Jan. 6, 2015 -- Tis the season to start dieting.
Besides resolve, of course, you need to figure out how you'll shed those pounds.
If you’re still thinking about which diet you may want to try, U.S. News & World Report is offering its annual list of best diet plans. The Best Diets of 2015 is the publication's fifth effort to rank diet plans from best to worst to help consumers pick wisely.
Once again, the top spot goes to the DASH diet for the best overall diet for health and wellness. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed the diet to help people prevent and treat high blood pressure. It emphasizes eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods while reducing salt. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The diet rankings are based on reviews of the plans by a panel of experts in diet, nutrition, diabetes, weight loss, and heart health. None of the experts has financial ties to the diet industry, says Angela Haupt, senior editor of health and wellness at the publication.
This year, the report looked at 41 diet plans, nine more than in its 2014 report, and ranked 35. The experts rated the plans on a number of factors, such as how easy they are to follow, nutritional value, safety, and short- and long-term weight loss. They considered how well the plans could help prevent and control heart disease and diabetes.
The various categories and winners include:
- Best overall: DASH Diet
- Best for weight loss: Weight Watchers
- Best for diabetes: DASH Diet
- Best for heart health: Ornish Diet
- Best for healthy eating: DASH Diet
- Easiest to follow: Weight Watchers
- Best commercial plans: Weight Watchers
- Best plant-based: Mediterranean Diet
Best Overall Diets
The No. 2 overall best diet was the TLC Diet, which stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. The National Institutes of Health created the plan, which emphasizes reducing the amount of saturated fat you eat to avoid raising cholesterol.
The Mediterranean Diet ranked third overall. It's a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It focuses on eating foods like fish, fruit, vegetables, beans, high-fiber breads, whole grains, nuts, and olive oil.
Best Diets for Weight Loss
The Health Management Resources (HMR) plan grabbed the second-place spot for weight loss. New to the rankings, HMR combines simple diet programs along with lifestyle education, coaching, and medical support to assist with weight loss.
The Ornish Diet, which ranked as the best heart-healthy diet, is very low-fat, with 10% of calories from fat, and encourages exercise. It can be tailored to your goals, such as preventing or reversing heart disease or diabetes or losing weight.
Bringing Up the Rear
The overall lowest-ranked diets were the Paleo Diet, which stresses eating like our hunter-and-gatherer ancestors -- no refined carbohydrates and focusing mostly on meat and plant-based foods -- and the Dukan Diet, a low-carb plan that emphasizes lean protein in the first phase.
Generally, diets tend to rank lower because of their restrictiveness and the difficulty with sticking to them long-term, Haupt says.
Experts felt that was the case with both the Paleo and Dukan diets, she says. Both eliminate entire food groups, which could lead to a lack of nutrients or health and safety risks; “it’s really all about the rules and restrictions.”
“We find the diets that do really well (in the rankings) allow for all things in moderation,” she says. That might include having a “cheat day” or allowing dieters to eat out or have dessert at times.
Simone Gloger, a spokesperson for the Dukan Diet, says the diet is a simple weight loss plan. The first phase, lasting 1 to 7 days, calls for strictly lean protein, she says, which is ''not enough time to cause a nutrient deficiency." After that period, other foods are phased in. In general, she says, high-protein diets are only a cause for concern in those who already have kidney problems.
Loren Cordain, PhD, author of The Paleo Diet and professor emeritus of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, calls the report's ratings ''subjective'' with ''no basis of truth in the peer review scientific literature.''
Jennifer Arussi, a Los Angeles dietitian specializing in weight loss, reviewed the report but was not involved in the rankings.
She sees the pluses of some of the highly ranked plans. "What makes Weight Watchers and HMR such an effective approach is the accountability," she says, such as weigh-ins and showing up for meetings. Research has suggested that that accountability, with such activities as a group and one-on-one meetings, is what helps people lose weight and keep it off, she says.
But not all diet plans, even the highly ranked ones, work for everyone. For instance, she says that some of her clients who come to her for weight loss advice have found the Weight Watchers ''free'' concept -- that fruits and vegetables have no points -- does not work for some who have an unhealthy relationship to food.
The key, Arussi says, is to ask yourself honestly what has worked well for you in the past and why.
For experienced dieters, she has this caveat: "Recognize that successful, sustainable weight loss comes from practicing an established set of behaviors, not following a rigid diet."
Haupt of U.S. News & World Report agrees that dieters should consider their likes, dislikes, and lifestyles before embarking on a new plan. Foodies probably will not do well on a prepared food plan, for instance. If someone loves to eat out, they need to see if the plan they are considering discourages that.