Dash, Weight Watchers Rank Highest in New 'Best Diets' Report

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Looking to shed a few pounds and get healthy in time for bathing suit season? You might be best served by choosing Weight Watchers or the government-developed Dash diet -- at least according to a new report.

An independent panel of 22 experts, including nutritionists, dietitians, cardiologists and diabetelogists reviewed 20 popular diet profiles that were developed by reporters and editors at U.S. News and World Report. Categories were then created to rate the nutrition plans, including Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Heart-Healthy Diets, Best Diabetes Diets, Best Diets Overall and Best Commercial Diet Plans.

"If there's one goal we had in ranking diets, it's to help you find your very own Best Diet," Kurtis Hiatt, a health reporter at U.S. News and World Report who worked on the Best Diets project. "There is no one diet for everybody."

The Dash Diet received top honors in both Best Diet Overall and Best Diabetes Diet.

And Weight Watchers took home the gold for the Best Commercial Diet Plan and the Best Weight-Loss Diet. Experts ranked Jenny Craig at No. 2 in both categories.

The Mediterranean Diet, the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet and Weight Watchers all tied for second place in the Best Diet Overall.

Other top contenders included the Raw Food Diet, the Ornish Diet, which ranked No. 1 in heart health, and the TLC Diet, a government-designed eating plan that took second place for the Best Heart-Healthy Diet.

"Ranking diets gives consumers a snapshot of the options, but the most important message for consumers who are trying to lose weight is to find an eating plan that allows them to consume the foods they enjoy, in proper portions, combined with physical activity," said Connie Diekman, director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. "Weight loss is just the first step to alleviating the obesity epidemic, keeping the weight off is most important, and this is when diets will only work if an individual can adhere to them for the long-term."

The Dash Diet

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute created Dash (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) in 1997 to help combat hypertension and encourage a healthy meal plan for Americans. The diet is mostly composed of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry and whole grains. It is high in fiber, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and low in fat.

"The Dash Diet is awesome," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "It's basically a healthy, low-fat diet that asks people to eat what we should be eating anyway -- lots of fruits and vegetables and three servings of low-fat [or] fat-free day per day for added nutrition."

Ayoob said he often recommends the Dash Diet to his patients because it is healthy, consistent with the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and acts as a good family diet, "so the person trying to lose weight can still prepare the same meal for the whole family," he said.

In many studies, experts say the Dash has been proved to be more efficient than hypertension medication in lowering blood pressure.

"It is a totally healthy and excellent way to go, probably better than any of the others mentioned," said Carla Wolper, a senior clinical nutritionist at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

Raw Food Diet Won Second Best Weight-Loss Diet?

Some experts expressed surprise that the Raw Food Diet, a nutrition plan that is based on uncooked and mostly plant-based foods, received such a high ranking.

"The Raw Food diet limits food options that can lead to inadequate intakes of vitamin B12, zinc, iron and omega 3 fatty acids," said Diekman. "It certainly limits calories, which helps weight loss, but as a registered dietitian, I advocate for weight loss that maintains and promotes health, not just weight loss."

Ayoob agreed, stating that he wasn't surprised that the diet produced weight loss because it is "basically a vegan diet that removes some major categories of food from the diet, and that alone narrows the playing field and makes it more difficult to get extra calories."

But Ayoob said he doesn't recommend the diet to his patients.

"It's a huge lifestyle change," continued Ayoob. "It's not exactly a benign diet, and I try to work with a person's likes and dislikes rather than ask them to make drastic changes like eating nothing but raw foods. It takes a certain type of person to not only go on such a diet, but stay on a diet this extreme."

Jenny Craig Ranks Second

Jenny Craig CEO Patti Larchet said in a statement that the company was pleased to be in the top two ranked Best Weight-Loss Diets and Best Commercial Diet Plans.

"We are happy to be included in these rankings, as well as recently being rated the best diet last month by another prestigious consumer publication," said Larchet. "Although each publication examined and rated the programs on different criteria, the results speak to the same outcome -- Jenny Craig offers one of the best weight-loss solutions."

But several experts questioned Jenny Craig's second-place finish, citing that the diet is based on pre-packaged meals that may not help the dieter learn how to sustain lifelong healthy eating habits.

"I totally disagree regarding Jenny Craig, or any diet that actually provides the food," said Wolper. "That is because once the dieter gets tired of their food or no longer can afford it, they have not learned how to provide the proper food for themselves. They generally regain their weight as they return to their former eating patterns."

But Hiatt emphasized that the project is a thorough analysis of the most popular diets out there, and editors and reporters at the news magazine will continue to gather the most reliable information for dieting consumers.

"We spent six months working on this project -- talking to experts, reading hundreds of studies in medical journals, digesting it, and bringing it to consumers in an easy-to-understand format," said Hiatt. "Best Diets is an ongoing project. We're certain it's reliable, helpful information you want and need. ... The fact that it comes in time for swimsuit season might just be an added perk for many."

U.S. News and World Report 'Best Diets'

Best Weight-Loss Diets

1. Weight Watchers

2. Jenny Craig The Raw Food Diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

1. The Ornish Diet

2. The TLC Diet

3. Dash Diet

Best Diabetes Diets

1. Dash Diet

2. Mayo Clinic Diet The Ornish Diet The Vegan Diet

Best Diets Overall

1. Dash Diet

2. The Mediterranean Diet The TLC Diet Weight Watchers

Best Commercial Diet Plans

1. Weight Watchers

2. Jenny Craig

3. Slim-Fast