes coaches, and WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, which emphasizes support from fellow members and offers coaching.
To evaluate the plans, U.S. News gathered an expert panel of top nutritionists and specialists in diabetes, heart health, and weight loss. The 24 panel members scored the 39 diets in seven areas: ease of compliance, likelihood of short- and long-term weight loss, effectiveness against cardiovascular disease and diabetes, nutritional completeness, and safety.
Best overall: After the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil:
Best commercial: WW got first place there, followed by:
Best weight loss diets: Flexitarian and WW tied for first, followed by a tie for third place with:
Best fast weight loss diets: HMR Diet got first. It’s based on meal replacement shakes, plus fruits and vegetables. Second place was a tie between:
Best diets for healthy eating: DASH and Mediterranean tied for first, followed by:
Easiest diets to follow: Mediterranean took first place, followed by:
Best diets for diabetes: Flexitarian and Mediterranean tied for first, followed by a three-way tie among:
Best heart-healthy diets: First place was a tie among DASH, Mediterranean, and Ornish (vegetarian) diets. Fourth place was a tie among:
Best plant-based diets: Mediterranean took first, followed by:
“Every single year, the same diets land on the top of our list,” Haupt says. “It’s because they are sensible. They say to eat the foods you know you should eat. That’s why those diets always perform well.”
The Dukan Diet landed at the bottom of the overall list, at No. 39. Dukan, which was 35th last year, limits carbs and emphasizes protein. Just ahead of Dukan, tied for 37th place, are the ketogenic diet — which focuses on high fat, adequate protein, and low carbs — and the GAPS (gut and psychology syndrome) diet, new to the list this year, which aims to improve gut health.
We also reached out to the GAPS diet followers. It focuses on bone broth, along with homemade fermented foods such as sauerkraut. Grains are not allowed, at least at first. “I would tend to agree it’s not for everyone,” says Lindsea Willon, a nutritional therapy practitioner with Biodynamic Wellness in Solana Beach, CA, which offers the diet.
She acknowledges that “it is difficult to follow, and it can be restrictive. As a diet for the general public, I fully agree it shouldn’t be high on the list. It isn’t meant for everyone.”
But, she says, the diet’s premise is to give the digestive system a break, and people with digestive issues such as ulcerative colitis report that it works for them.
Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian, food and nutrition consultant in St. Louis, and former president of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, reviewed this year’s report.
“No surprise that the Mediterranean diet is once again number 1,” says Diekman, whose books include the Everything Mediterranean Diet Book.
“The Mediterranean diet is truly a lifestyle, not a true diet; it is a plan that focuses on more plant foods and less animal foods without ‘mandatory’ aspects.” Those who follow the plan, she finds, say they enjoy it while it gives them health benefits and variety. Those are all important parts of a lifelong eating plan, she says.
Diekman reminds people that healthy eating itself is a lifestyle — “a diet that fits into the routine of most people.”
U.S. News & World Report: “Best Diet Rankings 2021.”
Connie Diekman, registered dietitian; food and nutrition consultant; former president, Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, St. Louis.
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