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The gold medals are piling up. For the sixth year in a row, the Mediterranean style of eating earned the title of best overall diet, according to 2023 ratings announced Tuesday by U.S. News & World Report. Meals from the sunny Mediterranean also ranked first in the categories of diet best diet for healthy eating and best plant-based diet, the report said.
In two new categories added for 2023, the Mediterranean tied with the cholesterol-lowering TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) and flexitarian diets as best family-friendly diet, and with DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) for best bone and joint health diet.
“We’re always looking for more health conditions that we can address. But often there’s not enough scientific data examining diet X and condition X,” said Gretel Schueller, managing editor of health for U.S. News & World Report, who oversees the annual diet ranking.
“However, bone and joint health is an area where there’s a fair amount of scientific literature,” Schueller said. “We also recognize our population is aging so focusing on diets that can increase the quality of life among older individuals is an important element.”
Also new this year: Reviewers only ranked 24 diets instead of the 40 or so diets analyzed in past years. Five diets from the original list — vegetarian, vegan, Nordic, the traditional Asian and the glycemic index — were integrated by judges into the Mediterranean and other diets due to their underlying plant-based principles.
“The take-home message here is the recognition that the Mediterranean diet is really not just about the foods around the Mediterranean,” Schueller said. “You can take the the lessons and the approach of the Mediterranean eating pattern and apply it to any cuisine in any country.”
“We recognize that more and more people are eating sort of a plant-forward or plant-based diet or at least trying to,” she said. “The keto with a Y diet is supposed to be a flexible, low-carb Mediterranean plan.
“The Pritikin diet focuses on low-fat, high-fiber eating of whole foods, and is fairly flexible,” she added. “We are seeing a push towards eating more whole, unprocessed foods, which I think is a great thing.”
What is a Mediterranean style of eating?
Numerous studies have found the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer. The diet, which is more of an eating style than a restricted diet, has also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and longer life.
The diet features simple, plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all, and sugar and refined foods are reserved for special occasions.
Red meat is used sparingly, usually only to flavor a dish. Eating healthy, oily fish, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, is encouraged, while eggs, dairy and poultry are eaten in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.
Social interactions during meals and exercise are basic cornerstones of the Mediterranean style of eating. Lifestyle changes that are part of the diet include eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise.
Second and last place
Just as they did in 2022, the DASH and the flexitarian diet tied for second place in best overall diet. Similar to the Mediterranean style of eating, these diets reduce or eliminate processed foods and stress packing your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
The DASH diet emphasizes limiting salt intake in its goal to reduce blood pressure, while the flexitarian diet, true to its name, allows an occasional indulgence of meat or poultry.
A panel of 33 experts examined top diets and ranked them in several categories: Did the diet include all food groups; was it evidence based; are needed foods available at any supermarket; how easy is the diet to prepare, and did it use additional vitamins or supplements.
“We focused on quality over quantity,” Schueller said. “Our reviewers felt there are some diets out there that are so wacky they’re not worth giving time to, such as the Dukan diet, which we no longer rank.”
The worst diet award went to the raw foods diet this year, at least in part due to the lack of nutritional completeness, which has raised safety concerns among the reviewers. Because followers can only eat unprocessed foods that haven’t been cooked, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered or exposed to pesticides or herbicides, reviews consider the diet almost impossible to follow.
The popular keto diet, along with the modified keto, was ranked 20 out of the 24 diets, followed by Atkins, SlimFast and Optavia. These diets emphasize eating high-protein or high-fat foods with minimal carbohydrates and receive low rankings because they are extremely restrictive, hard to follow and eliminate entire food groups.
Despite keto’s low overall rating, reviewers gave the keto diet first place for best short-term weight loss diet, Schueller said, quickly adding that these diets are not considered healthy as a lifestyle.
“These are the diets for someone who’s got a wedding or an event they want to go to in the next few months,” she said. “Will you lose weight in the short term? Absolutely. Will you keep it off for the next two years? Probably not.”
In the category of best (long-term) weight-loss diet, WW (formely called Weight Watchers) came in first, with DASH and TLC tied for second. WW also got top honors in the best (commercial) diet program, followed by NOOM and Jenny Craig.
Flexitarian and TLC shared the gold in the category of easiest diet to follow, while the Mediterranean and DASH diets tied for third.
The DASH diet took top honors as best diet for heart health and for people with diabetes, followed by the Mediterranean, flexitarian and Ornish diets. The Ornish diet was created in 1977 by Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in California.
The Ornish diet is combined with stress-management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation, and according to Ornish is the only scientifically proven program to reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery
Want to make the Mediterranean style of eating one of your goals this year? Sign up for CNN’s Eat, But Better: Mediterranean Style newsletter, an eight-part series that guides you in a delicious expert-backed eating lifestyle that’s good for your health.
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