But even among these few approaches, there are an overwhelming number of different programs available, and finding the right one can prove challenging. After all, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan that’s perfect for everyone.
Heart Health in the Time of COVID-19
How to Pick the Best Diet Plan for You
Before choosing a health or weight loss approach, it’s important to do some self-evaluation by asking yourself some questions.
What Can You Live With in the Long Term?
“There are many diet plans on the market today that promote good health,” says?Emily Kyle, RDN, who is in private practice in Rochester, New York. “The key is finding one that does not cause you stress or agony.” Ask yourself questions such as: Would the diet guidelines make you happy? Anxious??Stressed? Are you able to follow them long term? “Factors such as enjoyment, flexibility, and longevity should be strongly considered,” adds Kyle.
If the diet is a quick fix rather than one that promotes lasting lifestyle changes, this could pose a problem. In particular, extreme diets that promise big weight loss up front aren’t always sustainable — and you may end up?overeating?or even binge eating if you feel deprived. “Consider if the diet’s habits are ones you can continue throughout your lifetime, not just 21 or 30 days,” says?Angie Asche, RD, a sports dietitian in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Which Diet Program Is Best for Your Overall Health?
Some diet plans, such as the MIND diet and the DASH diet, are meant to focus on certain areas of health — and weight loss may be a bonus. Others are created with weight loss as a primary goal. “It is important to remember that we are all very unique individuals,” says Kyle. “We all have different states of health and different lifestyles, which could affect?what diet plan is best for us. That means that you should not be considering what is working for your friends or family members — and instead should pay attention to what works for you individually.”
Many diet plans cut out entire food groups, which can create?nutrient deficiencies?as well as health problems. For instance, if the diet is very low in carbohydrates and you have?type 1 diabetes?or?type 2 diabetes, it’s probably not a good fit. And if it’s too restrictive and you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s not a good idea, either. Keep in mind that?pregnancy?is not a time for weight loss. Speak with your doctor before making any changes to your diet if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Is the Diet Approach Safe for You to Follow?
Make sure that the diet has been studied extensively for safety — and discuss any changes with your physician or registered dietitian?before beginning a new diet.?(If you don’t have a dietitian, find one in your area at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics?website.) And do a self-check to ensure the diet fits with your own values and preferences.
“Don't like eating meat?” asks Ginger Hultin, RDN, a dietitian in private practice in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Then don't be paleo! Travel a lot and rely on eating out? The DASH diet may end in frustration for you.” The bottom line: The diet you choose needs to be safe and effective, while taking into account your lifestyle.
To lessen the confusion and get on the fast track to success, we got the skinny on some of the most popular diets out there today. So read on to see which plan might be best for you — and which diets to run away from at full speed!
Popular Diet Plans Backed by Some Scientific Evidence
Ketogenic Diet (Keto)
Although?the keto diet is popular among people with type 2 diabetes, you should avoid this diet if you have?type 1 diabetes?or other specific metabolic disorders.
One of this diet's biggest hurdles? Saying goodbye to bread and other carbs. “It can be challenging to make sure to hit the low levels recommended for?carbohydrates,” says Hultin. “This diet likely means a lot of planning ahead and bringing food with you to parties and events.”
You'll also want to be prepared for some of the plan's notable side effects, like keto-related diarrhea and constipation, fatigue, mood swings, headaches, and bad breath. These symptoms are a common part of the so-called keto?flu, which happens as your body adjusts to burning fat rather than carbs?for fuel, experts say.
“A lot of people think the foundation of a paleo diet is high-fat meat, but I suggest that it’s vegetables,” says Hultin. The concept is to eat only foods — including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, fruits, and vegetables — that would have been available to our Paleolithic ancestors. This means grains, dairy, legumes, added sugar, and salt are all no-no’s.
This low-carb, high-protein diet has been around for decades. In fact, some say the?keto diet?is the new?Atkins, though?these popular low-carb plans are markedly different.
“This is a great way of eating that I highly recommend to many clients, and I even model in my own life,” says Elizabeth Shaw, RDN, who is in private practice in San Diego and is the co-author of?Fertility Foods Cookbook. “Since the premise of the diet is designed to help people who have high blood pressure, low-sodium foods are recommended. But considering that most Americans exceed their daily sodium levels anyway, it’s not surprising that dietitians recommend this style of eating for treating many different conditions, such as heart disease and obesity.”
Following this type of eating plan can result in certain nutritional deficiencies, and children, as well as pregnant or lactating women should avoid it. “The low-carb diet is best for individuals who truly enjoy savory diets that involve more animal-based products and less sweet, refined carbohydrates,” notes Kyle.
There are many ways to do intermittent fasting — ranging from fasting for a number of hours each day up to an entire 24-hour fasting period one or two times a week. “If you're trying to kick a habit like eating late into the night, then stopping eating earlier in the evening and fasting overnight could be beneficial for you,” says Hultin. “There are many types of intermittent fasting, so ensuring you pick one that works for you and your lifestyle is important.”
“Intermittent fasting can be really challenging if you have an ever-changing schedule,” adds Hultin. “If you're traveling and crossing time zones, it could be very difficult to follow. It might be best for people with more stability in their lives.” Intermittent fasting isn’t safe for people with type 2 diabetes, children, pregnant or lactating women, or anyone with a history of an eating disorder.
If you want to kick intermittent fasting up a notch, you may consider the Dubrow?diet, popularized by the husband-and-wife duo Terry and Heather Dubrow. On this diet, you'll fast for 16 hours and eat for 8, also called the 16:8 eating plan, a type of intermittent fasting. Over three phases, you will also limit calories, fat, and carbohydrates, which may aid weight loss, say registered dietitians.
A plus of this eating plan is that it takes a whole-foods approach, and calls for avoiding processed and packaged foods, along with sources of refined carbs and desserts in general. One minus is that the plan limits healthy complex carbs.
WW (Formerly Weight Watchers)
In September 2018 Weight Watchers International announced that it would be changing its name to WW, in what many outlets dubbed a rebranding effort. Their goal: to make the eating and lifestyle approach about wellness rather than only weight loss.
South Beach Diet
Like other low-carb diets, the South Beach Diet isn’t appropriate for pregnant or lactating women, or children.
Vegan and Vegetarian Diet
“A vegan or vegetarian diet is best for individuals who do not like to consume animal products, whether for health reasons, environmental reasons, or animal welfare reasons,” says Kyle. “There are many health benefits of consuming more plant-based foods, such as a reduction in chronic disease.”
Raw Vegan Diet
You can think of think of the Flexitarian Diet as a plan for part-time vegetarians. With this approach, plant proteins, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits and veggies will be staples, with the occasional meat dish thrown in.
Because the diet isn’t as restrictive as a traditional vegan or vegetarian diet, it may be simpler to stick with — hence its No. 2 ranking in?U.S. News & World Report’s Easiest Diets to Follow category. Because you’ll be eating meat some of the time, you may also be at a lower risk of the aforementioned nutrient deficiencies that vegetarians and vegans may face.
“Diets such as the Mediterranean diet are sustainable, have been shown to improve health, and aren’t restrictive or short term,” says Asche.
The Mediterranean diet is meant to reflect the eating pattern of people living in the Mediterranean. So think plenty of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, nuts, beans, legumes — and only a moderate amount of red wine and dairy.
“The Whole30 diet does not allow for any whole grains or legumes, which are extremely beneficial to your health,” says Asche. “Whole grains are rich in fiber and micronutrients and are linked to helping to lower your risk of heart disease. The fact that the diet eliminates nutritious foods is a big red flag for me.”
Mayo Clinic Diet
This diet is a scientifically sound way to lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
Unlike commercial diet plans, intuitive eating doesn't require you to buy packaged food from a specific brand. And unlike fad diets, it doesn't ask you to count macronutrients or calories. Instead, this approach asks you to eat what you want but check in regularly with your body, so you know when you're full and need to stop eating. It sounds simple, but it can be a sustainable way to approach healthy eating, for weight loss or otherwise, say?Evelyn Tribole, RDN, a private practitioner in Newport Beach, California, and Elyse Resch, RD, who coined the term "intuitive eating" in 1995. Tribole and Resch?coauthored the groundbreaking book?Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works and their more recent book, The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship With Food.
The Jenny Craig Diet
The Jenny Craig diet is a weight loss program that combines regular food delivery with one-on-one support from a coach to help you lose weight. Each day, you’ll have three Jenny Craig meals, two Jenny Craig snacks, and one snack of your choice. Then once a week, you’ll meet with your coach, who will answer your questions and provide support and motivation. The Jenny Craig diet also incorporates some elements of intermittent fasting — you’ll eat during a 12-hour window, and fast for the remaining 12 hours of the day. Thanks to the combination of intermittent fasting and low-calorie meals, you are likely to lose some weight while following the Jenny Craig eating plan.
While you are likely to lose weight while following the SlimFast diet, the plan’s reliance upon SlimFast shakes may be unappealing or repetitive if packaged drinks like these don’t appeal to you. Plus, the shakes and SlimFast snacks are highly processed — which means you’ll need to balance your diet with healthy whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to lose weight healthfully on this plan.
Diet Fads to Think Twice About Before Trying
This diet claims you can lose up to 10 lb in one week, a loss that can be dangerously fast.
Although potentially less harmful than some of the other fad diets out there, this type of eating plan may promote binge eating or other forms of disordered eating patterns.
Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
Proponents of this increasingly popular diet approach believe that consuming apple cider vinegar — essentially fermented apple cider — will help with both weight loss?and blood sugar control.
“Although there are studies showing benefits of adding apple cider vinegar to your diet, there’s not enough evidence to show that consuming it on a daily basis promotes weight loss,” says Asche. “It is also highly acidic, which could cause irritation in some people, especially if consumed without being diluted or in large amounts.”
Cabbage Soup Diet
This diet has no research to support its benefits, and revolves around eating plain cabbage soup three times daily, plus other foods on certain days of the diet. For instance, on the first day you can eat fruit except for bananas, and on the second day you can have?nonstarchy vegetables?but no fruit. The claim? You’ll lose 10 lb in just seven days, proponents say.
While it’s true you might be successful in losing weight, it likely won’t last. Once you return to your normal eating habits, you’ll likely put the weight back on — and then some.
French doctor?Pierre Dukan, MD, conceived this high-protein diet, whose proponents boast that it can lead you to lose 10 lb within the first week of the plan.
The Dukan?diet consists of four phases, each with a rigid set of rules. The first phase, the “Attack Phase,” for instance, allows you to eat nothing but protein sources such as beef, chicken, eggs, and liver.
The diet may present nutritional deficiencies — and it should be avoided by anyone with kidney problems because it’s high in protein.
Cleanses and Detoxes
Ranging from just-juice to just-tea cleanses, these typically short-term plans can be dangerous. “Detoxes and cleanses are usually low in calories, protein, and fiber, all nutrients that our bodies need to function,” says?Alissa Rumsey, RD, who is in private practice in New York City.?“These plans leave you feeling hungry and cranky, causing a rebound food binge once you stop the detox.”
Plus, a healthy body does a fantastic job of detoxing itself. Bottom line? Eat a healthy diet that provides enough energy (aka calories) for you to get through the day.
Although eating more fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods promotes good health, the human body does a good job of regulating its pH on its own. Eating alkaline foods cannot sway that.
“The alkaline diet often has a focus on eating lots of fresh produce and unprocessed foods, which could be a good thing,” says Hultin. “However, keep in mind that this is not an evidence-based therapeutic diet. When people take it too far — for instance, drinking baking soda — or become too restrictive or obsessive over food choices, it can definitely turn negative.”
The diet may be low in certain nutrients, including calcium and potassium, and it is not appropriate for anyone who has kidney disease or a heart condition.
Blood Type Diet
It’s no surprise that this diet, also called the Eat Right 4 Your Type diet, focuses on an eating style based on your blood type.
For instance, if you’re type O, you’d eat high-protein diet focusing on poultry, fish, and other lean meats. The diet claims better digestion and absorption of foods, although there’s no scientific evidence to back this up.
Type B? You’re supposed to cut out corn, buckwheat, wheat, lentils, tomatoes, peanuts, and sesame seeds.
The diet doesn’t take chronic health conditions into consideration — and you might develop nutritional deficiencies based on its restrictive nature.
One benefit: “The blood type diet?gets people to dump processed junky food,” says?Robin Foroutan, RDN, an integrative dietitian in New York City and a spokesperson for the AND.
And because it doesn’t specify which foods you should be eating and avoiding, it may lead to nutrition deficiencies, experts warn.
Be sure to consult your doctor before trying the CICO diet.
The Body Reset Diet
The Carnivore Diet
If you like eating meat and want to lose weight, you might be tempted to try this recent extreme diet fad that proponents have made some pretty outrageous claims about. One: that eating nothing but meat can cure you of autoimmune diseases. The problem is that there’s no good research to support that notion, or any other health claim.
Regardless of any possible benefits you might see, this restrictive approach is definitely one you’ll want to ask your doc about before you even consider diving in.
Boiled Egg Diet
Because you're allowed to eat foods besides boiled eggs, this diet isn't sustainable or sensible for long-term health and weight loss, registered dietitians?say.
Proponents of this diet claim that it can help eliminate extra yeast and "balance" the gut. Yet there is a lack of research on the Candida diet, and there is no proof that it can treat yeast infections or thrush, which are two conditions caused by Candida overgrowth. In fact, experts say that if any of your symptoms improve as a result of following this cleanse, it's likely because of a simple improvement in your eating habits.
Body Type Diet
Body type diet advocates believe that knowing your body type can help you determine the best diet and exercise plan for optimal health and weight. There are three so-called body types: ectomorphs, or lean and lanky people; mesomorphs, or those who have a muscular, hourglass frame; and endomorphs, or people who are often described as curvy or stocky. The book?Just Your Type: The Ultimate Guide to Eating and Training Right for Your Body Type suggests specific eating and fitness regimens for each type. Yet the premise of eating based on your body shape or where you carry fat lacks rigorous research, so keep this major limitation in mind if you want to try the approach, and be sure to work with your healthcare team if you choose to follow it.
The Golo Diet
The Shibboleth Diet
The Mayr Method
That being said, this is not a feasible weight loss plan for most people, mainly because you will need to travel to a Mayr clinic to receive treatment — which can be costly, time-consuming, and subject to travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, while you’re likely to make progress on such an immersive retreat, it may be difficult to sustain your weight loss once the retreat has ended and you return to your normal routine. Last but not least, many of the reported therapies used on these retreats, including laxatives, are not a safe way to lose weight, some experts warn.
The Sirtfood Diet
Additional reporting by Bonnie Taub-Dix, Sheryl Huggins Salomon, Katie Robinson, Jessica Migala, Melinda Carstensen, and Laura McArdle.
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