Ranking diets: Which really help you slim down? Which are the easiest to stick to?

WASHINGTON — Looking for a new diet to start the new year? You may want to reach for the salmon, couscous and red wine. And cut the salt.

A new ranking of the “best diets” compiled by U.S. News and World Report lists the Mediterranean diet and a special low-sodium diet designed to lower blood pressure as the top eating plans, based on expert evaluations.

This is the second year in a row that the DASH diet, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, claimed the top spot on the U.S. News rankings. The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes seafood, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables, came in second place in last year’s rankings.

U.S. News, which said an estimated 45 million Americans will try a diet this year, has been scoring and ranking healthy eating plans for the past eight years. This year’s rankings includes 40 diet plans across nine categories, including best weight-loss diets, easiest diets to follow, best diets for diabetes and best diets for heart health.

“The diets that do well — the highest performers — are the diets that are really nutritionally sound, that are backed up by robust research, and that are designed not only to help people lose weight but to help prevent and maintain a whole host of chronic diseases, from diabetes, to heart diseases, to even improving brain health,” Angela Haupt, assistant managing editor of health at U.S. News and World Report, told WTOP.

Both the DASH and Mediterranean diets are relatively easy to follow, too, Haupt said.

The flexitarian diet — in which dieters adhere to a vegetarian diet with some exceptions — ranked as the No. 3 best overall diet.

Among the best diets specifically for weight loss are the Weight Watchers, Volumetrics and Jenny Craig diet plans.

“These diets are all great choices for weight loss, because they are safe and nutritious, and they all keep the calorie count exactly in line where you need to be in order to lose weight,” Haupt said.

The Weight Watchers plan, for example, provides dieters customized eating plans based on its special points system.

An effective weight-loss diet plan should be relatively easy to follow, “because the more likely you are to stick to the plan, the more likely you are to keep that weight off for the long haul,” Haupt said.

The U.S. News rankings are based on assessments by an expert panel of nutritionists, dietary consultants and doctors specializing in diabetes, heart health and weight loss. The experts scored each of the diets on factors, such as how easy they are to comply with, likelihood of losing significant weight in both the short- and the long-term and how effective they are in combating heart disease and diabetes.

Some popular “diets of the moment” ranked poorly on the U.S. News list. The Keto diet, which has won devotees in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, emphasizes high-fat, low-carb foods. It tied for the worst diet overall, Haupt said.

“Just because a diet is popular, just because you’re hearing a lot about it and a lot of people are going on it, does not necessarily mean that it is a good idea. And even if it does not accomplish weight loss in the short term, that doesn’t translate to weight loss for the long term.”

The U.S. News website contains more information about the diets ranked and how they performed against each element in the expert assessment.

“The whole point of what we’re doing is to … arm people with all of this information, all of this guidance so that they can choose the diet that is right for them,” Haupt said. “Because at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing. And we know that people are going on diets for a whole host of different reasons. It isn’t just for weight loss.”

Best diets for weight loss

  • 1. Weight Watchers
  • 2. Volumetrics
  • 3. Jenny Craig
  • 3. Vegan Diet (tie)

Easiest diets to follow

  • 1. Mediterranean Diet
  • 2. Flexitarian Diet
  • 2. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best diets for diabetes

  • 1. Mediterranean Diet
  • 2. DASH Diet
  • 3. Flexitarian Diet
  • 3. Vegan Diet (tie)
  • 3. Volumetrics (tie)
  • 3. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best heart-healthy diets

  • 1. DASH Diet
  • 2. Mediterranean Diet
  • 2. Ornish diet (tie)

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

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