Which diet is right for you? We examine many of the popular diet plans and review the results as reported by doctors, scientists, and users. We will continue to add plans as new ones are discovered or submitted to us for the list.
Without further ado, here are the plans (in alphabetical order):
What is it? Better known as the ‘Asian Food Pyramid‘, this general categorization encompasses the typical rice, noodles, and whole grains, while including fruits, legumes, and vegetables. Nuts, seeds, fish, and shellfish are popular, as are white eggs, poultry, and meat.
How does it Work? What makes the Asian diet healthy is the liberal use of vegetables, the use of skinless white meat, low-fat fish, lean meats, and lack of fat and sugar-based flavorings. Exercise along with a traditional Asian diet has been proven to help patients lose weight and avoid a host of chronic diseases. Portion size is also important, although in the United States the Asian dishes are often served in larger, American-sized portions, which sometimes negates any health benefits.
Verdict: It is no secret Asian countries have fewer incidences of cardiovascular disease and obesity, and the obesity rate in Japan is less than four percent. But if you’re not a vegetable person or if you don’t like noodles and rice? This is not the diet for you.
What is it? Also known as the ‘Atkins nutritional approach’, this low-carbohydrate diet was first promoted by Robert Atkins in his 1972 book. His inspiration came from “Weight Reduction,” a 1958 research paper by Alfred W. Pennington and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The diet limits consumption of carbohydrates, and through ketosis, converts stored body fat to energy. The diet peaked in popularity in the early 2000s. A marketing blitz followed, and soon foods across grocery store aisles everywhere were bearing the Atkins logo. But by 2005 the company had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after less than two percent of adults admitted to participating in the diet. Thus, the Atkins diet was classified as a fad diet.
How does it work? The Atkins diet was originally a subscription-based mail order service. Participants would send money in exchange for food (similar to Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers). Later Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. was formed and began to promote the sale of Atkins-branded products. The Atkins diet was founded on the very basic concept of limiting one’s carbohydrate intake. Early proponents claimed you could eat all the fat and protein you want as long as you avoid foods high in carbs; this has since been revised to no longer include the “all you can eat” proviso.
Verdict: Doctors and scientists have been debating the efficacy of the Atkins diet for decades. Despite little evidence supporting the long-term effectiveness of the Atkins diet over other diets, it remains popular and still finds its name in the standard diet lexicon and licenses its name for food labels in the grocery store.
What is it? DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a specialty “heart-healthy diet” that focuses on lowering and preventing high blood pressure (hypertension).
Studies show DASH diets can increase the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and decrease the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. It was not designed for weight loss, however weight loss is a common side effect of following the diet.
How does it Work? A back-to-basics regimen of eating healthy. It’s heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on saturated fats, salts, and sugars.
Verdict: Not so much a standalone diet as a complementary one, the DASH diet is a wise addition to any plan. While many diets are founded upon elements that are still under debate, there is no doubt to the benefits of increasing HDL and decreasing LDL. On the U.S. News Best Diets list, the DASH diet is ranked first. And if you don’t like meats, there is a vegetarian DASH diet.
‘French Paradox’ Diet
What is it? A colloquial name given to the stereotypical French diet, which despite containing some of the richest foods of any diet in the world, has yielded some of the higher life expectancies in the world.
This diet includes such delicious ingredients as full-fat cheese and yogurt, butter, bread, and chocolate.
How Does it Work? The secret to the French diet is lifestyle; its not what you eat, but how you eat. The French eat smaller portions than Americans, they eat slower, they don’t snack, they eat less often, and they walk everywhere.
Verdict: There are known positives from eating moldy cheese and consuming moderates amount of red wine, but the French Paradox diet is more about adjusting lifestyle and habits than diet. Things like eating smaller portions, eating less often, stopping snacking, and walking everywhere would improve the results of any diet regardless of ingredients.
What is it? The famed favorite fare of those in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, this diet focuses on fresh local produce, seasonal preparations, and traditional meal celebrations.
How Does it Work? It’s not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. Echoing other regional diets, the Mediterranean features fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and fish. Olive oil and red wine play larger roles
Verdict: In the 1970s researchers found that olive oil can help people lose weight, lower cardiovascular disease and reverses diabetes. Fitness Magazine ranked the Mediterranean diet as the world’s healthiest. U.S. News & World Report called it “eminently sensible” and ranked it 3rd out of 35 diets. EatingWell.com asks if the Mediterranean Diet is the world’s healthiest.
New Nordic Diet
What is it? A scientist-derived, primarily plant-based diet that contains 35% less meat than the traditional Nordic diet and sources more than 75% of its organic produce locally.
Through these measures it improves blood lipid profile and insulin sensitivity and lowers blood pressure and body weight in hyper-cholesterolemic subjects.
How Does it Work? The main difference is the higher intake of plant foods, fish, egg and vegetable fat and a lower intake of meat products, dairy products, sweets and desserts and alcoholic beverages. Signature foods include whole grain cereals, oats, and local fruits and berries. Root vegetables and low-fat dairy are allowed, including milk and cheese. Meats include beef, lamb, and pork. Fish include herring, mackerel, and salmon.
Verdict: According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the New Nordic diet “represents a balanced food intake and has a dietary pattern that is associated with decreased morbidity and mortality.” A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a healthy Nordic diet seemed to have an impact on genes in abdominal fat, turning off genes related to inflammation. Study participants lost weight and cut down on type 2 diabetes risk.
What is it? Nutrisystem is a 28-day program that tries to simplify weight loss by creating the meals and, with the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables you will buy yourself, is shipped directly to your door. For an in-depth pricing breakdown, visit the Nutrisystem review on diet-blog.
How Does it Work? Participants have a multitude of meal options, ranging from oatmeal, muffins, granola, and pancakes for breakfast to things like tacos, chicken and pasta, soup, stew, and pizza for lunch and dinner. The program includes desserts such as brownies, cake, and cookies.
Verdict: It is a pricier option than many other diet plans, but they make it easier by creating the meals for you. This is especially helpful for those who have trouble getting motivated to go shopping for new ingredients or cook new recipes. A potential turn-off is the program’s price tag, discouragement of eating out, and avoidance of alcohol. Still, the program earns a four-star rating on consumer affairs website and finished 18th on U.S. News’ List of Best Diets.
What is it? The Pritikin Diet first appeared in the book Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise, a bestseller since 1979. Its suggestions of combining regular exercise with eating low-fat, high-fiber foods were radical for the time, but standard today.
Now the company offers an all-inclusive health resort option. It boasts a spa, lodging, and complete fitness program. On the diet side Pritikin focuses on a wide variety of whole, unprocessed or minimally-processed natural foods. It claims to “promote weight loss and control many of the world’s leading killers, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.”
How Does it Work? The diet uses a labeling system of “GO,” “CAUTION,” and “STOP” on foods to indicate health. “GO” foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal), legumes (black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans), peas, and lentils. Also on the “GO” list are fish, lean protein (skinless poultry, bison, venison, plant-sources of protein, tofu), and lean calcium-rich foods such as nonfat dairy milk, nonfat yogurt, and fortified soymilk.
“CAUTION” foods are those that have been proven to increase the risk of obesity and/or multiple health concerns, including high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers. These include foods cooked in oils, foods which use refined sweeteners such as sugar, corn syrup, and honey. Refined grains such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, and foods high in salt.
“STOP” foods on the Pritikin Diet are those that have been proven to substantially increase the risk of obesity and/or multiple health concerns, including high blood cholesterol, high blood sugar, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers. These include saturated-fat-rich foods such as butter, tropical oils like coconut oil, fatty meats, and dairy foods like cheese, cream, and whole milk. Also in the “STOP” category are organ meats, processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, bologna), cholesterol-rich foods like egg yolks, and anything made with partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Verdict: Since 1975, several studies have found the Pritikin Program effective in preventing major disease such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Swinging for the full resort-like experience is only for the financially secure and in dire straits. The diet itself is far less expensive, and easier to execute. It’s simple, direct, and easily replicable at home. The Pritikin Diet is widely respected and founded on generally common medical knowledge with regards to carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet
What is it? A diet created by the National Institute of Health‘s “National Cholesterol Education Program,” the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC) aims to cut cholesterol by sharply cutting back saturated fat intake.
The diet was not designed for weight loss, but instead for maintaining an ideal body weight and determining the ideal daily caloric intake.
How Does it Work? Combined with exercise, the TLC Diet aims to lower the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks. Consuming saturated fats (found in non-lean meats, whole-milk dairy, fried foods) increases cholesterol, which can increase the threat of a heart attack or stroke. The TLC diet shifts participants to foods with unsaturated fats, which when combined with exercise, can lower cholesterol levels.
Verdict: The tried-and-tested TLC Diet is a wise addition to any overall diet regimen; cutting out LDL cholesterol is never a bad idea. Even better: It’s free. And U.S. News rated the TLC Diet as number 2 on its List of the Best Diets. On the downside, the program is more of a set of a guidelines than recipes and products. You’ll be on your own to create and maintain a diet schedule, and it will be up to you to create meals and count calories.
What is it? In WW’s new ‘Beyond the Scale‘ program, participants can engage at their own pace. Weight loss goals can be adjusted based on exercise levels and diet restrictions allowed.
A ‘SmartPoints‘ program allows you to eat more of what you want while nudging you toward a healthier pattern. The program contains over 4,000 recipes and restricts participants from no foods, instead electing to use a ‘points’ system.
How Does it Work? WW offers three plans which offer three levels of involvement: OnlinePlus, Meetings, and Coaching. More people find success with Weight Watchers because they allow you to work at your own pace. A relaxed set of rules makes the plan easier to follow. No food restrictions means you can still eat what you want. A new activity section suggests fitness regimens for plan participants.
Verdict: Weight Watchers is the Kleenex or Xerox of diets, and for good reason. Since its inception, it has been the gold standard of nutritional plans. Clinical trials have proven the plan reduced participants’ food cravings, and
As celebrity trainer and nutritionist Harley Pasternak said after writing his book The 5 Factor World Diet:
“The only overlapping feature in most of these healthy countries around the world is that they all walk way more than the average American. So really, regardless of what you’re eating, if someone’s walking four miles more than you each day, they’re going to be a lot thinner and live a lot longer than you.”
One 2014 study published in the Atlantic noted that after their experimentation, real food was the winner. “A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”