With so many diets out there, it can be hard to know which is right for you. But a report is here to help you narrow down the choices.
For the past 10 years, U.S. News & World Report has released a yearly diet ranking, and although the competition is fierce, the Mediterranean Diet came out on top once again (for its third year in a row).
To get to this ranking, a team of health experts reviewed 35 diets, considering factors like short-term and long-term weight loss, nutritional completeness, and how easy the diet is to follow. And based on that criteria, the following were found to be the 11 best diets for overall health:
1. Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Diet topped the list for the third year in a row as the report’s best diet for overall health. It’s also ranked No. 1 for best plant-based diet, best diabetes diet, and easiest to follow, plus a tie for first on the best diets for healthy eating list.
Based on the diets of Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece, the focus is on whole-food ingredients, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, and lots of omega-3-rich seafood. There’s no calorie counting, but things like red meat and sweets are meant to be limited.
With the addition of prioritizing an active lifestyle and social relationships, this diet tackles overall health from every angle, which makes sense, considering much of the Mediterranean is considered a “Blue Zone,” or a place in the world where people are the healthiest and live the longest. To learn more about it, check out our Mediterranean Diet guide.
2. DASH Diet
Tied for No.2 with the Flexitarian diet, the DASH Diet or “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” might be a new one for you. This diet, promoted by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, is meant to combat the massive hypertension problem we have in this country (one in every three adult Americans have high blood pressure, and only half have it under control).
It’s actually fairly similar to the Mediterranean Diet, with a focus on heart-healthy foods like whole grains, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Since this diet places a particular emphasis on heart health, it also limits sodium, saturated fats, and sugar-sweetened drinks and sweets. To learn more about heart-healthy eating, check out our list of blood-pressure-lowering foods.
3. Flexitarian Diet
The flexitarian diet, or “flexible vegetarian” diet, tied for the second slot in the rankings. This diet says you can still enjoy the benefits of eating less meat without completely giving it up cold turkey.
This diet simply focuses on eating more plants and less meat, promising weight loss and a lower risk of chronic diseases. “Flexitarian” was coined just over a decade ago by Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D., and recent incarnations like the pegan diet, created by mbg Collective member Mark Hyman, M.D., follow similar guidelines.
4. WW (Weight Watchers) Diet
Coming in at No. 4 is the WW diet, formerly known as the Weight Watchers diet, which has been around since 1963. WW was ranked No. 1 for the best diet for weight loss and best commercial diet plan.
This diet philosophy focuses on learning new eating habits, increasing physical activity, and creating a conducive environment to adopt a healthier lifestyle. WW uses its unique SmartPoints system, which assigns foods and drinks a point value based on nutrition, helping users learn what healthy eating looks like. They also offer lots of support through in-person workshops and meetings, as well over the phone or via online chat.
5. Mayo Clinic Diet
Three diets tied for No. 5, so first we’ll look at the Mayo Clinic Diet, which approaches overall health through a few factors. According to their website, the diet is meant to help you lose excess weight and keep it off by encouraging a diet that’s sustainable for life. It emphasizes healthy habits like moving your body every day and not eating while watching TV.
The diet also uses its own food pyramid, which places fruit and vegetables in the bottom, largest portion. Their plan promises steady weight loss, with the potential to lose as much as 6 to 10 pounds in the first two weeks.
6. MIND Diet
The MIND Diet was another one of the three that tied for the fifth spot, and it’s actually a mashup of two previously discussed diets. MIND stands for “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay,” and places an emphasis on brain health. Given three of five Americans will develop a brain disease in their lifetime, the goal is to slow cognitive decline through brain-healthy foods like leafy greens, nuts, and berries.
One 2015 study found this diet did show promise by lowering participants’ Alzheimer’s risk by about 35% if they followed it moderately, and 53% for those who followed the diet very carefully. So if you’re looking to prioritize brain health, this could be a good one to try. Be sure to take a look at our tips to maintain brain health as you age.
7. Volumetrics Diet
And the third diet tying at No. 5 is the Volumetrics Diet. This diet’s approach is centered around understanding the food you’re eating based on energy density and using that knowledge to make informed decisions about meals to keep you full and nourished.
Very low-density foods like nonstarchy fruits and vegetables fall into Category One. Category Two includes low-density foods like starchy fruits and vegetables, grains, and low-fat meat. Medium-density foods fall in Category Three and include your meats and cheeses, sweets, breads, and so on. And Category Four is the high-density foods like chips, chocolate, cookies…you get the gist. The science is all laid out in the book The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, equipping people with a new understanding of the food they’re eating and the energy it’s providing.
8. TLC Diet
If you’re looking for a diet with a little TLC (therapeutic lifestyle changes, that is), you may want to consider this style of eating. This diet, designed by the National Institute of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program is meant to help people lower their cholesterol.
With a focus on whole foods but still allowing for things like breads, lean meats, and pasta, it’s considered a heart-healthy diet without being too restrictive. It can also be tweaked to meet your particular goals, whether that be weight loss or weight management.
9. Nordic Diet
Three diets ended up tying for the ninth spot, with the first of the three being the Nordic Diet. As you might imagine, this diet is based on the cuisines and cultures of Scandinavia, with guidelines including more foods from the seas and lakes, eating less meat (but quality meat when you do), seasonal produce, less processed food, and cooking at home.
The diet was created by nutritional scientists in Denmark, in the hopes of revolutionizing Nordic cuisine to improve public health. All the guidelines are laid out in the book The Nordic Way: Discover the World’s Most Perfect Carb-to-Protein Ratio for Preventing Weight Gain or Regain and Lowering Your Risk of Disease.
10. Ornish Diet
The Ornish Diet was another pick tying at No. 9, founded by Dean Ornish, M.D., in the 1970s. The diet emphasizes minimizing fats, refined carbohydrates, and animal protein but also encourages overall well-being through lifestyle changes outside of the kitchen.
This diet can be used to tackle plenty of health-related goals, but it’s best known for its ability to reverse heart disease in randomized controlled trials. That particular regimen calls for limiting some foods, like simple carbs, and incorporating others, like complex carbs, along with stress management, physical activity, personal relationships, and more. The Ornish website has lots more detail on how the diet works, if you’re curious.
11. Vegetarian Diet
And last but not least, tied for third at No. 9 (aka the 11th diet on our list) is the vegetarian diet. Odds are you’ve heard of this one and have an understanding of what it is, but just in case—it comes down to eating less meat and more plants.
Of course, just because you’re not eating meat doesn’t mean french fries and other meatless junk is off the table, so discretion is advised. If you’re thinking of cutting out meat, check out these vegetarian sources of protein.
So there you have it, the 11 best diets for overall health for 2020, according to paneled health experts. With that said, we’re all different with unique needs, so remember, what works for one person may not work for the next. But one thing is clear when looking at all these diets: We’re continuing to move toward whole ingredients and healthy lifestyle changes overall, which is something we can definitely get behind.