Weight loss can be an ongoing issue for many people. When you decide it’s time to lose weight, you are then faced with the problem of which diet is right for you? It can be overwhelming to try and research the different diets, most of the websites are run by companies trying to sell you their program. It’s also hard to find solid diet information concerning nutrition and health benefits. Which diets are medically safe? Which diets are simply fads and probably have health consequences?
We are going to take a look at the 5 most popular diets available today. There rankings came from a variety of sources, including US News and WebMD, among others. Not every diet is for ever person and you should consult your medical professional before starting a diet plan. Most plans are set up to help you lose weight wisely and permanently, you want to avoid yo-yo dieting. There are additional health benefits to consider when you plan on losing weight. Lower blood pressure, reduced risk of diabetes, lower cholesterol and better heart health all go hand in hand with losing unnecessary weight.
It’s hard to find a reputable source that doesn’t rank a Mediterranean diet as the best for weight loss and overall health. With an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil, this diet (actually a lifestyle) is wonderfully balanced nutritionally and has a wide variety of cuisines that are part of the plan.
There isn’t a set Mediterranean diet, it actually represents that eating and lifestyles of countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Cuisines as diverse as Greek and Italian, French and Spanish are all types of Mediterranean diets. Studies have shown that people living in these areas and eating the foods natural to the regions have fewer heart problems, lower rates of diabetes, less obesity and less cancer and cardiovascular problem. It involves an active lifestyle and less emphasis on red meats and sugar.
Following a Mediterranean style diet means an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, fish, whole grains and olive oil. It allows for an occasional glass of wine, some pasta and rice and, within moderation, some desserts. This type of menu is wonderful for controlling diabetes and is often recommended for people with heart issues. It is usually quite easy to follow, there are no points or other counting systems in place. Most of it is common sense when it comes to portions and having a wide variety of menu options to avoid boredom.
Because of its popularity, there are hundreds of cookbooks specializing in Mediterranean cooking. Many offer full meals, some concentrate on fish, while others are more vegetarian in nature. Here are three that we recommend, the recipes are tasty, easy to follow and give you a great assortment to chose from.
The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook is a #1 seller on Amazon. It is packed with over 500 different recipes that are all faithful to Mediterranean style cooking. Most of the recipes can be made with ingredients commonly found at home and for those with a sweet tooth, there are some nice dessert recipes.
The 30 Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook is a great starting point if you are planning on trying this type of diet. The recipes are well written and, as the title states, meant to be prepared in 30 minutes or less. It’s easy to follow and one of our favorites because it includes such a wide assortment of recipes. There are some nice pasta dishes that are definitely worth trying!
Mediterranean Cookbook For Instant Pot combines the most popular diet plan with the most popular cooking appliance. There are over 60 recipes designed to be made in the Instant Pot, most using very basic ingredients found in most kitchens. The instructions are very clear and have detailed programming lists for your Instant Pot.
Mediterranean Plan Pros:
Wide variety of cuisines
Mediterranean Plan Cons:
Can become expensive to stock your kitchen
Requires preparing most meals at home
Best Diet Plan Rating: 4.75 out of 5
DASH is an acronym for dietary approaches to stop hypertension. It’s heavily promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as an effective diet to stop or prevent hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. It encourages us to eat the foods we know are good for us (fruits and vegetables) while cutting down on, or even eliminating, the foods that are not so good for us (sugars, fats, red meat). It’s been proven to be amazing effective at reducing high blood pressure as well as lowering cholesterol, helping to reduce or avoid diabetes and improving your overall health. It’s not a complicated plan but the foods allowed are on a very specific list.
What Can I Eat When Following DASH?
Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are top of the list. DASH also caps sodium intake, starting with a daily level of around 23oo milligrams and lowering that number to 15oo milligrams per day. It eliminates sugary drinks (one of the major causes of obesity), dramatically reduces the intake of full fat dairy items and cuts back (or eliminates) red, fatty meats. It’s more restrictive than a Mediterranean diet but it is overall healthier and has better long term benefits as it is easier to follow for longer periods of time.
DASH doesn’t operate with the theory of making major, dramatic changes all at once. It tries to introduce minor but important changes to your eating habits, maybe adding one vegetable to dinner to replace a starch. To enjoy the rewards and benefits of this diet you will need to change many of your eating habits but it can be done gradually. One of the best ideas is to work up to 2 meat-free days per week, plus adding a 15 minute walk after each meal. These aren’t earth shattering changes but over a few months they will make a dramatic difference in your weight and overall health. It does what diets should do.
DASH plans are fairly easy to find and follow. Meals will use more herbs and spices than salt for flavoring so you may need to stock up when you start. You also will want to replace white flour for whole wheat and use olive oil. Here are a few cookbooks we really like that are true to the DASH lifestyle:
DASH Diet Cookbook: 500 Healthy And Yummy Recipes. The title says it all, 500 really good recipes with easy to follow instructions. The recipes make great use of herbs and spices to give the meals some real flavor.
The DASH Diet Cookbook For Beginners is a solid place to start when you are planning to go on the DASH plan. 21 days worth of meals are laid out here, taking the guess work out of planning and trying to figure out what to make. The recipes are tasty and very easy to follow.
The DASH Diet Instant Pot Cookbook is the perfect guide for following a DASH plan and using your new Instant Pot. There are over 250 recipes, all created with the Instant Pot in mind. Each one is well written and has instructions on programming your Instant Pot for best results.
A DASH plan is similar to a Mediterranean diet but the differences are significant. DASH doesn’t allow rice or pasta, and the meals are a bit more restrictive. DASH has proven more heart healthy but both are very good diet plans.
DASH Plan Pros:
Extremely heart healthy
Lowers blood pressure (hyper-tension)
DASH Plan Cons:
Expensive to get started. You will need to buy special foods at the beginning.
Can get repetitive as happens with many diets.
Best Diet Plan Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Despite it’s unusual and confusing name, flexitarianism is rapidly becoming one of the top diets to be recommended by doctors and nutritionists. It’s core revolves around a vegetarian diet but it allows some additions of meat and dairy in controlled amounts. Basically it is a flexible vegetarian plan, and its results have been favorable.
A flexitarian plan will be started with a plant based diet, like a vegetarian. It does allow for limited intake of meats and dairy, helping to eliminate one of the key reasons that people have for not trying vegetarianism, they enjoy meat. As the average American consumes over 220 pound of meat each year, a flexitarian diet will cut that amount but not eliminate it completely.
I Can Eat Meat?
Yes, but in limited amounts. The meal plans revolve around plant based foods (fruits and vegetables) but there are options for limited amounts of fish and meat. Most people who practice diets like this will have 5 meatless days per week, with meat being allowed on 2 days. It can be an uncomfortable change to stop eating meat all at once, studies have found that people stay on this diet longer and have better long term weight loss with a gradual elimination and reduction of meat.
By reducing the amount of meat consumed you can still enjoy most of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Weight loss is steady and the health benefits are numerous. The risk of diabetes is lowered, high blood pressure is lessened (helping to eliminate hyper tension), overall heart health is better, and the risk of cancer is lower.
There is an additional benefit to this type of diet. By eating less meat, there will be less stress on the environment. The production of meat can be expensive and can have negative effects on the environment. Basically you are reducing your carbon foot print while improving your health.
Meal Planning For Flexitarian Diets
Because flexitarian diets are based on vegetarian plans, it can be quite easy to find easy to make, great tasting recipes. Here are a few of our favorite recipe sources if you are following a flexitarian plan:
Mostly Plants is an easy to follow cookbook with over 100 recipes. As a source for flexitarian dieting it is a good place to start. The dishes concentrate on plant based meals and are easy to follow. You can add an ocasional meat dish to go with most of these recipes.
Damn Delicious Meal Prep is a different kind of cookbook, but it as a great resource for a flexitarian diet plan. Written with easy to follow recipes, this book will help you quickly and easily prepare healthy meals that can be adopted well to a flexitarian plan.
The Flexitarian Diet has over 140 recipes that can be used as mix and match idea when it comes to meal planning. This cookbook does a great job of explaining why certain foods should be added to a diet and the health benefits of that food. Plus, the recipes are outstanding!
Flexitarian Plan Pros
Nutritionally good. You may have to add some vitamins to your diet.
Very flexible (hence the name!).
Wide variety of recipes and plans to follow.
Flexitarian Plan Cons:
Requires extra prep work and meal planning.
Can be expensive as you stock your kitchen.
Best Diet Plan Rating: 4.25 out of 5
4. Weight Watchers (WW)
One of the most recognizable names in the world, Weight Watchers has morphed from a diet plan with support meetings to a complete lifestyle planning plan that not only concentrates on weight loss but also on improved health.
WW launched its Freestyle program in 2017, based on a points system that bring nutrition to the front of the rating system. By helping to address overall health (instead of only weight loss), WW is helping its clients to achieve sustainable weight loss plus the added benefits of better health. The main structure of Weight Watchers stays the same. There is still a support system (meetings, counselors, videos etc) to help someone stay on the plan while changing some behavioral patterns that lead to unhealthy eating.
Lots of Ready Made Foods
Part of a diet plan is to change eating habits. You need to substitute unhealthy foods for healthier foods while still maintaining a healthy diet. While it can be expensive to eat only ready made foods, this option is great to have as a supplement when you are planning your new diet.
Weight Watchers has a huge variety of all types of foods. Everything from entrees, breads, snacks and desserts are available at most local supermarkets. All will have a point listing so that you can keep track of you point total. With Freestyle, the fewer points you have, the better.
What Can I Eat.
With Freestyle you can eat just about anything. Following the mantra of Julia Child (there are no bad foods to eat, there are simply too large a portion of foods being eaten), WW doesn’t restrict too many foods. It’s all about portion control, cutting back on quantities of certain foods (did you really need to eat that entire pizza?) and adding some activity to your life.
A well balanced Weight Watchers diet will have variety, plus plenty of fruits and vegetables. It allows you to have your favorite meat and to have a dessert. If this sounds like a fantasy diet, think again. It requires a lot of planning and work. Many people struggle with getting portion size under control, it will take some behavioral changing on your part.
Another benefit of Weight Watcher’s popularity and enduring image is that there are literally hundreds of resources for you to use to plan your meals. Weight Watchers posts some basic ideas on their website that are good starting points. Here are a few of our favorite Weight Watchers cookbooks:
Weight Watchers Cookbook 2019-2020 is packed with ideas and meal planning tips. There are over 600 recipes to choose from, all with point totals spelled out so that you are always aware of your point status. The recipes are tasty and very well written.
Weight Watchers Freestyle Program 2019 was written specifically for the new Freestyle points program. Not only are there over 100 recipes, this cookbook gives you an entire 30 menu planning tool. This is a great place to start your Weight Watchers diet and it is one of our all time favorite cookbooks.
No diet plan would be complete without an Instant Pot option. The Weight Watchers Instant Pot Cookbook has recipes for entrees, soups, desserts and other meal options, all with Freestyle points assigned to each food. The recipes also have detailed instructions on how to program your Instant Pot to perfectly create your meal.
Weight Watchers Plan Pros:
You can eat anything (it’s all about portion control).
Amazing amount of ready made options.
Weight Watchers Plan Cons:
Ready made food can be expensive.
The ability to eat any foods can lead to overeating.
Best Diet Plan Rating: 4 out of 5
5. The Mayo Clinic Diet
Long the most respected name in medicine worldwide, the Mayo Clinic has been actively involved in diet and lifestyle plans for years. While examining what foods people eat and what happens with certain diets, Mayo has long championed a diet and lifestyle pattern that focuses on an overall improvement of one’s health. Weight loss is a part of that improvement but it comes from behavioral changes, not from a superfood or special restrictive diet.
Like other weight loss plans Mayo uses a food pyramid to describe which foods should have more quantity in your diet. Stressing fruits, vegetables and whole grains, this diet plans concentrates on foods that have low energy density. What that means is that you can eat more of those foods, feel fuller but not add unwanted weight. The example that Mayo often uses is the calorie count of 1/4 of a Snickers bar is the same as 2 cups of broccoli. That may not be the most effective comparison but it’s meant to show the increased volume in the foods you can eat, making you feel more full.
What’s Different About This Plan?
Long term goals and long term change are the themes of the Mayo Clinic diet plan. While most diets try to change unhealthy eating behavior, this diet concentrates on your overall health behavior and address issues beyond what you are eating. Exercise, activity, mental health and personal outlook all come into play with a well planned, varied diet that is quite easy to follow.
Quite a few studies have shown the Mayo diet to have excellent long term benefits. Weight loss is the most noticeable but there is also reduced risk of heart problems and cancer. Lower blood pressure (and reduced rates of hyper tension) are common and most participants in the long term studies felt that their overall energy levels were much higher.
What Can I Eat?
A good portion of this plan is plant based but there are allowances for some meat and the occasional dessert. The start of these diets can be intense, you jump right into a fairly strict diet but the results tend to come quickly. It’s not uncommon to lose 5-8 pounds in the first two weeks and up to 12 pounds after 3 weeks. Phase 1 is called Lose It! while phase 2 is titles Live It!. Phase 2 is designed to help you continue to slowly lose weight until you have reached your weight loss goal, all while you are learning new lifestyle habits that will improve your health.
There are fewer specific Mayo Clinic diet resources but there are plenty of plant based diet cookbooks and plans on the market. Here are a couple of our favorite Mayo Clinic specific books that we recommend:
The Mayo Clinic Diet specializes in the lifestyle improvements that are the core of this diet plan. There are diet plans and recipes to help you with your meal planning, plus tips to help you make small but important changes in your daily activities.
The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook is a joy to read and the recipes are outstanding. This is a great resource even if you aren’t following a Mayo plan. The recipes are healthy but delicious. Most are quite easy to prepare and use common ingredients found in most kitchens.
Mayo Clinic Plan Pros:
Created by the Mayo Clinic. Tested and proven.
Nutritionally sound, better than most diets.
Flexible. You get to create your plan.
Mayo Clinic Plan Cons:
Plenty of meal preparations, can be time consuming.
Can be expensive. You need to replace some basic foods in your kitchen.
Best Diet Plan Rating: 3.9 out of 5