Best plant-based diets

Why we rank plant-based diets

Your neighbor gave up meat, your cousin’s gone vegetarian and now your doctor’s suggesting you follow suit to lower your weight and blood pressure and to possibly prevent chronic diseases. Clearly, plant-based diets are soaring in popularity among Americans. That’s why U.S. News devotes an entire category of our Best Diets rankings just to them. What follows are the top plant-based diets ranked in descending order.

No. 1 Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is the No. 1 plant-based diet and tops the list for best diet overall. Expert panelists believe this is a heart-healthy diet that’s also easy to follow. The plan, which emphasizes produce and nuts and limits red meat, sugar and saturated fats, is also considered ideal for healthy eating. It’s both safe and nutritionally sound.

What will I eat on the Mediterranean diet?

This diet is more of an eating plan, and followers can get guidance from the Mediterranean Food Pyramid. According to the pyramid, you’ll load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes. You’ll also indulge in fish and seafood, and eat a bit of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. You’ll say goodbye to most red meat and sweets.

No. 2 Flexitarian diet

Overall, the expert panelists thought this was a great option for a plant-based approach, and they gave Flexitarian particularly high marks in nutritional completeness, safety and heart health. They also deemed the diet easy to follow because it emphasizes adding foods, rather than extreme restrictions. Dieters don’t ditch meat completely because — as the name suggests — they’re essentially flexible vegetarians.

What will I eat on the Flexitarian diet?

Get ready to add “new meat” to your diet, including tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs. You’ll also eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy and even sugar and spice. A dessert that fits this diet’s guidelines, for example, is Mexican hot chocolate: skim or soy milk, unsweetened cocoa, honey and cinnamon.

No. 3 (tie) Nordic diet

This diet emphasizes seasonal and locally sourced options, with a concern for protecting the environment. Though experts cautioned this diet may be hard to follow — particularly for the time-consuming meal prep involved — it promotes increased intake of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting meat and processed foods, which will lead to improved health and potential weight loss.

What will I eat on the Nordic diet?

A typical plate on the Nordic diet is half-filled with veggies, fruit and berries. A quarter of the plate would consist of low-glycemic index foods, such as whole-grain breads or quinoa. The remaining quarter would be filled with protein-rich foods, including tofu or legumes like beans or lentils for plant-based dieters.

No. 3 (tie) Ornish diet

One of the reasons folks opt for a plant-based diet is that there’s evidence it can ward off chronic diseases. The Ornish diet, for example, shares the No. 1 spot among all diets for heart health and is tied at No. 7 for Best Diabetes Diet. For guidance, dieters follow Dean Ornish’s book “The Spectrum,” which covers nutrition, exercise, stress management and emotional support.

What will I eat on the Ornish diet?

If you’re on the Ornish diet plan geared toward reversing heart disease, say goodbye to saturated fats and nearly all animal products, save for egg whites and one cup per day of nonfat milk or yogurt. You’ll be chowing down on fiber and complex carbs, which means fruits, vegetables, salmon and whole-wheat bread products.

No. 3 (tie) Vegetarian diet

This approach certainly impressed our panel of experts, who awarded strong scores for short-term weight loss, heart health and nutritional completeness. Vegetarians can vary on which kind of eating plan they follow. Most are lacto-ovo, in that they give up meat, fish and poultry, but still eat dairy products and eggs.

What will I eat on a vegetarian diet?

Stock up on tofu. Other meat substitutes, like soy, will also become a staple. While fruits and vegetables will make up much of your diet, it should be more nutritionally sound than daily salads. Work dairy, protein-rich legumes and whole grains into meals. So instead of a lunch of vegetable soup, consider vegetable-bean chili with a breadstick and glass of milk.

The Best Plant-Based Diets

To recap, the Best Plant-Based Diets are:

— Mediterranean diet.

— Flexitarian diet.

— Nordic diet.

— Ornish diet.

— Vegetarian diet.

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The Best Plant-Based Diets originally appeared on

Update 01/04/21: This slideshow was originally published at an earlier date.

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