Jan. 3, 2022 – It’s officially 2023, and if history repeats, millions of Americans are likely vowing that this year will be one when they drop those unwanted pounds for good. After all, weight loss usually lands one of the top spots on New Year’s resolution surveys.
And just in time, there’s guidance to pick the best plan. Released today are U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings of the best diet plans.
Once again, the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish, got the top spot, as best diet overall. It’s the sixth consecutive year for that win. But many other diets got top marks as well.
This year, U.S. News, with the help of more than 30 nutritionists, doctors, and epidemiologists, ranked 24 diets in several categories to help people find a plan that meets their goals, whether it’s finding the best weight loss diet, easiest one to follow, or plans for other goals, such as managing diabetes or heart disease. Two new categories were added: Best Diets for Bone & Joint Health and Best Family-Friendly Diets.
In previous years, the publication ranked 40 diets. Even if a diet is no longer ranked, its profile with detailed information remains on the site.
“Each year we ask ourselves what we can do better or differently next time,” says Gretel Schueller, managing editor of health for U.S. News. When the publication got feedback from their experts this year, they had requests to consider sustainability of diets and whether they meet a busy family’s needs, in addition to considering many other factors.
This year’s report ranks plans in 11 categories.
The winners and the categories:
Best Diets Overall
After the Mediterranean diet, two others tied for second place:
- DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which fights high blood pressure and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.
- Flexitarian diet, which focuses on fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods but also allows occasional meat.
Best Weight Loss Diets
WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, got first place. The plan emphasizes not only weight loss but healthier eating and regular activity. The Points program, which assigns specific points to foods, with a daily Points budget, is more personalized than in the past.
- DASH got second place.
- Mayo Clinic Diet and TLC diet tied for third place. The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It helps people improve their eating habits. The TLC diet (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) focuses on vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and reducing cholesterol levels.
Best Fast Weight Loss Diets
The keto diet got first place. It’s a high-fat, low-carb diet that aims to achieve weight loss through fat burning. Four others tied for second place:
- Atkins, a diet created by the cardiologist Robert Atkins, which begins with very few carbs and then recommends progressively eating more until the weight loss goal is achieved
- Nutrisystem, a commercial program that includes prepackaged meals and focuses on high-protein, lower-glycemic foods to stabilize blood sugar levels
- Optavia, a plan focused on low-carb, low-calorie foods and including fortified meal replacements
- SlimFast Diet, a plan of shakes, smoothies, and meal bars to replace two of three meals a day
Best Diets for Healthy Eating
Best Heart-Healthy Diets
- Flexitarian and Ornish tied for third. The Ornish Diet focuses on plant-based and whole foods and limiting animal products. It recommends daily exercise and stress reduction.
Best Diets for Diabetes
Best Diets for Bone and Joint Health
DASH and Mediterranean are in a first-place tie, followed by the flexitarian diet.
Best Family-Friendly Diets
This category has a three-way tie: the flexitarian, Mediterranean, and TLC diets.
Best Plant-Based Diets
Mediterranean was first, then flexitarian and the MIND diet. The MIND diet combines the DASH and Mediterranean diets and focuses on “brain-healthy” foods.
Easiest Diets to Follow
Flexitarian and TLC tied for first, followed by a tie between DASH and Mediterranean.
Best Diet Programs (formerly called commercial plans)
- There was a tie for second place between Jenny Craig and Noom, the latter of which focuses on low-calorie foods, with personalized calorie ranges and coaching to help meet goals.
A variety of factors were considered, such as whether a diet includes all food groups, how easy it is to follow, whether it can be customized to meet cultural and personal preferences, and if it has a realistic timeline for weight loss.
Response from Diet Plans
Representatives from two plans that received mixed reviews in the rankings responded.
Jenny Craig was ranked second for best diet program but much lower for family-friendly, landing at 22nd place of 24.
“Our program is designed to address the needs of the individual through personalized experiences,” Jenny Craig CEO Mandy Dowson says. “We have many families that participate in our program together but are still evaluated separately to determine appropriate individual goals.”
Its high ranking for best diet program reflects feedback from satisfied members, she says. Among advances will be the new Jenny Fresh program, a line of entrées prepared fresh and delivered to customers’ doors.
Atkins got second place for best fast weight loss but ranked near the bottom for best overall, best weight loss, diabetes, healthy eating, and heart health. In response, Colette Heimowitz, vice president of nutrition and education for Simply Good Foods, which makes Atkins’s food products, says that low-carb eating approaches are a viable option for anyone today.
“There are more than 130 independent, peer-reviewed published studies that show the efficacy and safety of low-carb eating,” she says. “The studies have been conducted for several decades and counting.”
Samantha Cassetty, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and wellness expert in New York City and author of Sugar Shock, reviewed the report for WebMD. She was not involved in the rankings.
“I think what this shows you is, the best diet overall is also the best for various conditions,” she says. For instance, the Mediterranean, the number one overall, also got high ranking for diabetes, heart health, and bone and joint health, she points out.
For consumers trying to lose weight: “If you see fast weight loss, that should be a red flag. A healthy diet for weight loss is one you can sustain,” she says.
She’s not a fan of the programs with prepackaged foods. “It takes the guesswork out, but the portion sizes tend to be unsatisfying. They don’t teach you how to deal with some of the challenges [such as realizing an ‘ideal’ portion size].”
How to Use the Report
Schueller’s advice: “Recognize that no diet fits everyone.” When considering which plan to choose, she suggests thinking long-term.
“Whatever we choose has to work in the long run,” she says.
Consumers should consider expenses, meal prep time, and whether the diet fits their lifestyle.
Ideally, she says, the best diet “teaches you smart food preparation and how to make healthy choices, allows the flexibility to be social and eat with groups, whether family or friends.”
Before choosing a diet to follow, consult a medical professional for input on the decision, U.S. News cautions.