There's the Atkins diet, the Jenny Craig way and the long-standing Weight Watchers try. These weight loss plans have been around for years, but it seems every new year brings a new diet with it.
By MELISSA SCHUPMANN
The Kansas City Star
So which diets actually work? U.S. News selected 32 diets, new and old, and ranked them with feedback from health experts. Criteria for top-rated diets included whether they were easy to follow, nutritious, safe, and effective for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease. Here are their findings:
1. DASH Diet
Although the DASH Diet is not an all-purpose diet, it received the highest ranking for its "nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes" and its role in supporting heart health.
2. TLC Diet
Created by the National Institutes of Health, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC, diet promotes cardiovascular health. The diet focuses primarily on cutting back on saturated fats and limiting daily dietary cholesterol intake.
Experts ranked the Mayo Clinic diet high for its safety, nutrition and as a tool against diabetes. The plan stresses breaking bad eating habits and creating new ones that will build a more healthy lifestyle. Like Weight Watchers, the second part of the diet includes keeping track of calories eaten each day based on weight loss goals.
Deemed "sensible," the Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and "other healthy fare." The diet is based on the idea that those who live in countries along the Mediterranean Sea live longer and suffer less than Americans because of their active lifestyle and diet low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat.
According to experts, Weight Watchers is "nutritionally sound and safe." The diet was ranked higher than others for how easy it is to follow and its effectiveness in long- and short-term weight loss. Based on a point system, Weight Watchers doesn't restrict specific food groups but instead stresses calorie counting according to your gender, height, weight and age.
The Flexitarian diet received high scores among experts for its nutritional completeness, easiness to follow and long-term weight loss. The term "flexitarian," which combines flexible and vegetarian, stresses that you don't have to completely eliminate meat to reap the benefits of being a vegetarian. The diet includes five food groups: new meat (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and eggs), fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy and sugar and spice.
Experts were impressed by the Volumetrics' positive effect on heart health and diabetes. The diet takes in account the density of each food and divides them into groups. It stresses eating more low-density foods, like non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk and broth-based soup, which will leave you full while consuming fewer calories.
8. Jenny Craig
Experts rated the Jenny Craig diet high for being easy to follow, nutritionally safe and the emotional support offered to members. The diet is pretty basic, stressing fewer calories, less fat and smaller portions. Experts were lukewarm on its ability to bolster heart health and help diabetics, and noted the cost of membership could be a hindrance to some.
Contestants on "The Biggest Loser" often lose hundreds of pounds, but experts said the diet based on the show was "not overly special." The diet focuses on regular meals, filling calories from fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grains. It also emphasizes portion control, keeping a food journal and regular exercise.
Although the Ornish diet was rated high for being nutritionally sound, safe and heart-healthy, experts said the diet was hard to adhere to with its severe fat restrictions. The Ornish diet divides food into five groups from most to least healthful. It's then up to the dieter to decide how to fill up their grocery cart based on the food groups they most commonly eat.
Not so impressive on short- and long-term weight loss, the Asian diet was lauded for its nutrition and safety, but not much else. The diet revolves around regular consumption of rice, noodles, breads, millet, corn, and other whole grains, along with fruits, veggies, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. Fish and shellfish (or dairy) are optional each day, and eggs, poultry, and something sweet are allowed once a week. Red meat is allowed once a month.
Experts believe the vegetarian diet is decent at producing weight loss, but more importantly promotes heart health and nutritional completeness. There are different versions of vegetarians; some exclude all animal products, while others opt to eat dairy and eggs. However most nix all meat, poultry and fish and turn to other food groups to get essential nutrients.
The Anti-Inflammatory diet is nutritionally sound, experts said, but its complicated approach makes it hard to follow and it may have unsubstantiated claims like the benefits of supplement use. Its plan is based around a daily intake of 2,000 to 3,000 calories, depending on your gender, size, and activity level. About 40 to 50 percent of your calories will come from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 20 to 30 percent from protein.
13. Slim-Fast (tie)
The Slim-Fast diet scored low on heart health, but outscored a number of other diets on weight loss, being easy to follow and its structure. It stresses restricting calories and portion sizes and substitutes its shakes, protein bars and snacks for breakfast and lunch. The Slim-Fast diet emphasizes 1,200 calories per day.
Panelists believe the Spark Solution will lead most dieters to weight loss with its principals of well-rounded meals, calorie reduction and exercise. A few experts pointed out that the diet is "not particularly novel," and even more were not convinced of the long-term benefits of the Spark Solution. The diet offers a guidance book for the first two weeks and maps out specific low-calorie meal plans for dieters to follow.
The Flat Belly diet scored high in safety and nutrition, but mediocre in all other areas. The diet centers around eating monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, with each meal to target and destroy fat in the belly. MUFAs are found in foods like nuts, seeds, chocolate, avocados, and olive oiland the Flat Belly Diet calls for a precisely specified serving at every meal and snack.
Nutrisystem is safe, easier to follow than other diets and has few nutritional deficiencies, according to experts. As a heart diet, however, it's not particularly impressive. The diet is a members-only option, as it determines portions, prepares and delivers your meals, and tells you what to eat and when.
18. Abs Diet (tie)
Experts found the Abs diet moderately effective for quick weight loss and middle of the road in most other areas. They took issue with the company's claim that dieters can drop up to 12 pounds of belly fat in two weeks and questioned the evidence behind some of its tactics. The Abs Diet is a six-week plan based on six meals a day. Each meal must contain at least two of the 12 Abs Diet Powerfoods, such as almonds, beans, spinach, instant oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, raspberries, olive oil, and whole grains.
Although it was acknowledged for its benefits for heart health and diabetes control and prevention, experts faulted the Engine 2 diet for being unnecessarily restrictive and "gimmicky," and questioned some of its claims. The diet is broken up into two categories: "firefighter" or "fire cadet." If youre a firefighter, you eliminate all animal products, processed foods, and vegetable oils from your diet. If you're a fire cadet, the plan is more gradual.
Although the South Beach Diet earned positive ratings for being able to produce rapid weight loss, its restrictions can make it difficult for dieters to maintain weight loss, experts said. It also did not rank high on its ability to fight heart disease or diabetes. The diet is broken up into 3 phases, and focuses on replacing bad carbs with good carbs and bad fats with good fats.
18. Vegan Diet (tie)
Experts gave veganism fairly high marks as a diabetes or heart disease diet. However it is extremely restrictive, doesnt offer built-in social support, and may not provide enough of some nutrients. Vegan diets eliminate all animal products, also nixing refried beans with lard, margarine made with whey, and anything with gelatin. Vegans typically eat fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
A "healthier version of the Atkins diet," the Eco-Atkins diet was ranked low for its difficulty and lack of guidance. The diet calls for 31 percent of daily calories to come from plant proteins, 43 percent from plant fats, and 26 percent from carbs. Beyond that there are no strict rules.
Experts scored the Glycemic-Index diet particularly low on long-term weight loss, heart benefits, and ease of adherence. The diet's ratings in nutrition and safety were relatively strong, however. In the plan, dieters identify where different carbs fall on the 0-100 GI index, then fill up on low-GI carbs (55 and under), eat smaller amounts of medium-GI carbs (56 to 69), and mostly nibble on high-GI carbs (70 and up).
22. Zone Diet (tie)
The Zone diet was rated relatively low in all categories, as one expert said it is "unnecessary and tedious to structure every meal around specific macronutrient thresholds." The diet restricts women to 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day. Dieters are told to eat five times a day: three meals and two snacks. Each meal contains 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent healthy fat.
Experts gave little validity to the Macrobiotic diet, claiming following the plan is a challenge, it's an extreme change from the standard American diet and is too strict. The diet is based on what your body "tells" you to eat, although it stresses natural, organically and locally grown, whole foods. Whole grainsbrown rice, barley, oats, rye, buckwheatmake up the bulk of the days foods.
The Medifast diet scored above average in short-term weight loss but was ranked lower in most other categories. Most Medifast dieters use a 5&1 plan. It provides six meals a day, five of them 100-calorie Medifast productsa shake, bar, oatmeal, soup, or even cheese puffs. The sixth meal is a lean-and-green entrée you prepare yourself, built around 5 to 7 ounces of lean protein and three servings of non-starchy veggies.
Experts weren't impressed with the Acid Alkaline diet, which received mediocre marks in all categories. It performed particularly poorly in areas like overall weight loss and easiness to follow. The diet revolves around helping your body control your pH through diet. Sticking to a strict Acid Alkaline Diet means 80 percent of what you eat should be alkalizing foods, with 20 percent acid-forming.
28. The Fast Diet
The concern among experts about the diet's lack of nutritional guidance on non-fasting days contributed to its poor performance. "This could lead to poor food choices or lack of portion control on non-fast days," one expert said. The diet follows a pattern of eating often referred to as the 5:2 diet you eat normally for five days of the week and cut your calories to about 25 percent of normal intake on two nonconsecutive days of the week.
Many experts found the popular low-carb Atkins diet leaves much to be desired, at least as an all-purpose diet. It ranked high in short-term weight loss but low in every other area. In the diet, sugars and simple starches like potatoes, white bread, and rice are all but squeezed out; protein and fat like chicken, meat, and eggs are embraced.
Experts gave the raw food diet solid marks for weight loss, both short- and long-term, but considered it all but impossible to follow and its nutritional completeness and safety were concerns. Although there are variations of the diet, typically about 75 to 80 percent of what you eat each day will be plant-based foods never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
31. Dukan Diet (tie)
According to experts, the Dukan Diet is too restrictive, with lots of rules, and theres no evidence it works. One expert described the diet as "idiotic." In the diet, you'll move from the all-you-can-eat, pure protein Attack phase to Cruise, which allows selected vegetables on selected days. In the third phase, Consolidation, youll add more foods that by now youre longing for, such as cheese and bread. By the last phase, Permanent Stabilization, youre relatively free.
31. Paleo Diet (tie)
Experts took issue with the diet on every measure. Regardless of the goal weight loss, heart health or finding a diet that's easy to follow most experts concluded that it would be better for dieters to look elsewhere because of its restrictiveness. The Paleo diet is often referred to as the "caveman diet," as it eliminates all processed foods, including refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains.