Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Sept. 6, 2018.
U.S. News & World Report has released its Best Diets for 2018, with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet tying as the Best Overall Diet.
US News' Methodology
For Best Diets 2018—the eighth year U.S. News has put out the rankings—the publication's reporters and editors reviewed medical journals, government reports, and other materials to develop a selection of 40 diets. For each diet, U.S. News compiled a profile that:
- Explains how the diet works;
- Weighs the validity of the diet's claims;
- Cites possible health risks; and
- Details what life is like for a person on the diet.
U.S. News asked a panel of nationally recognized experts to review the profiles and rate each diet on the following criteria:
- Short-term weight loss, or the likelihood of losing significant weight during the first year;
- Long-term weight loss, or the likelihood of maintaining significant weight loss for at least two years;
- Potential to prevent diabetes or serve as a maintenance diet for diabetics;
- Effectiveness for heart disease prevention and risk reduction in heart patients;
- Ease of compliance;
- Nutritional completeness; and
- Health risks.
Once the reviews were complete, U.S. News converted experts' ratings into scores and stars, using a five-point scale. Based on those scores, U.S. News developed nine categories of Best Diet rankings:
- Best Diets Overall;
- Best Commercial Diets;
- Best Weight-Loss Diets;
- Best Diabetes Diets;
- Best Heart-Healthy Diets;
- Best Diets for Healthy Eating;
- Easiest Diets to Follow;
- Best Plant-Based Diets; and
- Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets.
The top-ranking Best Overall diets include:
- The DASH Diet, which scored 4.1 on the 5-point scale, ranking No. 1 for the 8th consecutive year. DASH emphasizes eating whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, and calls for limiting salt intake. The diet was created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to help patients reduce blood pressure.
- The Mediterranean Diet, which also scored 4.1 and for the first time tied for No. 1. The diet relies on the observation that people who live in the Mediterranean live longer and have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer than Americans, theorizing that they experience health benefits because of their eating habits and active lifestyle. The diet is low in sugar, red meat, and saturated fat, and high in fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- The Flexitarian Diet, which scored 4.0, ranking No. 3. The Flexitarian Diet aims to promote weight loss and optimal health by having people eat mostly—but not completely—vegetarian. Research suggests that people with such diets live an average of 3.6 years longer than those who eat more meat.
- The Weight Watchers Diet, which scored 3.9, ranking No. 4. The Weight Watchers Beyond the Scale Program, which launched at the end of 2015, aims to help people eat better, exercise more, and change their mindset. A cornerstone of the program is its support meetings.
- The MIND Diet, which scored 3.8, tying with three others for No. 5. The diet, short for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, incorporates elements of both of the higher-ranked diets. According to U.S. News, MIND focuses on 10 "brain-healthy food groups," putting an emphasis on leafy greens.
- The TLC Diet, which also scored 3.8. The diet—short for the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes—is aimed at cholesterol reduction. It focuses on significantly reducing intake of fat, with a focus on saturated fat in particular.
- The Volumetrics Diet, the third diet that scored 3.8, is aimed at weight loss. The diet places an emphasis on low-density foods, which are low in calories but can consumed in high volume. According to U.S. News, "Volumetrics is all about getting more mileage out of what you eat."
- The Mayo Clinic Diet, which scored 3.7, ranking No. 8. On the Mayo Clinic Diet, people follow a unique food pyramid that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
David Katz, who leads the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and served as a panelists, in a release said, "No single diet is the best for all of us." He added, "Ultimately, a 'best' diet is one that can be adopted, managed, and sustained over time."
Top diets across categories
Several of the Best Overall diets earned top spots in other categories as well. Among the other Best Diet sets, the No. 1 diets were:
- Weight Watchers, for both the Best Weight-Loss Diet and the Best Commercial Diet Plan;
- DASH, for both the Best Diet for Healthy Eating and the Best Heart-Healthy Diet;
- The HMR Program and Weight Watchers, tied, for Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet; and
- The Mediterranean Diet, for the Best Diabetes Diet, Best Plant-Based Diet, and Easiest Diet to Follow.
(Aubrey, "The Salt," NPR, 1/3; Lynch, Los Angeles Times, 1/3; U.S. News Best Diets 2018, 1/3; U.S. News Best Diets methodology, 1/3; U.S. News Best Diets Overall, 1/3; DASH Diet profile, accessed 1/4; Mediterranean Diet profile, accessed 1/4; MIND Diet profile, accessed 1/4; Flexitarian Diet profile, accessed 1/4; Mayo Clinic Diet profile, accessed 1/4; TLC Diet profile, accessed 1/4; Weight Watchers Diet profile, accessed 1/4; Volumetrics Diet profile, accessed 1/4).
Help your employees promote healthy habits—regardless of the newest diet fads
Programs aimed at promoting healthy habits among employees are likely to lead to improved employee engagement and productivity—but they're unlikely to reduce the total cost of care. To do that, you'll need to take a population health approach.