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Jan. 9, 2013 -- The best diet plan for overall health may not cost a thing.

A new ranking of diets by U.S. News & World Report gives top honors for best overall diet to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

Originally developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to lower blood pressure, the diet plan is available free online.

Experts also ranked top diets in seven other categories, including weight loss, diabetes, heart-healthy, commercial, easiest to follow, plant-based, and healthy eating.

Weight Watchers won best weight loss diet as well as easiest to follow and best commercial diet.

The DASH diet tied with The Biggest Loser diet as the best diet plan to prevent and manage diabetes. The DASH diet was also named best diet for healthy eating, while the Mediterranean diet won best plant-based diet.

Ranking the Best Diets

The rankings are based on reviews of 29 diets by a panel of experts in diet, nutrition, obesity, food psychology, diabetes, and heart disease.

The panel rated each diet’s effectiveness in the following seven categories:

  • How easy it is to follow
  • Short-term weight loss
  • Long-term weight loss
  • Nutritional completeness
  • Safety
  • Diabetes prevention and management
  • Heart disease prevention

Cost of the diet was not considered in the rankings.

Researchers then converted the experts’ ratings to scores and stars from 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest).

The results showed many diets that topped the rankings are already household names, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. But others, such as the DASH and TLC diets, are lesser-known plans developed by government researchers.

Here are the top overall and best weight loss diets, and what the experts had to say about them. There were three-way ties in the top five in both categories based on the diets’ star ratings.

Best Overall Diets

1. DASH Diet (4.1 stars) -- The blood-pressure-lowering diet beat out other better-known diets for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent and control diabetes, and promote heart health.

2. TLC Diet (4.0 stars) -- The National Institutes of Health created the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet to lower cholesterol levels. Experts say it’s a well-rounded, healthy diet, but it requires a “do-it-yourself” approach as opposed to the hand-holding provided by some commercial diet plans.

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