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January 05, 2021

The Mediterranean is the best diet for 2021, health experts say

U.S. News & World Report rankings also include diets designed to spark behavioral change and improve brain health

Healthy Eating Diets
Healthy Diets 2021 Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay

The Mediterranean diet, named the best diet for 2021 by U.S. News & World Report, focuses on eating mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.

The best diets for 2021 include the Mediterranean, DASH and Flexitarian diets, according to the latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report. 

The Mediterranean diet topped the overall rankings for the fourth year in a row. The diet focuses on eating mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil. Only moderate portions of dairy, poultry and eggs are recommended. Red meat is kept to a minimum. 

Health experts consider the diet heart healthy. It also helps prevent chronic diseases and improve longevity, according to U.S. News. 

The Mediterranean Diet also claimed U.S. News' top spot for Easiest Diets to Follow and Best Plant Based Diets. It tied for No. 1 in the Best Diets for Healthy Eating, Best Diets for Diabetes and Best Heart-Health Diets categories.

The DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and Flexitarian diets again tied for the second in the overall rankings. 

The DASH diet focuses on lean proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables, but it also is low in sodium. Studies on the DASH diet have shown its benefits include lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart failure. 

The Flexitarian diet is a mostly vegetarian diet that allows people to eat meat and animal products occasionally. It provides healthy recipes to follow instead of requiring people to count calories and adhere to strict rules.

Angela Haupt, managing editor of health at U.S. News, told PhillyVoice that the outlet has included in-depth profiles on each diet so people can get a glimpse of what daily life would look like following them.

"We are encouraging people to do some self-reckoning," she said. "To think realistically about what will work for them."

Before choosing a new diet, Haupt said people need to be honest with themselves about what they are willing — and able — to sustain in 2021.

Is a diet that requires abstaining from alcohol and cooking most meals at home the right fit? Or is something more flexible more feasible? Also, people should consider whether a built-in support network would help them achieve their goals, she said. Doing the hard work in the beginning makes it much more likely that people will stick to it. 

Other diets also earned high marks. Weight Watchers kept its No. 4 position in the Best Overall Diet category, followed by the MIND, Volumetrics, Mayo Clinic and TLC diets, all of which tied at No. 5.

The Weight Watchers diet, which offers a customizable long-term strategy for weight loss, also took the No. 1 spot for Best Weight-Loss Diet and tied with the Flexitarian Diet for the Best Commercial Diet. It also claimed the No. 2 position in Easiest Diets to Follow.

The MIND Diet borrows from both the DASH and Mediterranean diets to zero in on the foods that improve brain health. It earned the No. 4 position in the Easiest Diets to Follow list.

A panel of the top U.S. nutritionists, dietary consultants and physicians helped determine the rankings by scoring 39 diets in seven areas: managing or preventing diabetes, ease of following, heart-healthiness, long-term weight loss, short-term weight loss, nutrition and safety.

Haupt said the diets vary in their main goals. Many, like the Mediterranean and DASH diets, focus more on managing and preventing chronic diseases than weight loss. There is something for everyone, she said.

Four new diets appeared in the rankings: the Noom, AIP, GAPS and Modified Keto diets. 

The Noom Diet's goal is sustainable behavior change and it offers a built-in support network to help achieve it. The Noom Diet landed in the No. 3 spot on the Best Commercial Diet list and took the No. 12 spot in Best Overall Diets.

"COVID has been our overriding health concern for this past year and potentially distracted us from others, but the reality is, diet is more important than ever," Dr. David Katz, president of True Health Initiative and the chief executive officer of Diet ID, said in a statement. 

"Diet not only influences everything about our health over a lifetime, but it acutely affects the function of our immune system and exerts an outsized influence on risk factors related to COVID."

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