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Diets, fads and food plans

Unlike broader trends, diets, fads, and food plans are more specific in their application, with distinct goals, fixed guidelines, and sometimes complicated regimens.

“Popular diets tend to be such that consumers can’t or don’t sustain them over time,” said Katie Toulouse, communications director for the Produce for Better Health Foundation BB #:157162 in St. Louis. “Further, as a society, we have long been conditioned to go ‘on’ and ‘off’ diets, rather than to eat a balanced and mostly healthy diet over time.”

Still, some diets can be beneficial—the best are sustainable, allow moderation, include all needed nutrients, and are backed by science and research, said Sarah Limbert, RDN, LD, retail clinical dietitian for Kroger Health.

That’s why the Mediterranean Diet, Weight Watchers, and others that allow for flexibility and include a wide variety of foods top the list of best diets, according to U.S. News “Best Diets 2019” report.

Here’s more information on a few of the leading contenders.

Weight Watchers, now called WW, is a popular program (4.6 million people were signed up in 2018) and focuses not only on losing weight but healthier living. It uses a science-backed system of assigning numbers to foods and beverages based on calories, sugar, saturated fat, and protein.

Members receive a points “budget” and have access to a robust support system. Many studies show WW leads to clinically meaningful and sustained weight loss. And unlike Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, Seattle Sutton, and other programs based on prepackaged meals, snacks, and shakes, WW members make their own food—a practice that encourages variety, flexibility, and an emphasis on fresh produce.

The Keto Diet is an ultra-low-carb plan that includes moderate protein and high levels of fat. The goal: to nudge the body into a state of ketosis in which fat, not sugar, is burned for fuel. But because it’s so restrictive, it’s less sustainable.

“In the short term, diets like Keto and Atkins are helpful for weight loss because they eliminate foods we tend to overeat like cakes, cookies, breads, and chips,” said Kerry Clifford, MS, RD, LDN, of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, BB #:290751 headquartered in Downers Grove, IL.

“But in the long term, complete restriction of carbohydrates can impact energy, bone health, exercise performance, and even reproductive health.”

While carbs are strictly limited, the Keto diet does encourage the consumption of nonstarchy vegetables, avocados, berries, and low-sugar fruit.

Whole 30 is based on Paleo diet principles, but as designed not only for weight loss, but for digestive issues, inflammation, and chronic pain. While Whole 30 and Paleo emphasize high-quality foods, both eliminate grains and legumes—which is not a healthy practice over the long run.

“Diets that restrict whole food categories for no medical reason are not sustainable or advisable,” warns Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, culinary nutritionist, and special diets expert in Los Angeles.

“It’s challenging to follow those rules wholeheartedly, and completely avoiding whole categories of food makes it difficult to meet all of our nutrition needs.”

The upside: both Whole 30 and Paleo emphasize an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Mediterranean Diet, based on traditional foods consumed in the Mediterranean region, has vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats, with moderate amounts of whole grains, legumes, and lean protein.

Many studies show the Mediterranean Diet improves cardiovascular health, promotes weight loss, and protects against chronic disease. And because it focuses less on calories, promotes a healthy lifestyle over restrictions, and emphasizes abundant fruit and vegetable intake, it’s very sustainable for the long-term, Clifford said.

This is a multi-part series on dietary trends from the October 2019 Blueprints magazine.


Lisa Turner is a nutritionist and food writer in Boulder, CO.