Shed It

14 Best Diets for 2013: See What Topped Weight Watchers

Put your New Year’s resolution to good use with our third annual diet rankings.

Michael Keller/Corbis

Michael Keller/Corbis

By Lauren Streib

 

It’s been an interesting year for nutrition and public health. Outsized sodas were outlawed. New projections indicated that the American obesity rate will continue to climb, but urban childhood obesity rates declined for the first time in decades. As well, the results of a 25-year study proved that starvation doesn’t prolong longevity, despite a long-held belief that less food meant more years.

 

Of course, just like last year, obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. And so, The Daily Beast revisited its annual diets ranking for the third year. By analyzing clinical studies and published research on more than a dozen diet regimens, we attempt to sort through all the New Year’s noise regarding weight loss to figure out which has been proven to be the best. 

 

As with last year, we ranked diets based on the most recent published clinical data on long-term and short-term weight loss (as evidenced by 6-month and 12-month weight loss). This year we also included a 5-point scale for promoting cardiovascular health and controlling diabetes based on available published research, which affected the rankings.

Winfried Wisniewski / Corbis

14. Paleolithic Diet

The Trick: Eat like a caveman, literally. Focus on meats, vegetables, fruit and roots.

Good for Heart Health? No

Good for Diabetes Control? No 

 

Cutting out processed foods, including those stuffed with white flour, sugar, or unpronounceable additives, is a modern standard rule in healthy eating. The Paleolithic diet is almost an extreme variation on that rule—eliminating any food that was not eaten before the industrial or agricultural revolution. That means grains, dairy, legumes, and oils are off the plate. Though there have been a plethora of studies on the diet in recent years as its popularity has increased, none have been long enough or with the necessary data conclusions for us to compare with other diets according to our methodology. But a study published in 2010 concluded that a Paleolithic diet (a diet of mainly high-protein, low glycemic foods) is the most effective diet regimen for maintaining weight loss.

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13. Glycemic Index Diet

The Trick: Stick to foods that don’t spike blood sugar

Good for Heart Health? No

Good for Diabetes Control? Inconclusive 

 

All foods with carbohydrates have a value along the glycemic index scale—from white bread close to the max of 100 to peanuts with less than 10. The GI diet eschews foods that have a high GI value, as they cause a rapid spike in blood sugar that is stored as fat if unused. Foods that are composed of nearly all protein and fat aren’t really addressed in the diet, since they have no GI value, so the plan can be a hard to follow and assess nutritionally.

Paul Drinkwater, NBCU Photo Bank / AP Photo

12. Zone Diet

The Trick: Perfecting the balance between carbs, fat, and protein and strict portion control

Good for Heart Health? Inconclusive

Good for Diabetes Control? No 

 

The Zone Diet focuses on a ratio of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat, and 30 percent proteins, which creator Dr. Barry Sears claims regulates blood-sugar levels. Sears’s book landed on the bestseller lists in 1995 and versions have sold more than 4 million copies. Among the diets on our list, the Zone Diet produced the least amount of weight loss in the long and short term.

Kim Komenich, Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

11. Ornish Diet

The Trick: Loads of fiber, little fat, and no meat, fish, or alcohol

Good for Heart Health? Extremely

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

Dr. Dean Ornish is known in the medical field for his work in reversing coronary artery disease with diet, exercise, and meditation—the same approach he recommends for weight loss. In his 1993 tome, Eat More, Weigh Less, he outlined his model for a low-fat, vegetarian diet. Centered around fruits, vegetables, and legumes, only 10 percent of calories come from fats. Meats, oils, nuts, and alcohol are forbidden.

10. LEARN Diet

The Trick: Low-fat diet with exercise and learning to change relationship with food

Good for Heart Health? Extremely

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

An acronym for Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, and Nutrition, the LEARN diet was created by Dr. Kelly Brownell. The diet is a low-fat regimen, with 55-60 percent of calories from carbohydrates and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. One of the more outspoken dieticians, Brownell gained attention in 1994 for suggesting via an op-ed in The New York Times that “since the government controls cigarette and alcohol advertising aimed at children, a similar rationale should apply to unhealthy foods,” a proposition later dubbed the “Twinkie tax.”

9. Mediterranean Diet

The Trick: A lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil with very little red meat

Good for Heart Health? Yes

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

A calorie-restrictive, Mediterranean diet with a target of 35 percent of calories from fat, primarily from olive oil and nuts, produced one of the lowest attrition rates in a 2008 study among the clinical studies that were compared for this list. The diet was based on guidelines presented in Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, written by the Chair of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition Walter Willett and published in 2001, one of many books built around the Mediterranean diet pyramid that espouses fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, and nuts (which contain mono-unsaturated fats) as a nutritional base. The diet gained mass popularity thanks to the book The Sonoma Diet, which landed on bestseller lists in 2006.

8. DASH Diet

The Trick: Heavy on the classics: fruits, vegetables and whole grains

Good for Heart Health? Yes

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

Weight loss is really just a side effect of the DASH diet, which was created by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The conceit is familiar—lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grains and limited quantities of red meat and processed foods. Without saturated fat, sugar, and salt, plus alcohol only in moderation, the diet promises to reduce blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. Even the USDA is a fan of this one.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

7. Atkins Diet (Low-Carb Diet)

The Trick: Strict limits on all carbohydrates

Good for Heart Health? No

Good for Diabetes Control? Inconclusive 

 

Dr. Robert Atkins published Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972, and several decades later became one of the most popular diet franchises of the aughts. While the diet’s popularity has waxed and waned throughout the past 40 years, a generic low-carb diet has been proven to help keep the flab off once weight has been lost. The program limits dietary intake of net carbohydrates: total carbohydrates minus dietary fiber, which Atkins theorized increases one’s metabolism and burns stored body fat. The problem: low-carb diets often result in high-fat consumption, which isn’t great for cardiovascular health.

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6. Slim-Fast

The Trick: Shakes and snack bars instead of meals

Good for Heart Health? Inconclusive

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

While meal-replacement shakes have been available in the U.S. since Metrecal appeared on shelves in the 1960s, Slim-Fast has become a cultural and diet staple since S. Daniel Abraham introduced it in 1977. With just “a shake for breakfast, a shake for lunch, and a sensible dinner,” the program promises rapid weight loss without the complications of … food. The diet company has diversified offerings to include snack bars and powder, but has been declining in popularity in the past decade.

5. Low-Fat Diet

The Trick: Plenty of fat-free and low-fat foods

Good for Heart Health? Extremely

Good for Diabetes Control? Inconclusive 

 

This regimen is designed to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke, outlining a limit of 30 percent of calories from fat, 10 percent from saturated fat and 300 mg of cholesterol. When participants of a study conducted by the American Heart Association stuck to the diet with a limit of 1,500 calories per day for women or 1,800 for men, the diet produced the second highest short-term weight loss and the lowest short-term attrition rate among the clinical studies included in the rankings.

Wolfgang Flamisch / Corbis

4. Vegan Diet

The Trick: Cut out all animal-based products

Good for Heart Health? Yes

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes

 

A vegan diet goes one step beyond a vegetarian diet. In addition to eliminating meat, fish, and poultry, vegans also cut out dairy, eggs, and even honey (as it’s churned by bees). Aside from dietary guidelines, adopting a vegan lifestyle also means avoiding leather, silk, and wool, as well as cosmetics and cleaning products that are derived from or include animal products. One notable study published in 2007 concluded that a low-fat vegan diet resulted in “significantly greater weight loss” than a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. After one year, the vegan dieters lost an average of 10.8 lbs., while the low-cholesterol dieters lost an average of just 4 lbs.

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3. Jenny Craig

The Trick: Packaged food and weekly check-ins

Good for Heart Health? Inconclusive

Good for Diabetes Control? Inconclusive 

 

Members of the Jenny Craig program start with the company’s branded food and menu plan, and then gradually wean themselves off the products as weight loss goals progress. Jenny and Sid Craig, who formed the company in 1983 in Melbourne, created the program. There are more than 700 centers in the world and the average customer reportedly spends about $100 per week on Jenny Craig food while enrolled in the program. Among the diets included in the list, Jenny Craig had the highest rate of short- and long-term attrition, but ranked high in terms of total weight loss over one year.

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2. Weight Watchers

The Trick: Every calorie counts, plus weekly meetings and/or online support

Good for Heart Health? Yes

Good for Diabetes Control? Inconclusive

 

In 2011, consumers spent nearly $5 billion on Weight Watchers services and products, according to the company, and each week 1.4 million members attend weekly meetings around the globe. The publicly traded company offers everything from branded pastries and frozen dinners to mobile apps and cookbooks.  The program uses a point system based on carbohydrate, protein, fat and fiber count in an attempt to simplify the complicated factors in nutrition and weight.

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1. Volumetrics

The Trick: Lots of water in everything you eat

Good for Heart Health? Yes

Good for Diabetes Control? Yes 

 

Pioneered by nutritionist Dr. Barbara J. Rolls, who co-authored The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan with journalist Robert A. Barnett in 2000, the volumetrics diet focuses on eating foods that have high water content to promote the feeling of satiety and combat feelings of hunger and deprivation. Foods such as soup and non-starchy vegetables are favored over calorie-dense foods like chips and cookies.