What is the 'best diet' for you?

The Top Diets of 2016 Are...

What makes a diet best? In Best Diets 2016, the latest set of exclusive rankings from U.S. News, the DASH diet beat out 37 others, including Atkins, Jenny Craig and Slim-Fast, to win the "Best Diets Overall" crown. Among the 17 commercial diet programs marketed to the public, Weight Watchers and the Mayo Clinic Diet came out on top. (Our methodology explains how.) We also ranked the diets on likelihood of weight loss, ability to prevent and control diabetes and heart disease, healthiness and how easy they are to follow.

Our analysis puts hard numbers on the common-sense belief that no diet is ideal for everybody.

Take DASH, the Best Diets Overall winner. It wasn't created as a way to drop pounds, but as a means of combating high blood pressure (it stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The federal government, which funded the research behind DASH, doesn't even call it a diet – it's an "eating plan." If losing weight is your No. 1 goal, a diet in our Best Weight-Loss Diets rankings would be a more likely choice. Or if you have diabetes, you might want to look especially hard at Best Diabetes Diets.

That's why we're giving you lots of tools. Each diet was scored by a panel of experts in short-term and long-term weight loss, on how easy it is to follow, how well it conforms to current nutrition standards and on health risks it may pose – plus its soundness as a diabetes and as a heart diet.

Besides the rankings and data, each diet has a detailed profile that tells you how it works, what evidence supports (or refutes) its claims, a nutritional snapshot – right down to daily milligrams of potassium – and, of course, a close look at the food you'd eat, with photos. All of it is reliable and easy to understand.

These tools will be at least a start at helping you, your mother, your brother – whomever – find that elusive perfect-for-me diet. Once you've whittled down your eligible diets to a few, consider your personality and lifestyle. If you're a foodie, you probably won't be happy with a plan built around frozen dinners, such as Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, or mostly just-add-water meals, like Medifast. If cutting carbs will make you cranky and resentful, you'll want to stay away from low-carb diets such as Atkins and South Beach.

Then think about what did and didn't work the last time you were on a diet. Was it too restrictive? Lots of diets we covered don't consider any food off-limits. Didn't provide enough structure? Some plans will tell you exactly what to eat and when.

With any diet, ask yourself: How long can I stay on this? No matter how good it looks – or how good it might make you look – if you can't stick with it in the long run, you'll be right back where you started after a couple months.

And consider physical activity – an important component of any healthy lifestyle. Does your plan lay out a specific exercise program, or are you on your own?

The questions are endless. Right now, you may have no idea what will or won't work for you. That's what we're here for. We're not going to tell you what diet you should be on, but we can help lead you to a winner – the Best Diet for you.

Here's which diets came out on top in the nine different ranking lists:

Best Diets Overall

1. DASH Diet

2. MIND Diet (tie)

2. TLC Diet (tie)

Best Weight-Loss Diets

1. Weight Watchers

2. HMR Program

Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets

1. Biggest Loser (tie)

1. HMR Program (tie)

Best Diabetes Diets

1. Fertility Diet

2. Biggest Loser (tie)

2. DASH Diet (tie)

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

1. Ornish Diet

2. TLC Diet

Best Commercial Diet Plans

1. Mayo Clinic Diet (tie)

1. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best Diets for Healthy Eating

1. DASH Diet

2. TLC Diet

Easiest Diets to Follow

1. Fertility Diet (tie)

1. MIND Diet (tie)

1. Weight Watchers (tie)

Best Plant-Based Diets

1. Mediterranean

2. Flexitarian

Updated on Jan. 5, 2016: This is an updated version of a previously published story.

Check out 9 simple tricks to eating healthier in the slideshow below:
9 simple tricks to eat healthier from nutritional therapist Amelia Freer
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What is the 'best diet' for you?

1. Start Gradually

Amelia suggests a slow approach to cleaning up your diet. "Sam has been a client of mine, so he has had the personalized approach that I work with, but I took him through all of the steps of the book," Amelia shared. "Chapter one is very clear, it says just give up one thing. Just start gradually. We all know what our one thing is within our diet ... Maybe we feel overwhelmed and try to be perfect, so instead of trying to do everything at once, just [choose] one thing and [start] gradually with that."

Photo Credit: Amelia Freer

2. Cut Down on Sugars

As Amelia points out, studies consistently show that excess sugar is detrimental to all areas of our health. "Very gradually, very subtly, over the last 20 or 30 years, our diets have become higher and higher and higher in hidden sugars, and that really comes from the low-fat, fat-free dieting generation," Amelia shares. "Instead of looking at the sugars that we’re eating, we’ve been focusing on the fats that we’re eating, and science is really starting to show that that’s been a little bit misguided."

However, Amanda recognizes that this doesn't mean all fats are good for you or that everyone should be on a high fat diet. "[It's about] becoming aware of where the hidden sugars are, and just understanding that sugar has many, many different disguises," she suggests. "There [are] artificial sugars, there [are] natural sugars, like fructose for example, found in fruits, and then there [are] the sugars that all carbohydrates get converted into. I think nowadays our diets have just become incredibly high [in] carbohydrates, high [in] natural sugars and high [in] artificial sugars. So we just need to be reducing all of them in all categories."

Photo Credit: Alamy

3. Eat Healthy Fats

While you should cut down on excess sugar in your diet, Amelia recommends eating more healthy fats. "When I refer to good fats it’s really just fats that are found naturally in foods," she shares. This includes oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts. "The fats that we really want to be avoiding are factory-made, processed fats. We know that they’re not actually beneficial for our health," Amelia shares.

Photo Credit: Getty

4. Be Conscious About What You're Eating

Amelia recognized that the foods affecting her consisted of cow's dairy and sugar, so those are the foods she consistently avoids. Doing so has had the biggest impact on her health. So she recommends that people really get in touch with the foods that they're eating, and recognizing where it comes from. Ask yourself: Does this resemble anything like its original source? 

"That really goes back to cooking your food from scratch," Amelia shares. "So the more and more that I can encourage people to make their food from scratch, I think generally they’ll be eating healthier foods, and that will be the starting point...I think it has to be a bit of a gradual journey. It certainly was for me."

Photo Credit: Amelia Freer

5. Cut Down on Snacking

"If you remove the snacking, it’s amazing how much you just cut down on what you’re eating overall," Amelia suggests. She says that this can be a gradual journey. So maybe you start off by reducing the amount you're eating hour by hour, and have a snack every three hours. She recommends a healthy snack like a piece of fruit, with maybe five or six nuts.

"It’s a little bit of healthy carbohydrate and a little bit of protein. That’s the ideal...But again, it’s about making sure that the sugar content, even the fruit content, is low. Something that I would occasionally have would be a slice of chicken leftover from the night before with some cherry tomatoes," she shares.

While Amelia says that the general rule would be a little bit of protein and a little bit of healthy carbohydrate when it comes to snacking, your ultimate goal should be to wean yourself off of snacks. "We can train our bodies if we’re eating the right things," she says.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

6. Cut Down on Caffeine

Think you can't live without your morning cup of joe? You can, and according to Amelia, it may be a good idea to cut back. However, there are studies that show the benefits of natural caffeine, so the way you approach it should be what works for you personally. Amelia points out that if you know you get addicted to caffeine or that it doesn't agree with you, you may want to consider it as your "one thing" to give up when starting the process of transforming your diet.

"I personally love a good quality cup of black coffee in the morning, but I only have one, and I make sure that I get the best quality coffee I can have...I think it’s an individualized approach because there are benefits to caffeine. I just think [it's okay] as long as people aren’t using it as a prop [or] as a supplement all day long to avoid stresses, or avoid emotions, and they [aren't] using it in an unhealthy way."

If you know you're the kind of person who can consume caffeine without becoming addicted, you should feel fine having a cup of coffee or tea. But if you do, you should keep it clean, Amelia says. "Good coffee shouldn’t need to be sweetened, and it shouldn’t need to have anything added to it like milk. Keeping it clean is having it black," she shares.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

7. Incorporate Exercise

We know that exercise is good for us when it comes to everything from our mental health to our energy and our joints as we age. However, Amelia reminds us that over-exercising isn't the way to transform your lifestyle, which is why she always starts her clients with focusing on their diet.

"I don’t believe that you can out train a bad diet," she shares. "I think so many people tend to over-exercise, thinking that it then gives them the green light to eat as much as they want. So I’ll always start with clients [by] saying, 'Look, exercise is going to become very important in your life. It’s essential if you want to be well and healthy, but we’ve got to clean up your diet first.'"

Amelia also points out that if you're going to exercise, you should enjoy it. There's no point in exercising if you're hurting yourself. "It’s about finding something that you enjoy, because you’re more likely to make it a habit if you enjoy it. For example, I can’t stand being in a gym. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve hated it. For me, I need to be outdoors, I need to make it social, I need to make it fun and I need to make it short so I can fit it into my life.

"Everyone is so different and it has to be a personalized approach. I never want to seem like I’m giving ‘everyone needs to do this, my way or the highway’ advice, because I think that that’s really disempowering and it’s the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve with my book."

Photo Credit: Alamy

8. Start Cooking from Scratch

Part of transforming your diet is learning to make food that's clean. In Amelia's book, she shares recipes that can help you get started. "I absolutely love my chicken nuggets with the mango salsa," she shares. "I created that recipe because my niece and nephew love junk food. Chicken nuggets [are] their favorite, and I thought 'I’ve got to nail this. I’ve got to create a meal that they will actually eat without thinking that it’s healthy.'"

Amelia also loves her beef curry. "I always cook it when I have friends around for dinner. It’s just for me [the] ultimate comfort food, and it feels like you’re having something satisfying and filling, and it almost feels naughty instead of having a takeaway. "

Photo Credit: Amelia Freer

9. The biggest takeaway from her book

If you take one thing from Amelia's book, she'd want it to be that you start to connect more with the food you're eating and become more conscious about it. Instead of having a coffee just because you're bored or having a bagel because it's offered in a meeting, think to yourself, 'Do I need this?' 'Do I want this?' 'How is it making me feel?'

"That’s the sort of umbrella for every single chapter of the book," Amelia says. "It brings people back to those moments, whether it be cooking from scratch or just deciding to start with a healthy breakfast."

Amelia gets emails from readers thanking her for helping them to clean up their diet slowly and gradually and not making it complicated or seem terrifying. For her, receiving these notes is "just a dream come true, because that’s exactly what I set out to start with when writing the book."

Photo Credit: Amelia Freer


More from US News:
The 38 best diets overall
The 38 easiest diets to follow, in pictures
9 foods that can keep your brain sharp
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