- One of the best diets for weight loss is the whole food diet, which eliminates all processed foods.
- The Mediterranean diet discourages eating red meat but encourages veggies and whole grains.
- A plant-based diet may also help you lose weight since some meats have been linked to weight gain.
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Every year, new fad diets pop up with promises that drastically changing your diet can help you lose weight. But in reality, this type of quick-fix weight loss doesn't last.
If you want to improve your diet, your best bet is to adopt healthy habits that you won't mind keeping up over the long term. Following diets like the Mediterranean diet or a flexitarian diet can improve your health and may help you shed a few pounds.
Here are four types of diets that actually boost your health and aren't too hard to maintain:
1. Mediterranean diet
"There is no standard definition of the Mediterranean diet per se," but it emphasises plant-based, heart-healthy foods, says Heather Seid, MS, a registered dietitian and manager of the Bionutrition Research Core at Columbia University.
The Mediterranean diet is named for the traditional cooking of the region and generally consists of:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean protein like fish and poultry
- Dairy only in moderation
- Legumes like beans and lentils
- Heart-healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter
Following the Mediterranean diet has been shown to help with weight management and may encourage weight loss because:
- The foods in the diet tend to be higher in fiber and healthy fats, which make you feel more full and helps stabilise your blood sugar, Seid says. This may make you less likely to overeat or crave sugary snacks.
- "Heart-healthy fats are also slower to digest, which keeps people feeling fuller longer," Seid says.
2. DASH diet
The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure by encouraging a diet rich in key minerals — it promotes foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and low sodium, says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet, in that it involves eating high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. However, there are two main differences:
- "Unlike the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet promotes low-fat or fat-free dairy products rather than full-fat," Seid says. Some experts believe that low-fat dairy is better for heart health, especially if you already have heart disease.
- Also, DASH strongly limits your salt intake, which can help control hypertension — the goal is to stay below 2,300 mg of sodium per day, or about one teaspoon of salt.
If your current diet includes plenty of red meat and butter, following the DASH diet may help shift your weight. "Lean protein and low-fat dairy are less calorically dense and may contribute to an overall calorie deficit and subsequent weight loss," Seid says.
"Even without a major change in weight, the DASH diet can make a desirable impact on blood pressure," which might motivate you to keep up the diet and possibly shed pounds long-term, says Stefanski.
3. Whole food diet
A whole food diet includes all major food groups, but you're going to need to read labels on your products. The diet emphasises foods that haven't been refined or processed — this means checking that your foods:
- Don't contain preservative chemicals like benzoates or sorbates.
- Don't contain additives like artificial colour dyes.
- Don't have words on the label like "refined", "bleached", or "hydrogenated" that indicate processing.
Some examples of processed vs. unprocessed foods include:
High-fructose corn syrup
Whole grain bread
Shifting your diet toward whole foods may help with weight loss since processed foods can pack extra calories, Stefanski says. Processed foods tend to have higher calorie counts because they often have added sugar and fats.
Eating a processed food diet may also prompt you to eat more calories. A very small 2019 study found that people ate more and gained more weight when eating an ultra-processed diet and ate less and lost weight when they were offered meals with the same amount of calories but from unprocessed foods.
4. Plant-based diet
- Vegetarian, which cuts out all meat but includes eggs and dairy.
- Pescatarian, which eliminates all meat except for seafood.
- Flexitarian, which includes eggs and dairy and allows occasional meat-eating.
- Vegan, which eliminates all animal products including eggs and dairy.
Following plant-based diets may help you lose weight for several reasons, including:
- They cut down or eliminate red meat and processed meats, which have both been linked to long-term weight gain.
- Plant-based diets are generally high in fiber, which adds volume to meals. "This means that people may consume fewer calories while still feeling satiated," says Seid. In fact, a small 2021 study that compared a low-fat, plant-based diet to a low-carb diet that included meat found that people ate 550 to 700 fewer calories per day while on the low-fat, plant-based diet compared to when they were on the low-carb diet with meat.
However, there are many highly processed foods in the market that are plant-based — for example, non-dairy ice cream is vegan but it's often packed with sugar. "People should look for whole-food-based options rather than processed or convenience foods," Seid says.
We know that short-term diets don't really work to help you lose weight and keep it off, but you may have more luck trying more flexible, long-term eating habits that you can stick with and enjoy.
"Choosing to increase foods that make up a Mediterranean style of eating or a DASH focused plan can have more long-lasting benefits that focus on health rather than just weight," Stefanski says.