You can hit the crowded gym all you want to start on your weight-loss goals, but unless you’re also changing your eating habits, you’re not likely to lose much weight. Exercise is an important factor in any weight-loss plan, but The New York Times says you need to run a calorie deficit to lose weight. The easiest way to do this is to eat fewer calories by watching your portion sizes or the types of foods you’re eating. The result? You might seriously want to look at a diet plan.
The problem is knowing which diet will work best for you. Some cut-out food groups like dairy or most carbs, while others allow those things, so long as you eat a garden’s worth of vegetables each day. Other diets, often fads or ill-conceived notions, are downright dangerous for your health.
Ultimately, you know your body, and you also likely already know which foods you need to cut down on — whether it’s that third Venti cup of coffee-flavored sugar from Starbucks, or your fast food habit that strikes around 8 p.m. when you haven’t had a decent dinner. But following a diet plan can still have its advantages, especially if you perform well with structure.
To help you wade through the myriad of diet options available out there, U.S. News & World Report asked a panel of health experts to evaluate some of the most popular eating plans. As a result, we now have several lists of the best diets to try. One list compiles a comprehensive set of the best overall diets for your health, while others focus on plans if you have diabetes, or if you’d rather just focus on losing weight.
We don’t dig into any specific list, but here are the 10 individual diets experts liked the most.
10. MIND diet
This diet, as you may have guessed, focuses on brain health. Specifically, it aims to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by eating foods that are associated with healthier brains. While most people may be surprised to learn your diet can impact your brain health, there is a lot of evidence that what you eat and your overall level of physical fitness can stave off or prevent cognitive degeneration.
The diet itself combines pieces of two others: DASH and Mediterranean. It cherry-picks foods from each that are associated with brain health and puts them front and center. MIND diet subscribers can plan to consume a lot of calories from greens, nuts, fish, whole grains, legumes, and berries.
In 2017, the MIND diet was ranked as the third best overall diet by U.S. News.
9. Volumetrics diet
Volumetrics sounds sciencey and complicated. It’s not that complicated, and if you want to lose weight, this was ranked among the top three in the best weight-loss diets category. There’s also a book you should use as a guide to get started, which was written by Barbara Rolls, a nutrition professor at Penn State. And again, the focus of this diet is weight loss — particularly through the consumption of low-density foods.
The key here is to eat foods that fill you up, but aren’t calorie-dense. By dividing foods into four groups, the Volumetrics diet helps narrow your choices over the course of the day to keep your calories in check.
8. Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is becoming more and more popular. And for good reason — it’s healthy and rife with delicious stuff. U.S. News ranks it second among the best overall diets and can help anyone looking to lose weight, or focus on improving their heart and brain health. It’s also popular among those looking to reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
The diet basically cuts down on red meats, sugars, and saturated fats and emphasizes consumption of fresh produce, legumes, and whole grains. As U.S. News reports, this is more of an eating pattern than a structured diet. That means you’ll need to track calories and macros to keep yourself on track. The real magic comes from simply cutting out all of the particularly nasty foods so many of us like, including red meat and sugar-heavy options.
7. Fertility diet
Yes, this diet is all about keeping your reproductive organs working. As U.S. News’s report on the diet reads, “there’s no guarantee you’ll get pregnant by following the Fertility Diet. However, the diet includes 10 research-backed steps that may boost fertility for women.” The plan doesn’t help with male fertility, or at least it’s not designed to, but that doesn’t mean it can’t give you a boost.
This is a 10-step diet that includes measures like cutting out trans fats, increasing consumption of certain oils (like olive oil), and eating more vegetable proteins. But there’s a lot more to the fertility diet than that — so check out U.S. News’s full write-up.
This diet landed at number one on the list of easiest diets to follow. So, that’s another advantage.
6. DASH diet
This eating plan, which stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension, was designed in part by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and lower high blood pressure. It’s ultimate aim isn’t to lose weight, but the healthy guidelines included in the plan also promote weight loss along the way. It’s tied at No. 12 in the ranking of best weight-loss diets but is ranked in the top spot for best overall diets. That’s a title it’s held for many years.
This plan (they don’t call it a diet, per se) takes into account your age and activity level, which then determines your prescribed calorie intake — and also where those calories should come from.
Though it won’t ask you to buy outlandish meals or special ingredients, DASH does focus on the healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables you’ve always been told to eat, along with cutting back on the salt you normally add. As a result, you could see your grocery bills climb a bit since fresh foods are more expensive over time than that Big Mac and fries. Still, if you have a family history of heart disease or simply want a fresh diet, this top-rated plan is one to consider.
5. Raw food diet
With the raw food diet, you’ll only be eating foods that are juiced, blended, or dehydrated — not baked, seared, grilled, or processed in any way. The idea behind this diet is that natural, raw foods are packed with nutrients you otherwise steam, process, or cook away.
The organic and raw ingredients required to follow this diet can be expensive, especially since you’ll likely need to invest in a quality blender, food processor, and food dehydrator if you want this diet to last long term. The equipment alone can quickly become $1,000 or more, the report says, let alone the required ingredients you’ll need each week.
It’s difficult to go 100% raw, and U.S. News & World Report says many people who follow this diet eat 75 to 80% raw foods in their normal diet. For those who make the extra effort, studies have shown that you are likely to lose weight. Keep in mind, however, that experts were concerned about the lack of calcium and calories in the plan, as well as the increased risk of food poisoning from eating all raw foods.
4. Jenny Craig diet
Like many commercial diets, this one takes out the guesswork of making meals, since all of them are delivered pre-packaged to your doorstep. This diet focuses on weight loss and maintenance after you’ve reached your goal, and the company says most people on the plan lose one to two pounds per week.
Until you’re halfway to reaching your goal, you’ll only eat meals that Jenny Craig sends, eventually branching out to foods you prepare based on Jenny Craig recipes. You don’t have to go through the motions of selecting portions and what foods to buy — all of that is done for you. It’s great if you think you’re too busy to come up with a new eating plan on your own, but you’ll pay for the convenience.
Membership enrollment starts at $99 (the company will occasionally drop its price for special promotions), along with a monthly fee starting at $19. Food costs between $15 and $23 per day without shipping, meaning even if you join during a promotion and you choose the most inexpensive food options, you’re looking at more than $500 for your first month and $450 each following month you’re on the plan.
3. Biggest Loser diet
The diet derived from NBC’s popular TV reality series rounds out the three-way tie among the best weight-loss diets analyzed by the U.S. News & World Report panel. It was ranked highly by the experts for being healthy and sound, and it focuses on eating the right foods, keeping a food journal to see what you’re really consuming, and getting your lazy self off the couch.
It’ll likely be pricier than a cart full of potato chips, because fruits, veggies, and lean proteins are often the most expensive foods in the grocery store. But if you stick with the recommendations, you’re likely to drop several pounds. One study suggests getting 20 minutes of vigorous exercise each day and cutting calories by 20% of your normal intake will help you to maintain your weight, once more strict measures from the program have helped you to reach your goal. Just bear in mind, this research involves a very small sample size and focuses on a pretty specific population.
2. HMR program
The Health Management Resources program uses meal replacement strategies, like drinking shakes instead of typical meals. Coupled with fruits and vegetables to jump-start weight loss, the diet eventually eases into making more sustainable dietary changes. Though exercise is highly encouraged, walking for 10 to 20 minutes per day is all that’s required to meet weight loss goals while using the program.
According to the eating plan, average weight loss is 66 pounds after 26 weeks for patients in clinical programs with a BMI above 40 who completed 12 or more weeks. If you’re doing the program at home, median weight loss is 23 pounds after 12 weeks.
The program goes through three phases, helping you to maintain weight loss. The final phase helps you transition your strategies to everyday life.
1. Weight Watchers
Participants track their SmartPoints, and no food is off-limits with the right portions. The program has more than 4,000 recipes to choose from, and there are ways to calculate points for foods that aren’t straight from their recipe list. Additionally, a mobile app makes it easy to track your habits, no matter where you are.
The points system makes it easy for you to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want, but they quickly add up. Especially if you indulge in too many sweets or high-fat foods. Weight Watchers allows you to get all the nutrients you need while not losing weight too quickly, U.S. News panelists concluded, which can sometimes spell health disaster.
Nikelle Murphy also contributed to this story