What's the best eating plan for your 2018? Photo: ISTOCK

You’ve heard all about Whole 30, Paleo, Weight Watchers, and other trendy diets. But when it comes to overall health, the most effective eating plans often go under the radar. 

 

When U.S. News and World Report released its annual ranking of diets this week, the top pick didn’t go to any diet you’ve seen hashtagged on Instagram or espoused by a wellness-crazed celeb. Out of the 40 diets ranked across nine categories by a panel of top physicians and nutritionists, the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet tied for “Best Diet Overall,” while the Whole 30 and the newly-buzzy Keto diet came in dead last.  

 

What to know about the DASH and Mediterranean diets

 

The criteria for Best Diet Overall is that a diet is nutritious, easy to follow, supports long-term weight loss and heart health. Both the DASH and Mediterranean diets are alike in that they tout well-balanced, non-restrictive eating plans that research shows aids in long-term weight loss and prevention of illnesses like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. They each emphasize consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy and lean protein, while keeping saturated fats, sweets and red meat to a minimum. 

 

Following either will do more to help you develop lifelong healthy eating habits than lose weight quickly. Neither diet gives a set limit for calories, so if you want to keep track of your daily intake, you’ll need to count on your own or with the help of a doctor or nutritionist. Weight Watchers, which has adherents count a food's nutrition points instead of calories, came in first for “Best Weight Loss Diets,” and “Best Commercial Diets.” 

 

The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, came in first for the eighth year in a row. It was specifically developed by the National Institutes of Health to lower blood pressure. The Mediterranean Diet is based on research by a physician named Ancel Keys, who determined back in the 1950s that following a diet popular among the Greek people lowers cholesterol and reduces incidence of cardiovascular disease.

A comparison of the DASH and Mediterranean diets by Harvard Medical School found that they’re equally good for you, and mostly differ when it comes to taste preferences. For example, if a plate of hummus, salad, grilled fish and red wine sounds delicious to you, the Mediterranean diet might be more your speed. If you prefer a meal of chicken, brown rice and roasted veggies, DASH it is. 

How they ranked in additional categories

The DASH and Mediterranean diets came in at the top of several of the other nine categories evaluated. They ranked first and second, respectively, for “Best Heart-Healthy Diets.” The Mediterranean Diet was first in “Easiest Diet to Follow,” “Best Plant Based Diet” and “Best Diet for Diabetes,” with DASH coming in second. They tied with the Flexitarian Diet (a mostly vegetarian diet) and TLC Diet (an NIH developed diet to lower cholesterol) in the category of “Best Diets for Healthy Eating.” 

The most strict and restrictive diets did not fare well. The low-carb, high-fat Keto Diet tied for last with the Whole 30 Diet, which cuts out alcohol, grains, sugars, dairy and legumes for a 30- day period. The take away seems to be that for your well-being in the long run, it's more effective to develop a healthy eating plan that you can stick to over the course of a lifetime. 

The top rankings overall

Best Diets Overall
1. DASH Diet (tie)
1. Mediterranean Diet (tie)
3. Flexitarian Diet

Best Commercial Diets
1. Weight Watchers
2. Jenny Craig
3. Flat Belly Diet (tie)
3. Nutritarian Diet (tie)

Best Weight-Loss Diets
1. Weight Watchers
2. Volumetrics
3. Jenny Craig (tie)
3. Vegan Diet (tie)

Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
1. HMR Diet (tie)
1. Weight Watchers (tie)
3. Biggest Loser Diet (tie)
3. Medifast (tie)
3. SlimFast (tie)
3. Volumetrics (tie)

Best Diets For Healthy Eating
1. DASH Diet (tie)
1. Mediterranean diet (tie)
3. Flexitarian Diet (tie)
3. TLC Diet (tie)

Easiest Diets to Follow
1. Mediterranean Diet
2. Flexitarian Diet (tie)
2. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best Diets for Diabetes
1. Mediterranean
2. DASH Diet
3. Flexitarian Diet (tie)
3. Mayo Clinic Diet (tie)
3. Vegan Diet (tie)
3. Volumetrics (tie)
3. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best Heart-Healthy Diets
1. DASH diet
2. Mediterranean Diet (tie)
2. Ornish Diet (tie)

Best Plant-Based Diets
1. Mediterranean Diet
2. Flexitarian Diet
3. Ornish Diet