The Best and Worst Diets to Follow in 2021, According to Experts
Kick-off the year with a healthy eating plan that's best for you.
New diets pop up all the time, claiming to solve all our problems and help us get healthy, fast! But after a rollercoaster of a year that might have included more comfort foods than usual, you may be looking for the best diets to stay on track as your New Year's goal. To navigate through the many different diets out there, we studied the information from U.S. News & World Report's annual publication of an expert-approved analysis of 39 diets. The panel of nutritionists and specialists in health, diabetes, human behavior, and weight loss rate each based on seven categories, including short- and long-term weight loss, ease of compliance, safety, and nutrition.
“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,” said Dr. David Katz, president of True Health Initiative, former director of Yale Prevention Research Center, and CEO of Diet ID. “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.”
We dug into the 2021 list to learn more about how these diets affect every type of body and health need because there's no one right diet for everyone.
Best Diet for Overall Health
You've gotta love a diet that allows you to eat plenty of delicious foods AND also enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and that's the Mediterranean diet. For the fourth year in a row, the diet that encourages eating produce, nuts, beans, and whole grains, while limiting red meat, sugar, and saturated fat took the top spot as U.S. News' best overall diet. (It also nabbed the top spot on the Best Diabetes Diets, number one on the Easiest Diets to Follow, number one on the Best Heart-Healthy Diets, and number one on the Best Plant-Based Diets.) With so many flavorful ingredients, there are plenty of ways to keep the diet fresh and delicious. We love that this eating plan is easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective at weight loss, and can help fight diabetes and heart disease.
Best Commercial Weight-Loss Diet
Two diets tied for the top spot in the weight-loss category for 2021: flexitarian and WW (formerly Weight Watchers). The flexitarian diet is a mashup of "flexible" and "vegetarian," where you eat a mostly plant-based diet, but can still indulge in the occasional juicy burger when a craving strikes.
If you're willing to shell out a bit of money to begin your weight-loss journey ($3 to $14 per week), U.S. News suggests WW, a diet that became well known for its points system by assigning a number value to foods based on calories, protein, sugar, and fat. The company's newest program myWW+ features a fully-customizable plan suited to your personal health needs.
Best Diet for Healthy Eating
Along with the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) tied for first place on U.S. News' list of best diets for healthy eating. The DASH plan emphasizes produce, lean meats, low-sodium options, and foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. And it works: Scientists backed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute conducted studies to compare the DASH diet with a typical American diet. The results showed that the DASH diet lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (that's the "bad" cholesterol) in participants' blood.
Which Diets to Avoid
While fast weight-loss diets (think Slimfast, Atkins, and Biggest Loser) can help shed pounds quickly, these all ranked low among the "Best Overall Diets" on U.S. News' list. "As a dietitian, I struggle with any diet plan that completely eliminates a food or entire category of food like Keto, Paleo, and Atkins," says BHG.com's senior food editor and registered dietitian, Sheena Chihak. "Especially when 'banned' foods are full of good nutrition like beans and fruits."
Though it ranks higher (tied number four with the Biggest Loser Diet and Optavia Diet) as a way to lose weight fast, the popular Keto Diet was second-to-last in the best overall diet list, ranking at number 37. Also tied for 37th place in the overall diet list is the Dukan Diet, a carb-limited, high-protein diet that claims to shed up to 10 pounds in one week. Other low-ranking diets included the also-popular Whole30 Diet (whole foods focus that eliminates sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy) and Atkins Diet (a diet that starts with an extremely low amount of carbs, then increases in four phases).
As you start (or continue) your path to wellness, it's a good idea to check with your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet. Along with your healthy eating plans, stay motivated to exercise at home with a fitness app. And because mental health is just as important, add some stress-relieving products to the daily routine to help you relax.