Updated: Aug 18, 2021
Forget cayenne pepper and lemonade. With information about nutrition so widely available, we're better educated about what choices are healthy. Society as a whole also has greater interest in creating real, positive changes in their lives rather than momentarily dropping a few pounds. The fad diets and quick fixes are out. Genuine healing and progress are in. Weight loss may come more slowly, but it will be sustainable.
These five diets were ranked by the U.S. News and World Report (health.usnews.com) as being the healthiest, most maintainable diets. They emphasize lifestyle changes that are about teaching yourself how to live better, not how to drop ten pounds by next week. One of these diets even incorporates living habits that reach far beyond your dinner plate.
#1. The Mediterranean Diet
The U.S. News and World Report has given the Mediterranean diet the top spot as the best overall diet for four years running. It follows the natural eating habits of people who live in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. What's so special about the way they eat there? According to the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org), interest arose from the fact that death from cardiovascular disease is low in this area of the world. The Mediterranean diet is rich in seasonal fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. Dairy and red meat are kept to a minimum, while fish is enjoyed in abundance. Red wine is also consumed in moderation, although if you aren't a drinker now, picking up the habit to follow a diet isn't recommended. In addition, the traditions of eating with friends and family and being physically active also play a large role in the health of the people of the Mediterranean.
#2. The Flexitarian Diet
The Flexitarian diet is vegetarian... sort of. Instead of taking foods away from your diet, this meal plan simply adds. By increasing your daily intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you'll crowd out much of your meat intake. But you don't have to give up meat altogether. Just limit it. This diet also follows a calorie plan: breakfast should be around 300 calories, lunch should be around 400 and dinner should be around 500, with two snacks of 150 calories each, adding up to approximately 1500 calories a day. If you're more active, or not interested in losing weight, you can adjust these to suit your needs.
"DASH" stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was specifically formulated for people with high blood pressure to help manage, and even eliminate, their symptoms. It focuses on adding healthy fruits, vegetables, and grains to your diet while strictly reducing salt and sugar. Saturated fats, such as those in red meat, processed foods, and full-fat dairy, are discouraged. Adhering to this diet means closely watching what you order in restaurants and reading food labels to find hidden sources of salt, sugar, and saturated fats. There's a learning curve with DASH, but once you become familiar what you can and can't eat it's easily sustainable.
#4. The Nordic Diet
The Nordic Diet is relatively new, having been created in 2004, according to Healthline (healthline.com). It's meant to reflect the eating habits of people who live in the Nordic countries of Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, although some of the foods emphasized weren't historically available in these countries. It's structured in tiers of what to eat most, what to eat moderately, what to eat rarely, and what to avoid entirely. In the 'most' category are berries, seeds, fruits, potatoes, vegetables, rye breads, low-fat dairy, fish, seafood, and canola oil. In moderation you can eat game meats, cheese, and eggs. You should rarely eat other sources of red meat and should completely avoid added sugars, sugary drinks, processed foods, and food additives. Experts note that the Nordic diet and the Mediterranean diet are very similar, with the major difference being the Mediterranean diet's emphasis on olive oil as a source of healthy fat and the Nordic diet's emphasis on canola, or rapeseed, oil.
#5. The Ornish Diet
According to U.S News and World Report, the Ornish diet was created in 1977 by a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California named Dr. Dean Ornish. Instead of focusing solely on eating habits, the Ornish diet encompasses lifestyle choices as well. The cornerstones of the diet are restricting your daily fat intake to 10 percent of your total calories, avoiding processed foods, limiting animal proteins, and upping your servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Alcohol is allowed in moderation. The Ornish diet emphasizes the importance of aerobic exercise and strength training, and managing stress through yoga and meditation. Finally, plan to spend time with the people you love and respect and allow them to help you when you need it.
Dieting isn't about getting skinny as quickly as possible, never mind the cost to health and wellbeing. Dieting is about good changes, sustainable living and treating your body well.