U.S. News ranks the 38 best diets of 2017

U.S. News evaluated and ranked 38 diets with input from a panel of health experts. To be top-rated, a diet had to be safe, relatively easy to follow, nutritious and effective for weight loss. It also had to be stellar at preventing diabetes and heart disease. Click on to see which diets came out ahead.

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US News: 38 Best Diets of 2016
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US News: 38 Best Diets of 2016

#38 Whole30 Diet

According to our panelists, the Whole30 diet might as well be called the biggest loser. Complaints about its absence of scientific support; its severely restrictive nature; its elimination of whole grains, legumes and dairy; and its short-term approach and long-term promises landed this diet in last place overall.

Overall rank: 38
Overall score: 2 out of 5

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#37 Dukan Diet

Experts sent the Dukan Diet to nearly the bottom of the pack, handing out dismal ratings in almost every category. Its overall score was more than a full star below average. It’s too restrictive, with lots of rules, and there’s no evidence it works. One expert said long-term weight loss is unlikely because the diet is unsustainable, while another expert described it as “idiotic.” 

Overall rank: 37
Overall score: 2.1 out of 5

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#36 Paleo Diet

Experts took issue with the Paleo diet on every measure. Regardless of the goal – weight loss, heart health or finding a diet that’s easy to follow – most experts concluded that it would be better for dieters to look elsewhere. “A true Paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants,” said one expert – quickly adding, however, that duplicating such a regimen in modern times would be difficult. 

Overall rank: 36
Overall score: 2.3 out of 5

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#35 Atkins Diet

Many of our experts found the popular low-carb Atkins Diet leaves much to be desired, at least as an all-purpose diet. Although our expert panel concluded that it could outperform nearly all of its competitors in short-term weight loss, unfavorable marks in other measures – including long-term weight loss, nutrition, safety and heart health – yanked down Atkins in the standings. 

Overall rank: 35
Overall score: 2.4 out of 5

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#32 (tie) Raw Food Diet

The experts gave the Raw Food Diet solid marks for weight loss, both for the short and long term, but considered it all but impossible to follow, and its nutritional completeness and safety raised concerns. “Doing it well involves considerable commitment and effort, knowledge and sacrifice,” one expert said. “And there are diets that require less of all these that are likely to be just as healthful.” 

Overall rank: 32
Overall score: 2.5 out of 5

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#32 (tie) The Fast Diet

This pattern of eating is often referred to as the 5:2 diet – you eat normally for five days of the week and cut your calories to about 25 percent of normal intake on two nonconsecutive days of the week. Men consume just 600 calories on their two weekly fast days, while women are limited to 500 calories. Not surprisingly, the experts had plenty of concerns, and the Fast Diet landed toward the bottom of the Best Diets Overall rankings. 

Overall rank: 32
Overall score: 2.5 out of 5

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#32 (tie) Body Reset Diet

Experts were unenthusiastic about the Body Reset Diet, which received mediocre marks in all categories. It performed particularly poorly in areas such as long-term weight loss and easiness to follow. “It’s a gimmick – an unhealthy weight-loss diet,” one expert noted. “It’s not a way of sustainable eating.”

Overall rank: 32
Overall score: 2.5 out of 5

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#31 Acid Alkaline Diet

The Acid Alkaline diet’s premise is that by helping your body control your pH through diet, you’ll gain health and longevity. pH is a measure of acids and alkalines throughout the body on a 0 to 14 scale, and supporters argue that eating acid-forming foods – like red meat – tips your pH balance out of whack and sets the stage for poor health. But don’t hold your breath for this diet to work. It’s “ridiculous and poorly researched,” one expert said. “It’s not based on science.” 

Overall rank: 31
Overall score: 2.7 out of 5

#29 (tie) Supercharged Hormone Diet

Experts were not eager to recommend the Supercharged Hormone Diet, which received mediocre marks in all categories. It performed particularly poorly in areas such as easiness to follow, long-term weight loss, nutrition, and effect on diabetes and heart health. “The premise of this diet is ridiculous – and it doesn’t promote long-term weight loss or improved eating behavior,” one expert concluded.

Overall rank: 29
Overall score: 2.8 out of 5

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#29 (tie) Medifast Diet

Experts were likewise unenthused about Medifast. It scored above average in short-term weight loss but was dragged down by lower marks in most other categories. 

Overall rank: 29
Overall score: 2.8 out of 5

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#28 Macrobiotic Diet

Experts gave little credence to the macrobiotic diet on several counts: Following the plan is a challenge. It’s an extreme change from the standard American diet. And it’s awfully strict. The macrobiotic approach, one expert summed up, is “a mix of sound dietary guidance, mysticism, folklore and nonsense.” 

Overall rank: 28
Overall score: 2.9 out of 5

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#25 (tie) Zone Diet

The Zone Diet lagged behind higher-ranked diets, if not always by much, in nearly all ratings categories, including weight loss, how easy it is to follow and its effect on diabetes and heart health. It’s "unnecessary and tedious to structure every meal around specific macronutrient thresholds," according to one expert; another stated there is "no magic with the diet." 

Overall rank: 25
Overall score: 3 out of 5

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#25 (tie) Glycemic-Index Diet

Experts were less than impressed with the glycemic-index diet, which distinguishes “good” carbs from “bad.” They scored it particularly low on long-term weight loss, heart benefits and ease of adherence. Although the diet’s ratings in nutrition and safety were relatively strong, they couldn’t push the diet out of the lower third of the pack. 

Overall rank: 25
Overall score: 3 out of 5

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#25 (tie) Abs Diet

The experts found the Abs Diet moderately effective for quick weight loss and middle of the road in most other respects. They took issue with the company’s claim that dieters can drop up to 12 pounds of belly fat in two weeks and questioned the evidence behind some of its tactics. 

Overall rank: 25
Overall score: 3 out of 5

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#24 South Beach Diet

Although the South Beach Diet earned positive ratings for being able to produce rapid weight loss, its restrictions can make it difficult for dieters to keep the pounds off, experts said. Most were less enthusiastic about its ability to combat diabetes or heart disease. 

Overall rank: 24
Overall score: 3.1 out of 5

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#20 (tie) Slim-Fast Diet

Slim-Fast is a reasonable approach to dieting, experts concluded. It outscored a number of competitors on weight loss and as a diabetes diet, and being highly structured, it’s fairly easy to follow. But it scored lower than many other diets on heart health. 

Overall rank: 20
Overall score: 3.2 out of 5

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#20 (tie) HMR Program

The HMR Program received moderate scores in most measures. It did particularly well in categories such as short-term weight loss, nutrition, safety and healthiness. Still, some experts weren’t convinced the costly meal-replacement program is necessary. “I would only suggest this under extreme circumstances,” one said. “It’s very expensive and not practical for most people.”

Overall rank: 20
Overall score: 3.2 out of 5

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#20 (tie) Engine 2 Diet

Experts handed out a below-average 3 stars to the Engine 2 Diet. Though they acknowledged its benefits for heart health and diabetes control and prevention, they faulted the program for being unnecessarily restrictive and “gimmicky,” and called for more research into some of its claims. “I fail to see anything unique, innovative or useful with this diet,” one expert said. 

Overall rank: 20
Overall score: 3.2 out of 5

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#20 (tie) Eco-Atkins Diet

One expert summed up Eco-Atkins as a "healthier version of the Atkins diet, but compliance is likely to be more difficult." That's because it's restrictive and little guidance is available. 

Overall rank: 20
Overall score: 3.2 out of 5

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#16 (tie) Vegan Diet

Overall, the health experts were lukewarm on veganism despite giving it fairly high marks as a diabetes or heart-disease diet. It is extremely restrictive, doesn’t offer built-in social support and may not provide enough of some nutrients. 

Overall rank: 16
Overall score: 3.3 out of 5

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#16 (tie) Spark Solution Diet

The Spark Solution diet is designed around nutritious, reduced-calorie meals that optimize your metabolism, along with a regular fitness routine. Though it’s not particularly novel, it’s a sensible diet, and there’s a good chance it will help you lose weight and keep it off. It’s a “comprehensive program that can lead to healthier eating behaviors,” one expert said. 

Overall rank: 16
Overall score: 3.3 out of 5

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#16 (tie) Nutrisystem Diet

Nutrisystem sits near the middle of the standings. It’s safe, easier to follow than many other diets and has few nutritional deficiencies, according to experts. As a heart-healthy diet, it’s off the mark. 

Overall rank: 16
Overall score: 3.3 out of 5

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#16 (tie) Flat Belly Diet

The Flat Belly Diet landed in the middle of the pack because most of its scores from the experts were right around average. It did get high marks in safety and nutrition. 

Overall rank: 16
Overall score: 3.3 out of 5

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#15 Biggest Loser Diet

The Biggest Loser Diet received high marks for short-term weight loss, safety and soundness as a regimen for diabetes, and it was rated moderately effective for heart health. But many panelists felt that in a sea of diets, it’s not overly special, and one said it’s merely “capitalizing on the name” of the popular TV show. 

Overall rank: 15
Overall score: 3.4 out of 5

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#14 Anti-Inflammatory Diet

While the Anti-Inflammatory Diet itself is nutritionally sound, experts expressed concern. “Most Americans would benefit from adopting many of these principles, especially increasing fruits and vegetables,” one expert said. “What is lacking is scientific evidence that this diet will reduce inflammation in the body and that weight loss results from following it.” 

Overall rank: 14
Overall score: 3.5 out of 5

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#13 Traditional Asian Diet

The Traditional Asian Diet is a reasonable choice for an eating pattern, landing around the middle of the pack of ranked diets. Experts handed out high marks in nutrition and safety, but doubted the plan’s ability to deliver short- or long-term weight loss. 

Overall rank: 13
Overall score: 3.6 out of 5

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#10 (tie) Vegetarian Diet

As a health diet, vegetarianism is solid. It’s decent at producing rapid weight loss, according to experts, and is strong in other areas, such as heart health and nutritional completeness, which arguably are more important. 

Overall rank: 10
Overall score: 3.7 out of 5

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#10 (tie) Ornish Diet

The Ornish Diet got a mixed reaction from experts. On one hand, it’s nutritionally sound, safe and tremendously heart-healthy. On the other, it’s not easy for dieters to adhere to the severe fat restriction the diet demands. 

Overall rank: 10
Overall score: 3.7 out of 5

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#10 (tie) Jenny Craig Diet

Jenny Craig drew praise from experts for being easy to follow, nutritionally complete and safe, and for offering dieters emotional support. But these experts were lukewarm about its potential to bolster heart health or help people with diabetes. Experts also noted that Jenny Craig’s cost could be a roadblock for some. 

Overall rank: 10
Overall score: 3.7 out of 5

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#8 (tie) Volumetrics Diet

Volumetrics outperformed its competitors in many categories. It earned particularly high marks for being safe and nutritious, and experts said it could have a positive effect on heart health and diabetes. “This is an eating plan that everyone can benefit from,” one expert said. 

Overall rank: 8
Overall score: 3.8 out of 5

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#8 (tie) The Fertility Diet

If you make these changes to your diet, weight and activity, you can increase ovulation and get pregnant faster – or so the claim goes. The Fertility Diet impressed experts, receiving moderate-to-high scores across the board. It performed particularly well in the diabetes, easiness-to-follow, nutrition and safety categories. Still, if getting pregnant is your aim, some skepticism is warranted. “I find it difficult to believe it can help with fertility,” one expert said.

Overall rank: 8
Overall score: 3.8 out of 5

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#4 (tie) Weight Watchers Diet

Weight Watchers is a smart, effective diet. It surpassed other commercial diet plans in multiple areas, including for short- and long-term weight loss and how easy it is to follow. It’s also nutritionally sound and safe, according to experts. Among its pluses: an emphasis on group support, lots of fruits and vegetables, and room for occasional indulgences. 

Overall rank: 4
Overall score: 3.9 out of 5

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#4 (tie) TLC Diet

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC, is a very solid diet plan created by the National Institutes of Health. It has no major weaknesses, and it’s particularly good at promoting cardiovascular health. One expert described it as a “very healthful, complete, safe diet.” But it requires a “do-it-yourself” approach, in contrast to the hand-holding provided by some commercial diets. 

Overall rank: 4 
Overall score: 3.9 out of 5

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#4 (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet

This is the Mayo Clinic’s take on how to make healthy eating a lifelong habit. It earned especially high ratings from our experts for its nutrition and safety and as a tool against diabetes. Experts found it moderately effective for weight loss. 

Overall rank: 4
Overall score: 3.9 out of 5

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#3 MIND Diet

The MIND diet takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health. Featuring a wide variety of options, from salad to nuts to fruits and veggies, this diet receives expert praise for its focus on real food. It's a healthy, sensible plan with science behind it.

Overall rank: 3
Overall score: 4 out of 5

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#3 MIND Diet

The MIND diet takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health. Featuring a wide variety of options, from salad to nuts to fruits and veggies, this diet receives expert praise for its focus on real food. It's a healthy, sensible plan with science behind it.

Overall rank: 3
Overall score: 4 out of 5

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#2 Mediterranean Diet

With its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and other healthy fare, the Mediterranean diet is eminently sensible. And experts’ assessments of it were resoundingly positive, giving this diet an edge over many competitors. 

Overall rank: 2
Overall score: 4.1 out of 5

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#1 DASH Diet

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes and its role in supporting heart health. Though relatively obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets. One expert also described the diet as a "well balanced, thorough approach to weight loss."

Overall rank: 1 
Overall score: 4.2 out of 5

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RELATED: The 12 best diets for heart health

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The 12 best diets for heart health

#12 The Fertility Diet

According to research from the Nurses' Health Study, on which The Fertility Diet is based, women who consume “good” fats, whole grains and plant protein improve their egg supply, while those who eat “bad” fats, refined carbohydrates and red meat may make fewer eggs and increase the risk for ovulatory infertility. Your heart may benefit from such an approach, too, suggests research finding that replacing animal protein with good carbohydrates might protect against heart attack, stroke or early death from cardiovascular disease and improve artery health and blood flow.

#8 (tie) Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet, which is based on the heart-healthy principles of the Mediterranean diet, reflects creator Andrew Weil’s belief that certain foods cause or combat systemic inflammation. According to the American Heart Association, inflammation is not a proven cause of cardiovascular disease, but it is common among heart disease patients. Plus, the program emphasizes a steady supply of omega-3 fatty acids, which research suggests protect against heart disease.

#8 (tie) Flexitarian Diet

Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The plan revolves around the idea that you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism; an occasional burger is OK. One large 2015 study of more than 450,000 Europeans found that those who ate a diet of at least 70 percent plant-based foods had a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who were least "pro-vegetarian." Earlier research suggests a semi-vegetarian diet also helps promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As a bonus, it's good for the environment, one reviewer pointed out.

#8 (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet

Experts agree the Mayo Clinic Diet is a sound option for preventing or controlling heart problems. It focuses on coaching dieters to develop healthy, lasting habits around which foods they choose to eat and which to avoid. Plus, it reflects the medical community’s widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet: heavy on fruit, veggies and whole grains but light on saturated fat and salt.

#8 (tie) Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet has the potential to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to experts, as long as vegetarians don’t load up on full-fat dairy and processed foods. As one expert reminds, "vegetarian diets can be healthy or unhealthy"; the beer-and-popcorn version is the latter. Still, if you take a well-informed approach, a vegetarian plan is a good bet for heart-conscious dieters, especially those who don’t have the heart to eat animals anyway.

#7 Engine 2 Diet

This low-fat, “plant strong” diet was created by Rip Esselstyn, a firefighter, former professional athlete and medical scion. It’s thought to prevent and often reverse diseases, like heart disease, caused by the so-called Standard American Diet and should also help keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check. If you adopt the Engine 2 Diet, you’ll load up on fruit, vegetables and whole grains and slash all animal products, processed foods and vegetable oils from your diet.

#6 Vegan Diet

Veganism earned high marks for its potential to boost cardiovascular health. It emphasizes the right foods – fruit, veggies and whole grains – while steering dieters away from meat, dairy and salty, processed choices. In a 12-year study that compared 6,000 vegetarians with 5,000 meat-eaters, for example, researchers found that the vegans in the group had a 57 percent lower risk of ischemic heart disease than the meat eaters. (The condition involves reduced heart pumping due to coronary artery disease and often leads to heart failure.) Just keep in mind that vegans may need to take supplements to make up for some heart-protective nutrients like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish.

#5 MIND Diet

This plan is a mashup of two other expert-endorsed diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and zeroes in on the foods in each that specifically affect brain health (think green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine). Turns out, the heart likes the same foods, studies show. A downfall of the MIND diet: Physical activity, proven important for heart health, is not addressed in the plan, some experts pointed out.

#4 Mediterranean Diet

What can’t this eating style do? The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a decreased risk for heart disease, and it’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol. One 2015 study even showed that Italian vegans, vegetarians and others who followed a mostly Mediterranean diet had more short-chain fatty acids, which are linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Since the approach largely shuns saturated fat (which contributes to high cholesterol) and includes healthier mono- and polyunsaturated fats in moderation (which can reduce cholesterol), you’ll do your heart a favor by following it.

#3 TLC Diet

The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program, claims to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks. Research concurs: In one Journal of Lipid Research study, participants who shifted from a typical American diet to the TLC Diet reduced their LDL cholesterol by 11 percent after 32 days. No matter your aim, the diet is "very healthy and safe for all individuals," one expert said.

#1 (tie) DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension program, or DASH, was created to help control high blood pressure – and it works. One expert called it "by far the best with data to back up lowering hypertension." Indeed, extensive research suggests it's one of your best bets if you want to lower your blood pressure as well as improve other markers of cardiovascular health. If you adopt the diet, you’ll emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while shunning those we’ve grown to love (calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat).

#1 (tie) The Ornish Diet

This rules-heavy plan has ranked No. 1 for heart health for seven consecutive years, although this year it shares the title with the DASH diet. Followers adhere to a strict regimen: Only 10 percent of calories can come from fat, very little of it saturated, and most foods with any cholesterol or refined carbohydrates, oils, excessive caffeine and nearly all animal products are banned. Research suggests the Ornish Diet, combined with stress-management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation, could actually reverse heart disease.

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