Jan. 5, 2016 -- The DASH diet took the top spot overall for the sixth straight year in the U.S. News & World Report annual diet rankings, released Tuesday.
This year, the publication rated 38 diet plans in all -- three more than in 2015 -- with rankings based on reviews from a panel of experts. Two of the new additions ranked highly: the MIND diet, which focuses on boosting brain health, and the Fertility diet, which aims to help women conceive faster but has been shown to benefit others as well.
The rankings also added a new category, Best Diets for Fast Weight Loss. “We recognize dieters may have short-term weight goals and need options to accomplish that in a healthy way,” says Angela Haupt, a senior health editor at U.S. News.
DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to help people prevent high blood pressure. The plan focuses on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while lowering salt. Besides being named Best Diet Overall, DASH also got first place in the category of Best Diets for Healthy Eating.
Weight Watchers won first place in the Best Weight Loss Diets category. The Weight Watchers and Mayo Clinic plans tied for first place in the Best Commercial Weight Loss Diet category, with Jenny Craig coming in next.
The report and its experts take into account that ''people diet for different reasons," Haupt says. Some are looking for short-term weight loss, others long term. One of the new contenders, as the name implies, aims to boost a woman's odds of getting pregnant. Other people diet to improve their heart health, diabetes, or to lower their risks for those conditions.
The experts rated the plans into various categories. They included:
- Best Overall
- Best Weight Loss Diets
- Best Fast Weight Loss Diets
- Easiest Diets to Follow
- Best Diets for Healthy Eating
- Best Diets for Diabetes
- Best Diets for Heart Disease
- Best Plant-Based Diets
- Best Commercial Weight Loss Diets
More Info on Winning Plans
For Best Overall, the MIND diet came in second after DASH, tying with TLC. MIND combines features of the DASH and Mediterranean plans, aiming to boost brain health. TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes and aims to lower cholesterol through diet, exercise, weight loss, and not smoking.
For fast weight loss, the HMR (Health Management Resources) and Biggest Loser plans tied for first place. HMR is a low-calorie plan that includes meal-replacement shakes and emphasizes plenty of fruits and vegetables. The Biggest Loser diet has you eat regular meals with lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, keep a food journal, and control your portions, along with physical activity.
For the Easiest to Follow category, Weight Watchers, Fertility, and MIND tied for first.
In the Best for Healthy Eating group, DASH came in first, followed by TLC and Mediterranean, a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and moderate alcohol.
For those with diabetes, the Fertility diet, surprisingly, was first. The diet focuses on changes that are healthy for everyone, like cutting down on red meat and getting protein from nuts and vegetables. DASH and Biggest Loser tied for second place in this category.
For Best Diets for Heart Disease, Ornish, TLC, and DASH took the first three spots, respectively. The Ornish diet is very low-fat, with 10% of calories from fat, and it encourages exercise. It can be tailored to goals such as reversing heart disease or diabetes, or losing weight.
The Mediterranean Diet, Flexitarian (avoiding meat most of the time), and Ornish plans took top spots for Best Plant-Based Diets.
At the Bottom
Meanwhile, the Whole30 diet -- a 30-day program that prohibits legumes, grains, dairy, alcohol, added sugar, and processed food -- ranked at the bottom of the list.
"The Whole30 program is extremely restrictive,” Haupt says. “...there’s no ‘cheating’ -- not even a splash of milk in your coffee. Our health experts say that restriction is unnecessary and potentially unhealthy.”
Melissa Hartwig, co-creator of the Whole30, says the diet is “designed as a 30-day 'reset,' not a 365-day lifestyle or even a diet. …The point is to use those 30 days to eliminate foods that can cause digestive and inflammatory issues, and then re-introduce certain food groups one at a time to identify which ones make someone feel badly, so they can make informed choices for themselves going forward. Regardless of the results of any one survey, we believe eating real, whole foods, including [a] wide variety of vegetables and heart-healthy fats, is always a good thing.''
"The list of best diets matches what we as [dietitians] RD's recommend -- choose diet plans that are sustainable, flexible, and enjoyable,'' says Connie Diekman, RD, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. "Weight loss is just one part of a healthy weight. Keeping weight off is the important part. And the top diets here make healthy eating sustainable."
Quick-fix eating plans, she says, are not about "achieving a healthier muscle-to-fat ratio. They are about fitting into a dress or winning a bet -- not health promoting.'' She says the list is ''a good reminder to focus on the real goal, lowering body fat while building lean mass.''
It’s also a reminder that there's no one perfect diet, says Jennifer Arussi, RD, a dietitian in Los Angeles who also reviewed the report. She is not surprised that the DASH diet got the top spot. "This research-based diet clearly demonstrates its ability to significantly reduce blood pressure with the added benefit of reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke."
Two other plans that got high marks, HMR and Weight Watchers, she says, both emphasize group support and attendance, and both these things ''have been shown in the literature to predict and accelerate weight loss," Arussi says.
How to Use the Rankings
The hope, Haupt says, is to ''put the tools out there, to help [people] choose a diet that is right for them, taking into account their personal tendencies and preferences."
She says people should read the report and details about plans to find a good fit.
"A fair number exclude alcohol completely," she says. So, ''if you like your nightly drink, you are not going to stick with it.”