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Top Ten Diet Review

Diets aren’t one size fits all–which is why there’s no perfect diet for everyone. Research agrees: the best diet is the one that you, as an individual, can stick to. That means that the diet you find to be most successful might not be the same one that worked for your your best friend. And that’s okay. Some people do better with rules and restrictions, while others prefer looser diet guidelines. We’ve reviewed the most popular and highly ranked diets here, providing an overview as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Overview

The DASH Diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent or reduce high blood pressure (DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Its hallmark characteristics are low fat and low salt; it encourages consumption of lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, poultry, and fish while limiting sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meat. These guidelines serve the purpose of reducing overall sodium intake to below 2300 mg, saturated fat to under 6% of daily caloric intake, and limiting cholesterol to 150 mg. High servings of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy mean you’ll get plenty of heart-healthy potassium, as well as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Research has found that following the DASH Diet can reduce systolic blood pressure between 2-7 mm/Hg, and each 5 mm/Hg reduction in blood pressure may reduce your risk of developing coronary artery disease by 15% and stroke by 27%.

Pros

The DASH Diet is nutritionally balanced and emphasizes whole foods, and because it doesn’t outlaw any specific foods—just discourages them—it’s sustainable for the long-term. Although it wasn’t originally designed as a weight loss diet, studies have shown that it can be effective in helping you lose weight. A 2010 study found that obese individuals who followed the DASH Diet, attended weight loss classes, and exercised regularly lost an average of 19 pounds over four months. There are plenty of recipes that fit the DASH Diet, and because it’s supported in the medical journals, you can likely lean on dietitians or doctors for support.

Cons

The average man currently eats 4,200 mg of salt today and women consume about 3,300 mg. Reducing those numbers to 2,300 mg can be difficult, especially if many of the foods you rely on are packaged or processed. But foods included in the DASH Diet are naturally low in sodium, which gives you a little more freedom with the salt shaker. Eating out can be difficult, as restaurant meals are often loaded with fat, salt, and sugar. And because it discourages processed foods, meal prepping and cooking might take up more of your time.

Overview

The Flexitarian Diet—coined by Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner in her 2009 book—is a plant-based diet that celebrates vegetarian nutrition while still allowing you to consume small amounts of meat and fish. Rather than focusing on the exclusion of certain foods, the diet focuses on adding in five food groups: plant-based proteins like soy, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and eggs; fruits and vegetables; dairy; whole grains; and flavor boosters—including spices and chocolate. Beginner flexitarians generally avoid meat two days a week; advanced flexitarians skip it four days a week; and expert flexitarians enjoy meat-free meals five days a week. In addition to outlining what is involved in the flexitarian diet, Blatner’s book also provides the tools needed to build a sustainable healthy lifestyle. To keep things simple, her book is based around the theme of five. She provides a five-week meal plan along with more than 100 recipes, as well as five “Flex Fitness Factors” to help you build a solid exercise foundation, and five “FlexLife troubleshooters” intended to help you make sustainable changes to your diet. Blatner encourages her readers to make small changes one at a time instead of making a complete diet overhaul.

Pros

Plenty of research has found that a plant-based diet can lead to improved health. In addition to helping you lose weight, the Flexitarian Diet might also help reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Blatner’s book and her strategies are backed by evidence as well as tried-and-true tips—as a registered dietitian, Blatner has worked with many clients in helping them achieve their weight loss goals, so she knows firsthand what works and what doesn’t. The Flexitarian Diet provides much more leeway than other weight loss diets--eating out and drinking alcohol both fit into the program.

Cons

If you don’t already like fruits and vegetables, this diet might be hard to follow. And if you don’t like to cook, you might have trouble following the guidelines and recipes. While flexibility allows you to eat the foods you want when you want them, that lack of structure might mean slower weight loss for some.

Overview

Jenny Craig offers a variety of services designed to help support you on your weight loss journey - from delivered low-calorie meals and individualized exercise programs to one-on-one nutritional counseling and access to online tools. Unlike other diet plans that forbid certain foods and food groups, as you near your goal weight, Jenny Craig allows you to eat what you want—provided that splurges, like alcohol, are occasional indulgences. Calories range from about 1,200-2,300, depending on your height and weight and a number of other individual factors like exercise level and goals.

Jenny Craig has four phases. The first phase is the most restrictive and from there you are gradually given more autonomy over what you eat and when you eat. This slow gradual process allows you to learn the skills you need in order to lose weight and keep it off.

In the first phase you consume exclusively Jenny Craig’s pre-packaged meals within a 12 hour time frame, from 8am to 8pm. This allows you to take advantage of your circadian rhythm and eat during the time when your metabolism is naturally the fastest. During the second phase, you still stick with the meals provided by Jenny Craig, but you are not eating within a time restricted window and you are provided with more food options. These first two phases are designed to reacquaint members with healthy foods and appropriate portion sizes. During the third phase of the diet—at which point you’re nearing your goal weight—your nutritional consultant will help you transition to cooking at home and eating out, providing sustainable strategies to help you stick to healthy eating habits in the long-term. You’ve reached the final stage when you’ve achieved your goal weight, and this “maintenance” phase lasts for life.

Pros

Nutritional consultants aren’t necessarily credentialed health professionals, but their training is based off of a curriculum developed by registered dietitians. Most notably, many of the nutritional consultants are former Jenny Craig members themselves, so they are familiar with the diet and struggles that come with it. Convenience is top notch for Jenny Craig members: in the first half, the guesswork of figuring out what to have for dinner is removed entirely. Jenny Craig also has the advantage of providing its members with a strong support crew, including a personal consultant, weight loss coach, and member-exclusive blogs and forums. From a nutrition standpoint, the Jenny Craig diet is nutritionally balanced—and you won’t have to say goodbye to any of your favorite foods. As a weight loss plan, studies have shown that Jenny Craig can be effective; in a review of commercial weight loss plans, Jenny Craig participants lost the most weight over 12 months.

Cons

Jenny Craig can be costly. The initial trial period of 12 days is only $16 plus the cost of food (around $20 per day), but if you want to continue with Jenny Craig after this trial period the least expensive membership costs $19.00 per month plus a $49 enrollment fee. Premium membership is a $299 one time payment plus the cost of food.

Overview

The Mayo Clinic Diet, branded “a weight loss program for life,” is designed to help you lose pounds consistently until you reach your goal weight—and then maintain that for life. It’s backed by the Mayo Clinic, so it also has strong clinical research to back up its efficacy. Instead of eating already-prepared meals or drastically cutting out food groups, you’ll learn strategies to help you adopt healthier eating patterns and behaviors.

The diet has two phases. In the Lose It! phase, which lasts two weeks, you’ll aim to lose 6 to 10 pounds by adopting five healthy habits (like adding a healthy breakfast) and breaking five unhealthy habits (for example, removing added sugars and refraining from eating while watching TV). In the Live It! phase—which is meant to be a sustainable eating pattern for life—you’ll gain more tools to help you eat healthfully, including meal planning, and sticking to portion sizes. The goal is to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week until you reach your goal weight. In both phases, exercise is also considered a priority.

In terms of actual food, the Mayo Clinic Diet emphasizes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grain or fiber-rich carbohydrates, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and heart-healthy fats. You won’t have to eliminate any favorite foods, although alcohol should be considered a treat, not an everyday indulgence.

Pros

No foods are completely forbidden in the Live It! stage, which makes the diet sustainable for life and much easier to stick to. In a 2008 pilot program, 53 obese participants lost an average of 8 pounds in the first two weeks; almost everybody lost at least 4 pounds, with many non-obese participants losing between 6 and 8 pounds. Because the diet emphasizes nutrient-rich, low-calorie foods that tend to be high in fiber or water content, like fruits and veggies, you should feel full enough even though you’re eating fewer calories than you’re used to. Membership and access to all online resources is also inexpensive (only $4 a week) and never requires you to count calories!!

Cons

Because the Mayo Clinic Diet emphasizes whole foods you’ll probably do more cooking and rely less on packaged snacks. This can can take up more time than popping a frozen pizza in the oven. The cost of whole, unprocessed food might be also be higher than processed convenience foods, but because you can pick your own recipes, you can plan them around cheaper seasonal veggies.

Overview

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most well-known diets, and for good reason. It’s consistently ranked near the top of US News’ Best Diets in categories like Best Diets Overall, Best Diets for Healthy Eating, and Best Heart-Healthy Diets. The Mediterranean Diet is more of an eating pattern rather than a diet. It doesn’t explicitly provide calorie limits, but it does emphasize an eating pattern that prioritizes plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains and healthy fats like olive oil and fatty fish while limiting red meat and high fat dairy. It’s based off of research that shows that populations that typically eat this way—in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea—tend to have lower rates of death from heart disease as well as lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Pros

Since the Mediterranean Diet doesn’t ban any foods, it’s more sustainable and easier to follow in the long-term than other more restrictive weight loss plans. In fact, it even allows dieters to enjoy a glass of wine at night (but there’s no need to start drinking wine if you don’t already). Following the Mediterranean Diet can benefit your health in a number of different ways. In addition to potentially leading to weight loss, it can help you reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.

Cons

The diet encourage eating healthy fats like those found in nuts, seeds, fish, and certain oils. Since fats are higher in calories ounce for ounce than protein and carbs, it’s important to put a cap on fat intake, regardless of the source, if you’re concerned about weight control. The Mediterranean Diet isn’t specifically designed as a weight loss diet, so if that’s your goal, be sure to pay attention to portion sizes.

Overview

The goal of Nutrisystem is to simplify weight loss: the plan is a 28-day program that sends prepackaged meals and snacks right to your door. In the first week (“Turbo Takeoff”), you’ll eat around 1000 calories daily of predetermined Nutrisystem meals, shakes and snacks high in protein and fiber. After that your calorie intake increases to about 1,200 calories a day for women and 1, 500 calories a day for men. In the following weeks you are given the freedom to choose from a variety of different food options, depending on which package you select: “Basic” provides preselected meals; “Core” offers more choices as well as the Favorites Pack; and “Uniquely Yours” provides over 150 different options for meals and snacks. There are also plans to accommodate those with diabetes, vegetarians, and a special package for men who have slightly higher calorie requirements.

The calorie-controlled meal plans are designed to help you lose one to two pounds a week. You’ll need to supplement your meals with some approved grocery store items, including fruits, veggies, protein sources, and low-fat dairy.

Pros

If convenience is what you’re looking for, Nutrisystem is tops. You can pick a month’s worth of meals in a few minutes—so you’ll definitely save time when it comes to meal planning, grocery shopping and meal prepping. You also won’t have to count any calories or worry about overeating, as Nutrisystem’s meals are pre-portioned (as long as you stick to the meal plans!). As an added benefit, users get access to an online community for support and other tools to monitor your progress. Studies have shown that Nutrisystem can be effective in helping you lose weight: in one study, diabetic participants on the Nutrisystem Diet track lost an average of 15 pounds over 3 months, compared to just one in a control group.

Cons

While the cost varies from plan to plan, expect to pay about $300-$400 for meals per month—in addition to whatever snacks you buy at the grocery store. Additionally, while Nutrisystem might be great for limiting calorie intake and portion sizes while you’re on it, it can be difficult to transition back to buying, preparing and eating real food. Eating out can be difficult, but the plan provides two “flex” meals per week to accommodate social gatherings and unexpected dinners out.

Overview

The Spark Solution Diet is the diet of choice of SparkPeople, an online weight loss and healthy living community. The diet is based off of the idea that it takes about two weeks to develop new healthy habits. To keep you on track, it provides strategies and tools for transforming negative habits into positive ones, as well as fourteen days of meal plans and exercise routines. Your daily meals are built off of nutritious foods that boost metabolism, plus eight glasses of water per day. Meal plans, which include three meals and a snack, provide roughly 1,500 calories a day and contain 45-65% carbohydrates, 20-35% fats, and 16-35% protein. No foods are completely off-limits, although dining out is frowned upon until week four.

The book focuses on three main components: the metabolic makeover, in which you support a healthy, humming metabolism by choosing healthy foods regularly (no skipping breakfast!); the mindset makeover, whereby you view healthy eating and exercise as necessary ingredients to live a full, active life; and the motivation and momentum makeover, whereby you use your own healthy momentum to stick with your new healthy habits (the better you feel, the more likely you are to continue with your healthy habits--which leads you to feel even better!).

Pros

When you combine exercise and a calorie intake of 1,500 calories, it’s highly likely you’ll create an energy deficit (burning more calories than you take in)—which equals weight loss. One of the strongest components of the diet is the community—SparkPeople has more than 15 million members who can provide troubleshooting, personal success stories and roadblocks, and new recipes through SparkRecipes.com.

Cons

If you’re not a planner, this diet might not be for you: the first 14 days are very specific and require advance planning and patience. It may also not be sustainable in the long term, as its success depends on sticking to the prescribed calorie counts and exercise.

Overview

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet was developed by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program in order to reduce high cholesterol levels. The main focus of the diet is to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet to less than 7% of total calories, but it provides specific percentages for other parts of your diet as well—including limiting carbohydrate intake to 50-60% of daily calories, protein to roughly 15% of calories, and cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day.

You’ll choose your calorie range depending on whether you’re just trying to reduce cholesterol levels (2,500 calories for men and 1,800 for women) or also want to lose weight (1,600 and 1,200 calories, respectively). If, after cutting saturated fat and cholesterol intake to the recommended levels for six weeks, you haven’t seen improvement in cholesterol levels, you’ll add in 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols and 10-25 grams of soluble fiber each day. Protein is kept to a minimum (less than 5 ounces per day of lean proteins like skinless chicken and fish), while vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are emphasized.

Pros

Studies support the TLC Diet’s efficacy in promoting heart health; in fact, it’s endorsed by the American Heart Association and is clinically shown to reduce cholesterol. It’s nutritionally balanced, and it supports long-term health.

Cons

As a diet whose intent is primarily cholesterol reduction, it may not be as effective as some other diets at promoting weight loss. In a study comparing the Atkins Diet and the TLC diet, TLC dieters lost 20 pounds over six months, which is a decent result for a healthy carb-based diet, but not as dramatic as the 31 pounds lost by Atkins Dieters. It’s also time-consuming: in addition to counting calories, you also have to calculate percentages of calories coming from different nutrients. Label reading is another task that might become tedious after a while.

Overview

According to Barbara Rolls, creator of the Volumetrics Diet, we can minimize hunger—and thus overeating--by keeping our stomachs full. But the trick is to fill up with nutrient-dense, high-volume foods like vegetables and broth-based soups, which take up space without too many calories. Energy density, the number of calories a food has per unit of volume, is a key concept in this diet and defines how foods are categorized. Category 1 (very low-density) includes non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk, and broth-based soup; Category 2 (low-density) includes starchy fruits and vegetables, grains, lean proteins, and legumes; Category 3 (medium-density) includes smaller portions of bread products, desserts, higher-fat meats, and cheeses; and Category 4 (high-density) includes fried foods, candy, cookies, nuts, and other fats.

In three meals, two snacks, and dessert, you’ll prioritize foods from Categories 1 and 2 while sticking to smaller portions of the foods found in Categories 3 and 4. Unlike more regimented diet plans, Volumetrics is more of an eating philosophy, encouraging you to choose foods that are richer in nutrients and that will fill you up for fewer calories. There are no membership fees, but the Ultimate Volumetrics Diet book (available online for less than $15) does provide helpful guidance in addition to 125 recipes and menu planners.

Pros

Low-energy-dense, high-nutrient-dense diets have shown success in promoting weight loss, especially when the diets emphasize fruits and vegetables. Because the diet is designed to be filling, you won’t feel deprived or hungry. And it’s sustainable: it’s designed to shift your preferences towards naturally healthier foods while still allowing small portions of your favorite treats.

Cons

Grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal preparation can be time-consuming. And for people who have trouble with overeating and listening to their body’s signals, it may be difficult to find a point at which you’re truly satisfied without going over or under your body’s energy needs..

Overview

Weight Watchers allows you to eat whatever you want--provided that you stick within your allotted points, which are determined by age, gender, weight and height to provide a calorie deficit. In the newer SmartPoints program, which replaced the PointsPlus system, every food is assigned a value (there are more than 287,000 single ingredients are in their database). Nutrient-dense foods that are low in calories have fewer points than processed foods with empty calories; and in an effort to steer you towards whole, unprocessed foods and away from processed, low-fat foods, fruits and vegetables have zero points. Point values also take into consideration protein, sugar, and fat content. The overall goal of the program is to gradually shift you towards an overall healthier eating pattern—while helping you shed around two pounds per week.

There are three membership options. The most basic option is OnlinePlus. This give you access to an online community with thousands of recipes, tools, and success stories (in addition to the SmartPoints program, which helps you control your calorie intake, Weight Watchers also offers FitBreak, a new app that helps you achieve your exercise goals). The second option is Meetings. In addition to all the online resources, this membership provides you with access to weekly in-person meetings with other community members. And finally, the most inclusive membership option is Coaching. Through this membership you have access to all the benefits provided by the first two memberships as well as 24-hour access to a health coach. This coach will help you set up a plan that works with your lifestyle, habits, and schedule and provide you with on demand support.

Pros

You get to pick exactly which foods you eat on the plan, which means that any eating style—vegetarian, gluten free, vegan—can do well on this plan. In addition, you’ll still get to eat your favorite foods, whether it’s mashed potatoes or chocolate cake—as long as they fit into your daily allotment of points. Instead of being a quick fix for weight loss, Weight Watchers aims to provide sustainable tips for achieving consistent weight loss and maintenance over time—so you won’t be left in the dust after just one or two months. One of the biggest benefits of Weight Watchers is its support groups, meetings, and online community, which provide plenty of accountability and motivation. Users can choose what type of support they want (in-person or online) to best suit their needs.

Cons

Depending on the plan you select, Weight Watchers can be costly: you’ll pay $20 up front, and then a monthly fee between $19.95 and $54.95 depending on how much support you’d like. Weight Watchers may also allow too much freedom for some: in theory, you could choose to spend all of your daily points on chocolate chip cookies and still be “following the rules.” In this sense, self-motivation and accountability are necessary for success.

Popular Diets That Didn't Make Our Top 10 List [And Why]

Some diets pop up again and again in the news—but despite their temporary surges in popularity, they may not be the healthiest or most effective strategies for weight loss. Read on to find out why:

About Ketosis

The Atkins Diet is known as the first popular (or widely used) low-carbohydrate diet in the US. The backbone of this plan is ketosis, a metabolic state that occurs when the body is deprived of carbohydrates and adjusts by burning metabolites of the incomplete breakdown of stored fats. It's important to know that exact carbohydrate restrictions needed to reach ketosis vary from person to person, and that it’s also important to restrict protein intake in order to reach ketosis—a principle that the Atkins diet doesn’t explicitly espouse.

Overview

The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet split into four phases. In Phase 1 (Induction), you eat fewer than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day for two weeks in order to kick-start weight loss; it includes foods high in protein and fat, and low-carb vegetables. In Phase 2 (Balancing), your carbohydrate intake increases as you are allowed to add small amounts of fruits, nuts, and more low-carb vegetables back into your diet; the aim is to add carbohydrates back into your diet while still losing weight. In Phase 3 (Fine-Tuning), which is implemented when you are close to your goal weight, you can add even more carbohydrates to your diet until weight loss plateaus. In Phase 4 (Maintenance), you eat an amount of carbohydrates that won’t promote weight gain. Proponents of the Atkins Diet suggest that how you eat in Phase 4 is how you should eat in general to maintain your goal weight. Foods that are encouraged on the Atkins Diet are meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and low-carb vegetables; sugar, grains, “diet” and “low fat” foods are limited; and high-carb vegetables (turnips, carrots), high-carb fruits (bananas, grapes), starches, and legumes are limited during the induction phase only.

Pros

Research does suggest that the Atkins Diet can promote weight loss. In addition, it emphasizes whole foods, making it naturally high in micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Unlike other weight loss diets, it doesn’t promote specific packaged foods or “diet” products, which gives you the freedom to choose which foods to include in your diet. The Atkins Diet is great for people who want some structure to their diet while also promoting balance: while it does limit carbohydrates pretty strictly, there’s no actual calorie counting—so there’s still plenty of freedom to enjoy many foods that other diets would normally limit. It’s also free—there are no membership fees or certain brands of food you have to buy (the only up-front cost would, potentially, be an educational book).

Cons

For many, the Atkins Diet (especially the induction phase) can be too strict. As you drastically cut your intake of carbohydrates, you may experience fatigue, bad breath and headaches. It also requires a lot of big changes all at once: cutting out many foods that you enjoy daily, like refined sugar, alcohol, and grains, can be more difficult than making small changes one at a time. And while it can lead to short-term weight loss, its sustainability in the long-term is questionable. In addition, its focus on fat and protein may have a negative impact on your heart health, and its strictness may lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Why it’s not a top diet

The Atkins Diet might work for short-term weight loss, but studies have not found that weight loss to be sustainable; in many studies, participants gained back some or all of the weight they had lost.

Overview

The Biggest Loser Diet is designed for people who want to eat and exercise like the participants on The Biggest Loser. If you are interested in this diet you have two options. The first is a self-guided weight loss journey with support from The Biggest Loser BookThe book guides you through the Express 6-Week Weight Loss Program, which teaches you how to choose high quality foods and follow the 4-3-2-1 Pyramid: four servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of lean protein, two servings of whole grains, and fewer than 200 calories of extras--whatever foods you want. The Biggest Loser Diet provides meal plans with three smaller meals per day as well as snacks. In addition to meal plans and recipes, you’ll receive the same exercise instructions as the contestants on the show. Exercise is heavily prioritized!! The the book costs between $10 and $15. The second option is spending a week or more at one of the Biggest Loser Resorts.

The program runs in 7-day increments. During this program you will be lead on a weight loss journey by nutrition and exercise experts. You can expect to workout 4-5 times a day, enjoy calorie-controlled meals by professional chefs, and sit in on classes about nutrition, healthy cooking, intuitive eating, and more. A week at one of their resorts ranges anywhere from around $400/ night to $900/night depending on the accommodations you choose. Most guests choose to say for a duration of 14 days, but it’s totally up to you how much time you spend at the resort.

Pros

The Biggest Loser Diet, when self-directed, is a super affordable way to get started on your weightloss journey. Additionally, the diet emphasizes healthy, whole foods like vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein—but you’re still allowed to eat from all food groups and you get 200 discretionary calories per day to eat the foods you love.

Their resort program gives you access to an incredibly strong support system. Being completely immersed in a healthy-living program for several days can also be a great way to reset if you fell off track from your health goals.

Cons

The 6-week plan outlined by the The Biggest Loser book is pretty regimented. Some users report that meals and workouts cannot be interchanged easily, which can make it difficult to stick to when unexpected events pop up or if you cannot eat certain foods. Calorie limits can also be very low, with some dipping below 1200 calories—a level that may lead to nutrient deficiency in some. The resort option is incredibly expensive and might not be a realistic options for everyone. It also should be noted that while studies have been done on contestants of The Biggest Loser, there haven’t been any rigorous studies done on regular people following the diet. The popularity of the show may also mislead you to have unrealistic expectations of the diet, as contestants of the show are used as success stories in marketing campaigns. The diet and exercise program that you will follow is inherently different from what show contestants go through. Contestants exercise up to eight hours per day and do not deal with the stresses of everyday life that make it more difficult to find time to exercise and cook healthfully.

Why it’s not a top diet

Its long-term efficacy hasn’t been evaluated by experts; so as of now, there is no data to support its capacity for sustainable weight loss and improved health.

Overview

Similar to the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet is a low carbohydrate diet plan designed to help promote weight loss as well as heart health (it was developed in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatston). The diet focuses on helping you choose healthy fats like those found in nuts and olive oil, lean sources of protein like lean meat, poultry, and seafood, as well as a small amount of healthy, high-fiber carbohydrates with a low glycemic index. You can follow this program by reading the book and preparing your own food throughout, or subscribe to the commercial weight loss plan that includes prepared meals.

The South Beach Diet is split into three phases. In the first two-week phase, which is designed to help you lose between 8 and 13 pounds and eliminate cravings, you’ll eliminate almost all carbohydrates--including fruits, fruit juice, and all starches. If you sign up for the official diet (instead of just following along with the book), you’ll receive 14 days’ worth of healthy prepared meals that focus on lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber vegetables. In the second phase, you will still be consuming mostly South Beach Diet prepackaged meals and you will begin adding back in some of the foods you eliminated in Phase 1, like brown rice, whole grains, and low glycemic index fruits. Phase 2 is designed to help you achieve steady weight loss until you reach your goal weight. Every week during the second phase, you’ll receive five days’ worth of prepared meals—giving you the independence to eat what you want for the other two days (South Beach recipes or eating out are equally encouraged). In the final phase, at which point you’ll have reached your goal weight, you can enjoy all foods in moderation while still following the principles of the South Beach Diet (lean proteins, healthy fats, smaller amounts of healthy carbs).

Pros

In the first two phases, the South Beach Diet is very simple: you pick from a list of approved foods and meals and that’s it—no grocery shopping, planning, or prepping. This can be especially helpful as you focus on modifying your eating patterns and tuning in to how your body feels when you add carbohydrates back into your diet. While the South Beach Diet doesn’t have any long term clinical studies backing up its efficacy for weight loss, studies have found that eating patterns that focus on vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and moderate amounts of whole grain carbs can have beneficial health outcomes.

Cons

While the South Beach Diet may lead to moderate weight loss in the beginning due to its low carbohydrate content and strict meal plans, weight loss might plateau as you add in more carbohydrates and are left to cook for yourself. And while it’s very structured in the beginning with the prepared and pre-portioned meals, users might have trouble with the lack of structure in Phases 2 and 3, when it’s up to you to decide how much and which carbohydrates to add back in. Plans can also be costly—up to $460 for 4 weeks of food. And because the diet encourages lots of lean protein, the cost of meats, poultry, and seafood can also add up once you start cooking for yourself. And while the South Beach Diet makes bold claims about its success, there isn’t yet evidence that these claims are effective across populations.

Why it’s not a top diet

There’s not a lot of research backing up the claims of the South Beach Diet with regard to either weight loss or managing diabetes--and experts find that its restrictiveness may make it too difficult to stick to.

The Paleo Diet

Overview

The Paleo Diet was developed by Dr. Loren Cordain, an expert on the natural diet of our ancestors during the Stone Age. In response to extensive research on the health benefits of a Stone Age die, he published The Paleo Diet in 2002, detailing what he believed to be the optimal diet and lifestyle for health and longevity. He advocates for a diet rich in lean meats, fish, eggs, fresh fruit, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthful oils such as olive oil, flaxseed oil, and avocado oil. He also believes that the following foods should be avoided: cereal grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, refined vegetable oils, and added salt. His reasoning is that because our paleolithic ancestors did not have access to these types of foods, our bodies are not well adapted to them. We evolved eating a whole foods diet that was rich in phytonutrients (the nutrients from plants), high quality animal protein, and healthful fats such as omega 3s, all of which are plentiful within The Paleo Diet.

Pros

Because this diet is based around whole foods and encourages completely avoiding anything processed, it is likely to lead to weight loss and an overall improvement in health. In fact, several studies have shown that following The Paleo Diet can decrease markers of metabolic syndrome. The Paleo Diet also encourages avoiding many of the foods that commonly cause digestive discomfort or autoimmune-type symptoms (for example: grains, legumes, and dairy). If you suspect that you may have food intolerances The Paleo Diet might be for you. You are also given free reign to eat as much meat as you so desire, provided that you are consuming high quality protein (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken, and wild-caught fish). This makes The Paleo Diet perfect for those who have higher protein requirements or simply enjoy the taste of meat.

Cons

This diet is highly restrictive and can be hard to sustain in the long run. Since it doesn’t allow for any processed food, it may require a little more thinking ahead and extra meal prep to make sure that you have Paleo-approved meals and snacks with you throughout the day. Since The Paleo Diet stresses the importance of consuming the highest quality meat and produce, you might find that your grocery bill becomes pretty steep if you are sticking to Dr. Cordain’s guidelines. No one can deny the benefits of eating organic produce and grass-fed beef, but these products are definitely pricey and can take a hit on your wallet. And finally, The Paleo Diet is extremely challenging to follow if you don’t consume meat since all grains and beans (vegetarian protein sources) have been removed.

Why it’s not a top diet

It’s unsustainable and unnecessarily restrictive. In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated the health benefits of consuming many of the foods that are restricted. For example, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber and dairy is a good source of calcium and vitamin D. Additionally, it’s easy to overindulge in high fat, high sugar foods on this diet. Many paleo cookbooks highlight paleo “alternatives” to traditionally non-paleo foods such as paleo banana bread, brownies, and even paleo snickers bars. Because these treats are made with whole foods such a nut butter and dates they are healthier than traditional cookies or candy, but indulging too frequently can result in weight gain. The Paleo Diet also isn’t specifically weight loss diet so it might not yield the results you are looking for if weight loss is your goal.

Overview

On paper, Whole30 looks pretty similar to The Paleo Diet—you’ll eliminate all ingredients that weren’t available before our modern industrialized food system. This includes added sugar of any kind, including maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Stevia, xylitol, and other artificial sweeteners; alcohol; grains (including corn and rice); legumes; beans; all soy; dairy; and additives like carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. That leaves a handful of whole, unprocessed foods: meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, vegetables, some fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils. Unlike The Paleo Diet, however, followers are encouraged not to make junk foods or baked goods with the approved ingredients. The diet is designed as a short-term reset or elimination diet, allowing you to see how the foods you were eating and got rid of may have been impacting your health. Proponents of the diet say that many of the forbidden foods wreak havoc on your hormones, disrupt gut health, and promote systemic inflammation, causing symptoms like fatigue, breakouts, mental fogginess, and stomach troubles. The program promises a laundry list of benefits, including improved energy and mental clarity, better athletic performance, better sleep, and a happier disposition. Weight loss actually isn’t a focus: on Whole30, you’re not allowed to weigh yourself.

In terms of cost, you can follow the diet at home using the website or book as a guide, or you can sign up for monthly, quarterly, or annual packages that include the Whole30 Setup, new meal plans each month, and access to recipes.

Pros

If you are suffering from any sort of food sensitivity or intolerance, Whole30 can be a great way to determine which foods are causing symptoms (as long as you introduce them back into your diet one at a time instead of all at once on day 31). Whole30 focuses on limiting processed ingredients, which is a great step in the right direction for anyone who wants to start eating healthier. Bonus: you won’t have to count a single calorie or carb on this diet!

Cons

The diet seems overly restrictive, even if only for a month. Eliminating entire food groups like dairy, legumes and beans, and grains means that you might miss out on key nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins as well as fiber. And there’s really no reason to ban such foods if they’re not causing you any problems to begin with. Despite thousands of followers claiming that Whole30 “cured” their symptoms or disease—from allergies and asthma to infertility and depression—no studies have investigated such claims. The cost of food can also be prohibitive—even though you’re not paying for prepackaged meals, the reliance on animal proteins can make it expensive.

Why it’s not a top diet

It’s unsustainable and it relies on personal anecdotes and testimonials instead of research and clinical trials to support its claims.

See how MealEnders can help make any diet you choose easier to stick to and more successful.

Co-authored by Tami Lyon, MPH, RD and Kate Schlag, MPH, RD. Tami is a Registered Dietitian with 25 years of experience helping people meet their nutrition and wellness goals. She is currently in private practice and serves as Chief Nutrition Officer for MealEnders. Kate is an outpatient dietitian with a large San Francisco Bay Area medical center.

*Individual Results May Vary