By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
Jan. 9, 2013 -- The best diet plan for overall health may not cost a thing.
A new ranking of diets by U.S. News & World Report gives top honors for best overall diet to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
Originally developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to lower blood pressure, the diet plan is available free online.
Weight Watchers won best weight loss diet as well as easiest to follow and best commercial diet.
The DASH diet tied with The Biggest Loser diet as the best diet plan to prevent and manage diabetes. The DASH diet was also named best diet for healthy eating, while the Mediterranean diet won best plant-based diet.
Ranking the Best Diets
The panel rated each diet's effectiveness in the following seven categories:
- How easy it is to follow
- Short-term weight loss
- Long-term weight loss
- Nutritional completeness
- Diabetes prevention and management
- Heart disease prevention
Cost of the diet was not considered in the rankings.
Researchers then converted the experts' ratings to scores and stars from 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest).
The results showed many diets that topped the rankings are already household names, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig. But others, such as the DASH and TLC diets, are lesser-known plans developed by government researchers.
Here are the top overall and best weight loss diets, and what the experts had to say about them. There were three-way ties in the top five in both categories based on the diets' star ratings.
Best Overall Diets
1. DASH Diet (4.1 stars) -- The blood-pressure-lowering diet beat out other better-known diets for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent and control diabetes, and promote heart health.
2. TLC Diet (4.0 stars) -- The National Institutes of Health created the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet to lower cholesterol levels. Experts say it's a well-rounded, healthy diet, but it requires a "do-it-yourself" approach as opposed to the hand-holding provided by some commercial diet plans.
3. Mayo Clinic Diet (3.9 stars) -- This diet plan got high marks for its safety and nutrition. Experts say it is moderately effective for weight loss.
3. Mediterranean Diet (3.9 stars) -- With an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and other healthy foods, the diet got some of the highest scores for nutrition. But experts say some Americans might have a problem sticking to a diet that requires giving up processed foods and sugary drinks.
3. Weight Watchers (3.9 stars) -- Experts said the commercial weight loss diet plan was the easiest to stick to thanks to a strong emphasis on emotional support.
Best Weight-Loss Diets
1. Weight Watchers (3.8 stars) -- The diet plan uses a points system to help people lose weight and keep it off. Weight Watchers beat other diet plans for both short-term and long-term weight loss in experts' ratings.
2. The Biggest Loser Diet (3.5 stars) -- The diet based on the television show of the same name is built around healthy food and regular exercise. Experts said it required a lot of grunt work and may be hard to maintain for long-term weight loss.
2. Jenny Craig (3.5 stars) -- Experts rated Jenny Craig highly effective as a weight-loss diet, but a few questioned whether dieters can expect to keep the weight off after they are weaned off the diet's prepackaged, portion-controlled foods.
2. Raw Food Diet (3.5 stars) -- This diet is dominated by plant-based foods never heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the raw food diet delivers both short-term and long-term weight loss, experts say such a restrictive, labor-intensive diet isn't for everyone.
3. Volumetrics (3.4 stars) -- The diet is based on eating foods that are low in calories and high in volume to help people feel full while losing weight. It got high marks for nutrition, but the diet requires lengthy meal preparation.
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SOURCE: U.S. News & World Report: "How We Rated 29 Eating Plans."
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