Dissecting Diets

Diet has been cursed as a detestable four-letter word, conjuring up images of denial, gnawing hunger and pushing sad lettuce leaves around while pretending to be full. “Oh, I’m fine, I had a bag of pumpkin seeds earlier. Or maybe it was birdseed, hard to tell. Either way, I’m totally stuffed.” Whether you ask or not, there’s an overabundance of advice about dieting. “This book says eat bacon for every meal, but is that right for me? (Please say yes).” An overview of popular and trusted diets categorized by their main goals may be helpful. Most diets recommend some type of regular physical activity, and we advise that you consult a physician before undertaking any diets or exercise regimens on your own. According to Consumer Reports and U.S. News & World Report, these diets hit the mark on eight different ranking lists:

Best Diets Overall 

These scored the highest in the combined categories of long- and short-term weight loss, ease of following and overall healthiness for the average person.

DASH diet. The purpose is to prevent and lower blood pressure, as hypertension is one of the primary silent killers in our nation, leading to heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and other illnesses. It emphasizes adding fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains to daily meals while limiting red meats, sweets and processed foods. Limiting salt is also crucial, allowing for exploration of other seasonings and spices (like marjoram and tarragon — they need love too.) 

Mediterranean diet. This approach incorporates foods eaten in areas noted for lower rates of heart disease, obesity and chronic ailments. Encouraging balance and moderation over deprivation and strict adherence to measurements, it’s a great way to explore fun recipes with new physical activities; even to open up an interesting red wine on occasion. The menu revolves around fresh produce, legumes and nuts as well as fish and seafood at least twice a week. It also limits sweets and red meats to special occasions. 

Best Weight-loss Diets

Weight Watchers scored high in helping participants achieve regular, safe weight loss (up to 2 pounds per week) while encouraging healthy and meaningful lifestyle changes to keep weight off and establish long-term nutritional habits. The program assigns a point value to foods, decides the allowance (usually three meals and two snacks per day), and the participant decides how to spend them. There is a fantastic level of support available (some is free, some is available for a fee), and members can sync their phone to several different apps for easy monitoring.

Jenny Craig and Volumetrics tied for second. Jenny Craig offers a personalized menu that includes packaged meals and an exercise plan designed by nutrition and fitness professionals based on your goals and level of motivation. Very appealing to people who are either too busy to cook or who prefer not to, this well-respected program tends to be more expensive due to the high level of preparation offered. Volumetrics categorizes food based on its density (calorie per gram) and water content, with a goal of getting more mileage out of your food. There are no “off-limit” foods. Instead you refer to a chart to pick the low-density, high-water foods over the others, or make a trade for a special treat. So, if you’re a fan of soups, fruits, veggies and math, you will love this.

Best Diabetes Diets

The DASH diet was number one for helping manage both those who already have Type 2 diabetes and those who are borderline diabetic. The Mediterranean diet ties with the vegan diet for second place. The vegan diet excludes all animal parts and products, including dairy and eggs, from the menu. This diet requires a lot of discipline and planning, as well as checking ingredients on prepared foods to ensure that no gelatin, albumin, lard, stock or other animal parts are attempting to sneak back into your life without your knowledge.

Best Heart Healthy Diets

The DASH and the Ornish diets tied. The Ornish diet was created by Professor Dean Ornish over 20 years ago and focuses on categorizing foods based on healthiness, as well as incorporating physical activity and stress management through yoga, meditation or other deep-breathing exercises. This program works on a “spectrum” system, meaning you can take it to a level of intensity that works for you Do you just want to be healthier and lose a few pounds or reverse existing heart disease? His diet claims to do both.

Best Commercial Diets

Weight Watchers and Mayo Clinic diets tied. Mayo Clinic takes it back old school to a food pyramid. There are two initial very strict weeks of avoiding top of the pyramid foods and junk food, loading up on base foods (grains, fresh fruits and veggies, etc.) along with moderate physical exercise. After that, there is some math in the food transactions, but most found it easy to stick to and noticed weight loss as well as more energy. There is a slight variation for diabetics.

Easiest Diets to Follow

Four-way tie between Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, the Fertility diet (which is exactly what it sounds like, go ahead, look it up), and the MIND diet, which is  a combo of DASH and Mediterranean with a focus on brain-healthy foods (green leafy veggies, legumes, nuts, fish, whole grains, berries, etc.) that have been proven to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on how rigorously you follow the plan, your risk of developing these could be reduced by as much as 53 percent, according to the research. 

As is the case with fashion and karaoke, what works for your friend may not work for you when it comes to diets. Do the research, use good judgment, be patient, focus on health over appearance and on long-term modifications over trendy quick fixes. Good health to you all.

Melanie Ransic
Author: Melanie Ransic