Diet Bake-Off, Round Two: DASH Diet Nabs the Top Spot In New Rankings

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In its first ever ranking of 20 popular diets, U.S. News & World Report rated the DASH diet No. 1.

The what, you say? The DASH diet, for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is designed primarily to lower blood pressure rather than to reduce weight — though it helps do that too. (A study published on Monday, found that teen girls who adhered to the DASH diet gained less weight than other girls over 10 years.) It emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and limits high-fat, high-calorie sweets and red meat. It also restricts salt. U.S. News ranked DASH the best overall diet and the best diet for diabetes.

The comprehensive ratings were based on expert reviews of profiles compiled by a U.S. News team, who aggregated data from medical journals, government reports and other sources to create in-depth descriptions of each dietary plan — how it works, how well it works, its risks, etc.

(More on Diet Psych Out: Why ‘Health’ Food Is Less Satisfying, Even If It’s Sinful)

A panel of 22 diet and nutrition experts, including specialists in diabetes and heart disease, then reviewed the profiles and rated each diet’s merits in seven categories:

  • short-term weight loss
  • long-term weight loss
  • how easy it is to follow
  • nutritional completeness
  • safety
  • ability to prevent or manage diabetes
  • ability to prevent or manage heart disease

Those scores were then assessed to rank the various plans within five “best” lists: best overall diets, best weight-loss diets, best diabetes diets, best heart-healthy diets and best commercial diet plans.

The best heart-healthy diet was Dean Ornish’s low-fat, vegetarian-friendly plan, which also emphasizes regular exercise and stress-reduction. Weight Watchers topped both the best weight-loss and best commercial plan lists, with Jenny Craig coming in right behind it.

You might recall that another recent diet ranking by another magazine, Consumer Reports, rated the Jenny Craig plan No. 1, ahead of Weight Watchers — to much debate and criticism.

(More on Diet Bake-Off: Jenny Craig Wins, Says Consumer Reports)

So if all the ratings have got you wondering which weight-loss plan is really best, here’s the simplest answer: whichever one you can reasonably stick with. Regardless of its rating, a diet won’t work if you can’t stick with it.

That may be where the new U.S. News findings could come in especially handy. The magazine exhaustively assessed 20 diets, including popular plans like South Beach and the Zone, as well as vegan, vegetarian and raw-food regimens, and the full ratings published online contain thorough information about each plan, laying out how closely each one adheres to the federal government’s dietary guidelines, for example, and giving recipes, sample menus and helpful do’s and don’ts.

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If you’re looking to lose a few pounds or just adopt a healthier eating plan, reading through U.S. News‘s clearinghouse of info might take you a long way toward settling on the best diet for you.