Types of Diets

There are a lot of diets out there, and their rules and restrictions can get confusing. Each diet affects each person differently, and the only way to lose weight is to go into a calorie deficit. One study that randomly assigned different diets to people to study their efficacy concluded: “reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.”

The most important factor in deciding a diet is picking one you can stick to and incorporate into your diet for lifelong success. If one diet isn’t helping you lose weight in a way you’re happy with, try a new one! Because all of our metabolisms are different, there is no one best diet for everyone. If you’re someone who can stick to a very regimented diet schedule (calling all picky eaters!), try something a little more specific on what you can and can’t eat. If you are constantly trying new things, aim for a diet with more flexibility built into the schedule. Being educated about each kind of diet can help you pick which one is best for you. Here we’ve compiled the top diets from US News & World Report Rankings for the top diets in 2019, and added in a couple of diets that are trending on social media.

Atkins®

The Atkins® diet is an extremely low carb diet plan. The goal of Atkins is to remove carbohydrates from your diet so that your body goes into ketoacidosis, processing fat for energy instead of sugar and carbohydrates.

Atkins offers two different options, for those who have more or less than 40 lbs to lose. For those with less than 40 lbs to lose, they recommend going on the Atkins 40® plan with about 40 g of net carbs per day. For those with more than 40 lbs to lose, they recommend the Atkins 20® plan with about 20 g of net carbs per day. Atkins® has a free program, but they have snacks and shakes to help with meal replacements/substitution.

Eco-Atkins

A harder version of the Atkins diet, the Eco-Atkins diet substitutes meat and fat for healthier, plant-based foods. To get started, try to look for plant-based food that are good substitutes for protein, like veggie burgers, veggie sausage, and tofu turkey. Soybeans and lentils are high in protein and low in saturated fats, so these are stressed as a healthier option.

Keto

The Keto diet has the same principles as Atkins®, but you’re doing everything on your own, without the Atkins® tools and products. Ketoacidosis is a state your body goes into when it is deprived of carbohydrates and uses fat as a main energy source instead of using carbohydrates or sugars. For a low carb diet, you should be getting 60-75% of your calories from fat, 15 to 30% of your calories from Protein, and only 5-10% of your calories from carbohydrates. Keto and Atkins are heavily debated as to if it’s healthy for your body to go into ketoacidosis, as ketoacidosis is dangerous for long periods of time and many experience a “keto flu” when starting a very low carb diet.  

DASH

The DASH diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Hypertension is a term that implies higher than healthy blood pressure levels. The diet consists of lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. These foods are high in potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber. People following the DASH diet are discouraged from foods high in saturated fat, like fatty meats, full fat dairy products, and sugary beverages and snacks. There’s also a sodium restriction of 2.3 g per day, that should eventually be lowered to around 1.5 grams.

This diet is considered a sustainable diet - meaning you can follow it for long periods of time for continued success success. Diets that put you into a severe caloric deficit and ketoacidosis are examples of non sustainable diets.

 
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Flexitarian

Flexitarian implies eating less meats and substituting for vegetables as much as possible, while still indulging in meat cravings occasionally. By eating more plants and substituting meats, you can lose weight, lower heart disease and cancer, and potentially live longer. This diet is a five-week meal plan with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack recipes. Breakfasts are around 300 calories, lunches are 400 calories, and dinners are 500 calories. There’s also snacks around 150 calories each, and two should be added to your daily intake of calories.

Exercise is also highly encouraged on the flexitarian diet. Ideally, this includes 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week, or intense exercise for 20 minutes, three times a week. It’s also recommended to do strength training at least two days a week. This diet is based upon the book, The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life.

This diet is safe to be on long term without health consequences.

Jenny Craig

Jenny Craig is a regimen of a personalized meal plan centered around 3 prepackaged meals and one snack a day that is complemented with fresh fruits and vegetables with 2 nonfat dairy product equivalents. The diet plan is also supplemented with an exercise plan. These diet plans range from 1200 to 2300 calories a day, designed around your weight, athleticism, and motivation level. The plan also comes with a personal Jenny Craig Consultant to meet with. It’s important to note that this consultant is not a medical professional or a nutritionist, but just a person who received a training from Jenny Craig.

The second half of the diet begins once you have reached half of your weight loss goal. In this section, dieters will begin to cook again twice a week using specific recipes. Once your weight loss goal is achieved, you’ll spend four weeks transitioning back to making your own meals and slowly adding calories to your daily intake. In monthly consultations with a Jenny Craig Consultant, you’ll learn weight gain prevention strategies.

Mayo Clinic Diet

The Mayo Clinic diet was created to create lifelong healthy eating habits. You can find specifics of the diet by buying the Mayo Clinic Diet book. The diet contains two different sections “Lost it!” and “live it!”. “Lose it!” is about slimming down to achieve a healthier weight and body type. This means adding a healthy breakfast to your diet, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and spend at least 30 minutes per day doing physical activity. The “lost it” portion of the diet is designed to only last two weeks.

In the “Live it!” portion of the diet, you’ll use information learned in the first phase, but with more allowances to break the rules.

The diet also emphasizes banning eating while watching TV, any processed sugars, snacking, and consuming too much meat and full-fat dairy. The diet encourages exercise at least 30-60 minutes per day, but how and when you get that time in is up to you. The diet does allow for some eating out, but with strict adherence to the rules. If you are someone who enjoys regularly eating out, this is probably not the diet for you.

In addition to the book, there is a companion cookbook that is full of mayo-friendly recipes, “The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook, Second Edition”.

Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the cultures that border the mediterranean sea. This diet centers around avoiding red meat, sugar, and saturated fat while indulging in fresh produce, nuts, and traditionally healthful foods. There isn’t a strict set of rules for the diet because different cultures have different versions of it.

Proponents of this diet say that benefits of the diets include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control.

 
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MIND

The MIND diet, Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a combination of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. It is focused on foods that help to prevent brain damage. Although the science isn’t 100% there yet on how to prevent Alzheimer’s and other progressive brain disorders, the MIND diet incorporates foods that have been studied to reduce a person’s risk of developing a brain disorder.

There aren’t strict recipes to follow with MIND. It comes with broad food group recommendations and allows for some flexibility in choosing meals.

There is no exercise recommendation with MIND, however there is significant research that exercise can delay the onset of progressive brain disorders.

Nordic

The Nordic diet was specifically designed to improve Nordic cuisine and improve public health. The diet calls for a lifestyle that improves upon traditional Scandinavian traditional culture. While eating this diet, it’s emphasized to eat seasonal, locally-sourced, and sustainable meals with friends and family.

The basic principles of the diet are as follows: eat more organic fruits and vegetables each day, eat more whole grains, include more fish in your diet, choose higher quality meat but eat less of it, avoid preservatives, and cook at home whenever possible. For more information on this diet, check out “The Nordic Way”.

The Nordic diet is not necessarily the best for weight loss, but is an appealing option for people trying to live more cleanly and healthier overall. Because it focuses on locally sourced foods, the Nordic diet can change significantly from location to location.

Ornish

The Ornish diet, named after UCSF researcher Dr. Dean Ornish, is much more than an eating plan. The diet stresses importance of exercise, stress management, and relationships. The diet portion is low in fat, refined carbohydrates, and animal protein. The nutrition portion of the diet classifies food into one of five food groups - with one being the most healthy and five being the least healthy. There is also a written guide to the diet, called “The Spectrum” that can help guide you through some of your nutrition choices.

For exercise, the Ornish diet recommends aerobic exercise, resistance training, and flexibility enhancers. Stress management is also an integral part of the program, with meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga as recommendations for coping with anxiety. Alcohol is severely restricted on this diet, with a 2 oz. a day limit to consumption.

This diet is the only one that has been clinically proven to reverse heart disease in a randomized control study.

Paleo

The Paleo diet is a way of eating that copies our ancient ancestors’ diets - free of refined sugar, dairy, legumes, and grains. It was created by Dr. Loren Cordain, who wrote the book “The Paleo Diet”. It emphasizes adding in meat, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies. Many nutritionists believe that paleo is an unsustainable, unhealthy option. One dietitian, Kathleen Zelman, said “Eliminating all grains, dairy, processed foods, sugar, and more will most likely lead to weight loss, but it may be a tough plan to follow long term due to the dietary limitations and restrictions.”

TLC

TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, and was developed by the National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program. The goal of the program was to cut cholesterol as a part of a heart-healthy diet. The staples of the diet are fruits and vegetables, breads, cereals, and pastas. The guidelines for the diet are particularly broad, so there is a lot of room for flexibility in the diet.

The first part of the diet is choosing your target calorie level - this diet is not just for people trying to lose weight, but is also used to lower LDL levels. If weight loss is not a goal, the diet guidelines suggest aiming for 2500 calories a day for men and 1800 calories a day for women. If you want to lose weight, aim for caloric intake of 1600 for men and 1200 calories for women. With either caloric intake level, saturated fat levels should be cut to less than seven percent of caloric intake. This usually entails eating less red meats and less butter and oil and cutting out as many dietary cholesterol pieces as possible, less than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol per day.

If your LDL levels haven’t dropped by at least 8-10 percent, try adding in 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols to help block the absorption of cholesterol from the stomach.

This diet is not for someone who hates counting calories. To truly follow the diet, you must pay special attention to nutrition labels and follow the free “Your Guide to Lowering your Cholesterol with TLC” manual closely.

Vegetarian

There are a couple different kinds of vegetarian diets. Most choose to be lacto-ovo vegetarians, not eating animal meat, they do consume animal products like eggs, and milk. Lacto vegetarians will eat milk products, but do not consume eggs. Vegans do not consume animals or any animal byproducts.

Choosing to go vegetarian means supplementing your diet with things that can make up for the protein deficit. If you are entering a vegetarian diet, it doesn’t have to be all at once. You can slowly wean yourself off of meat by incorporating more meatless meals into your diet. Numerous studies show that vegetarians tend to eat less calories and weigh less than their meat-eating counterparts. If you choose the vegetarian diet with moderate exercise, you’re bound to lose some pounds.

Volumetrics Diet

The Volumetrics Diet, developed by nutritionists out of Pennsylvania State University, is an approach to eating, rather than hard and fast rules of dieting. Under the guidance of “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet” book, you can learn about food energy density and how to cut out high-energy foods from your diet. This diet separates food into four distinct groups: very low-density, low density, medium density, and high density.

Very low density foods (called Category One) include non-starch fruits and vegetables, non-fat milk, and broth-based soups. Low density foods (called Category Two) include starch fruits and vegetables, grains, breakfast cereal, low-fat meat, legumes, and low-fat mixed dishes like chili and spaghetti. Medium density (called Category Three) foods, include meat, cheese, pizza, french fries, salad dressing, bread, pretzels, ice cream, and cake. The highest density foods (called Category Four) include crackers, chips, chocolates, cookies, nuts, butter, and oil. You can go heavy on the first two categories of foods on this plan, while enjoying smaller portions of, or avoiding completely, the last two categories. There is also an emphasis to switch down a food category for a healthier option, like substituting a Category Four food, like a loaded baked potato, for a Category One food, like a sweet potato.

To get started on this diet, aim for foods that are largely composed of water. Some starter snacks include soup (80-95% water), fruits and vegetables (80-95% water), yogurt (75% water), and pasta (65% water). The diet also encourages eating foods similar to what you already enjoy - if you enjoy chips and dip, try substituting for carrots and hummus, and if you enjoy chicken wings, try baked chicken using less oils.

Weight Watchers©  (WW)

Weight Watchers©  is a diet plan centered around a healthier overall lifestyle. The expert nutritionists at weight watchers assign numerical point values to meals that can be summed for a daily point allowance. The program includes a lot of coaching in whatever amount and form that customers want for a monthly fee.

The following are the different subscription models a customer can choose from, after a $20 starter fee:

  • OnlinePlus: digital tools for tracking and 24/7 chat service with a weight watchers support team member for $19.95/month

  • Meetings: all the OnlinePlus tools, with unlimited in-person meetings at a local WW branch for $44.95/month

  • Personal Coaching: One-on-one support and access to OnlinePlus tools for $54.95/month

  • Total Access: OnlinePlus, unlimited in-person meetings, and personal coaching for $69.95/month

None of these costs include food, and there are no food/supplement requirements to join the program. WW© pushes their users to choose the foods they want to eat, while being mindful of the number of points they consume in a given time. Weight Watchers© does have a small line of snack products that members can use to help supplement their diet plans.

Another added benefit with WW© is that there are no foods that are absolutely off limits - you can still have your favorite ice creams, pizzas etc. It’s all about moderation and portion control.

Read more: Health Consequences of Obesity