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For those who are planning to make 2013 the year that they become healthier, U.S. News and World Report can help. To compile its list of best overall diets, the magazine enlisted a panel of health experts to review 29 different diets to rate them on how easy they were to follow, how nutritious they were, whether they were safe, and how effective the diets were for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease.
1. Score: 4.1 out of 5 - DASH Diet
The main goal of the DASH diet, co-developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is to prevent and lower high blood pressure, with the possible added benefit of losing a few pounds. Keeping a balanced diet full of potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber -- basically eating everything you've been told to eat -- and cutting down on high calorie, high fat sweets and salt is all it takes.
Breaking it down, this means eight servings of grains daily; four to five each of veggies and fruit; two to three of fat-free or low-fat dairy and six or fewer of lean meat, poultry, and fish, with each serving being about one ounce. You should also aim for 4 to 5 weekly servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes; 2-3 of fats and oils; and 5 or fewer (a week) of sweets.
Lowering your calorie intake will also help you shed pounds, but this diet's goal isn't to help you lose weight. This diet also means that you'll have to prepare your food and focus on buying more expensive ingredients.
2. Score: 4.0 out of 5 - TLC Diet
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet (TLC) was created by the National Institutes of Health's National Cholesterol Education Program. It focuses on a low-fat diet in order to lower "bad" LDL cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks.
To stick to this plan, dieters have to cut down on saturated fats and other fats. Saturated fat is found in fatty meat, whole-milk dairy, and fried foods. Ideally, you should not take in more than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day -- about the same amount found in 2 ounces of cheese according to U.S. News. - and no more than 7 percent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. Instead, you'll find yourself chowing down on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products and poultry without the skin.
You also have to stick to a lower calorie requirement, which is about 2,500 per day for men and 1,800 for women looking to lower cholesterol. But, to lose weight men and women should aim for 1,600 and 1,200 calories respectively. However, panelists noted the diet might be harder for some people because of its do-it-yourself approach.
3. (Tie) Score: 3.9 out of 5 - Mayo Clinic Diet
With weight loss its main goal, the Mayo Clinic Diet plan allows you to lose 6 to 10 pounds in two weeks and lose 1 to 2 pounds until you reach your target weight.
To reach those losses, you'll need to focus on 15 main points that revolve around healthy eating habits and those that aren't that great for you. The first part called "Lose it!" doesn't require counting calories, and you can eat any fruits and vegetables you want. However, the second part called "Live it!" requires you to learn how many calories you can consume in order to maintain your weight or lose weight. If you stick to the plan, you should lose weight and in a healthy way.
Because the diet focuses on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, you may see your grocery bill go up a little bit. It can also be a bit harder to eat out if you don't know what's going into those dishes. The diet earned high marks for its safety and effectiveness for people with diabetes, and panelists found it moderately effective for weight loss.
3. (Tie) Score: 3.9 out of 5 - Mediterranean Diet
This diet aims to make people healthier in general with a chance of some permanent weight loss.
Dieters follow a Mediterranean diet pyramid that asks them to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil and flavor-rich spices and herbs. Fish and seafood is also encouraged at least twice a week, and people are asked to cut down on poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt. Sweets and red meat are advised only rarely. A moderate amount of red wine is also allowed.
The diet may raise the cost of your grocery bill, but not as much as some of the other diets that only allow fruits and vegetables. It also takes a lot to prepare some of these dishes on a daily basis.
3. (Tie) Score: 3.9 out of 5 - Weight Watchers
One of the biggest brand name diets out there, the Weight Watchers point system has been lauded and used by many dieters everywhere.
The balanced approach allows people to eat whatever they want and gives people the option to choose what they want to eat -- as long as it fits within their daily allotment of points. An online calculator, book and app help dieters tally the points. Exercise can also earn them extra points.
Points take into a account protein, carbohydrate, fat, fiber, calories, and how hard your body has to work to burn it off, making a 200-calorie fruit smoothie cost more than a 200-calorie iced coffee according to U.S. News. You can also purchase pre-packaged food if you are willing to dish out the dough for it.
While proven to be successful for those who stick to it, it requires a membership -- with the option of helpful in-person meetings -- which can be costly.