Why we rank plant-based diets
You may know an increasing number of people who are taking a plant-based approach to eating, but it’s not a trendy fad. Recent research underscores why many nutritionists have been saying “eat more plants” all along. A plant-based diet can lead to multiple health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, managing weight and contributing to heart health.
U.S. News ranks diets based on input from a panel of diet, nutrition and health experts.
No. 10 Raw Food Diet
Following the raw food diet generally means not eating foods that have been cooked or microwaved, processed, genetically engineered, irradiated or exposed to pesticides or herbicides. Foods to eat on this diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and uncooked grains like oats and barley. Foods to avoid on this diet include anything pasteurized, like milk and other dairy products, as well as caffeine, most store-bought juices and other processed drinks and foods.
Most followers are vegan, but some choose to consume raw animal products, raw, unpasteurized milk and cheese made from unpasteurized milk, sashimi or raw fish and certain kinds of raw meat. Proponents say cooking obliterates most of the vitamins in food and nearly all of the immune-boosting plant nutrients — although scientific evidence to support these claims is lacking.
Learn more about the raw food diet here.
No. 9 Paleo Diet
Based on the premise that if it wasn’t in cavemen’s diets, it shouldn’t be in yours, the paleo diet excludes processed foods, like cookies, chips, refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains — foods that post-date the agricultural revolution. Instead, you’ll load up on foods your prehistoric ancestors consumed, including meat, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies.
The paleo diet can be compatible with a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but it’s challenging given that most of the common vegetarian sources of protein are off limits. But it can be done by focusing on vegetables, fruits, nuts and certain seeds. Ovo-vegetarians could also eat eggs. Pesco-vegetarians can eat fish and still maintain their paleo lifestyle. Learn more about the paleo diet here.
No. 8 Nutritarian Diet
The nutritarian diet emphasizes plant-based and nutrient-dense superfoods, and limits processed foods and proteins from animals. The nutritarian food pyramid emphasizes, in descending order: vegetables; fruits; seeds; nuts and avocados; whole grains and potatoes; eggs; oil; wild or naturally-raised animal products; very little if any processed foods.
Learn more about the nutritarian diet here.
No. 7 Ornish Diet
The Ornish diet divides foods into five categories, from most (group one) to least (group five) healthful. It doesn’t specifically prohibit any foods, but it’s a low-fat way of approaching eating that encourages eating plant-based foods. Foods to eat on this diet include whole-grain breads, soy products like tempeh and edamame, and fruits and vegetables. Foods to limit on this diet include animal products, alcohol and processed foods.
Learn more about the Ornish diet here.
No. 6 Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Dr. Weil’s diet is based on the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes consuming a variety of anti-inflammatory foods and recommends routine intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Foods to eat on this diet include high-fiber, low-glycemic carbs such as lentils, beans and brown rice; fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats like nuts, avocado and extra-virgin olive oil. Foods to avoid on this diet include baked goods containing refined flour; foods high in trans fats, such as cake and donuts; and full-fat dairy products.
Learn more about Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet here.
No. 4 (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet
The Mayo Clinic diet’s food pyramid emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which typically have low energy density — meaning you can eat larger portions of these with fewer calories than some other foods. Foods to eat on this diet include vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans. Foods to avoid or limit on this diet include crackers and chips, sugars and sweets, and frozen foods like pizza.
Learn more about the Mayo Clinic diet here.
No. 4 (tie) Volumetrics Diet
The volumetrics diet focuses on nutrient-dense, lower-calorie density foods with high water content, like fruits, non-starchy vegetables and broth-based soups. Foods to eat on this diet include whole grains, skim dairy products, berries, cauliflower, legumes, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Foods to avoid or limit on this diet include butter, crackers, pretzels and chocolate.
Learn more about the volumetrics diet here.
No. 3 MIND Diet
The MIND — or Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — diet emphasizes eating foods that promote brain health. Foods to eat on this diet include vegetables — especially green leafy vegetables — as well as beans, nuts, berries and whole grains. Foods to avoid or limit on this diet include cheeses, butter and stick margarine, fried foods and pastries.
Learn more about the MIND diet here.
No. 2 Flexitarian Diet
In the flexitarian diet, whose name is a mashup of “flexible” and “vegetarian,” non-meat proteins take center stage, but meat doesn’t necessarily have to be eliminated completely. Foods to eat on this diet include fruits and vegetables, tofu, eggs, whole grains, lentils, beans and chickpeas. Foods to avoid or limit on this diet include processed foods; white rice, pasta and bread; and excessive amounts of alcohol.
Learn more about the flexitarian diet here.
No. 1 Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet allows for a wide range of foods while discouraging the added sugars, sodium and saturated fats often found in the standard American diet. This plant-forward diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices daily. Seafood and fish are encouraged at least twice a week. Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt are OK in moderation. Red meat and sweets are best reserved as occasional treats.
Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.
Best Plant-Based Diets:
No. 1 Mediterranean Diet.
No. 2 Flexitarian Diet.
No. 3 MIND Diet.
No. 4 (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet.
No. 4 (tie) Volumetrics Diet.
No. 6 Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
No. 7 Ornish Diet.
No. 8 Nutritarian Diet.
No. 9 Paleo Diet.
No. 10 Raw Food Diet.
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Update 01/03/23: This story was previously published and has been updated with the new ranking information.