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When I heard that U.S. News evaluated 40 of the most popular diets of 2018 and ranked them from best to worst, I was skeptical. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m used to fad diets getting their time in the spotlight (think cabbage soup diet) until another trend catches on. But, I was pleased that the panel of diet and nutrition experts that evaluated the overall best diets focused on what we know about good nutrition and health, not the latest craze. What’s not so surprising is that the best diets all have common elements. And the worst diets do, too.
Common Elements of the Top 5 Diets
1. Focus on fruits and vegetables.
This recommendation has ample scientific support and has been around for a long time. I’m a big proponent of including fruits and veggies at every meal, but when my kids were young and picky, I did find ways to sneak in vegetables.
2. Recommend whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat or fat-free dairy.
The best diets don’t cut out any of these foods, instead they explain how to incorporate the best choices.
3. Allow alcohol in moderation.
Most suggest one drink for women and two for men per day as an upper limit if you drink at all. Looking for inspiration? These skinny cocktails let you keep calories in check while you celebrate.
4. Require less saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Depending the diet, more or less emphasis was placed on the restrictions, but they all aimed to reduce saturated fat, sweets and too much salt overall.
5. Tout exercise, but you don’t have to become a gym rat.
This is encouraging if you aren’t a fan of exercise. The best diets recommended moderate activity on a regular basis–like walking, hiking, tennis and more.
Common Elements of the Worst 5 Diets
1. Eliminate whole food groups.
If you’re considering a diet plan that has you cutting out carbs or starchy vegetables, you’ll be missing out on the nutrients that those foods provide. These diets can actually be harmful.
2. Have lots of rules.
A good diet has to be easy to follow and if there are too many rules, it won’t work for long-term weight loss.
3. Almost impossible to follow when dining out.
Dining out has become a way of life and part of our social fabric. In order for a diet to be successful, there have to be options away from home (although these restaurant copycats may have you dining at home more often).
4. Meant to be short term.
Diets that are only meant to last for a set time period like 2 weeks or 30 days, aren’t going to provide lasting weight loss. It’s best to make life-long changes for optimum health.
5. Include different phases.
Typically, crash diets start out incredibly strict to promote fast weight loss before tapering off to more manageable “rules.” If you want to lose weight and keep it off, aim for losing just 1 to 2 pounds per week.
So, maybe the best diet isn’t a diet at all. Following the common threads of the best diets is a great place to start. Any diet plan that is really restrictive or includes different phases probably isn’t going to provide long-lasting health benefits. What won? The DASH diet tied with the Mediterranean diet for the #1 overall best diet. These are some tasty ways to get started.