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U.S. News ranks top diets for 2013: Which is tops?


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.

Click through to see which diets earned top scores...

9. Ornish Diet (tie)


Score: 3.6 out of 5

The top tier of U.S. News' list of "Best Diets Overall" kicks off with a tie for the ninth spot (the Traditional Asian Diet and Vegetarian Diet tied for 11th on the rankings).

Dr. Dean Ornish's diet has been known in the medical community as a tool to help reverse the damage caused by heart disease, and claims to be scientifically proven to make a person "feel better, live longer, lose weight, and gain health." The low-fat vegetarian diet must be done in addition to stress management, fitness and with and support of loved ones, but if done right, it can help you lose weight and even reverse heart disease with enough dedication.

As for the nutrition part, Ornish encourages people to eat food and focus on plants. He created five groups ranging from foods you should eat in group one -- which includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products, nonfat dairy and egg whites -- to group five consisting of least healthful foods, including "bad fats" like egg yolks, fried poultry, fried fish, hot dogs, organic meats, butter, cream and tropical oils.

U.S. News warns that while changing your diet according to Ornish's recommendations can have benefits, you may have to make major lifestyle changes to see major effects. Also, the diet isn't exactly the friendliest on your wallet because of the expensive food items, like whole grains and fish.

9. Biggest Loser Diet (tie)

Trae Patton

Score: 3.6 out of 5

Named after the NBC reality TV show, the Biggest Loser plan is a balanced diet and exercise approach that aims to help people lose weight and prevent or reverse disease in just six weeks with the help of one of the Biggest Loser books .

The good news is the diet doesn't say you can't eat a certain item, just that you need to practice portion control and regularly eat foods that focus on calories from fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.

However, you will have to count calories, which involves a lot of work including knowing the nutritional value of everything and writing things down in a food journal. Also, it isn't as effective at keeping food off in the long term if you don't stick with the diet. Some of U.S. News' panelists concluded that the diet wasn't overly special, but merely was "capitalizing on the name" of the popular show.

8. Jenny Craig Diet

Score: 3.7 out of 5

The Jenny Craig Diet plan aims to give people a balanced diet so they can lose up to two pounds a week. Using prepackaged meals and recipes, people cut calories down to between 1,200 to 2,300 a day, skip the fat and practice portion control.

Each person gets a personalized meal plan, exercise routine and one-on-one counseling sessions with a Jenny Craig consultant, who does not have to be a nutrition specialist. You won't have to worry about avoiding a certain food group or missing out on desert.

Unfortunately, it does place a limitation on how much home-cooked and restaurant meals you can eat, which makes things very expensive. Initial registration fees top $400 and one week of food is at least $100, according to U.S. News. It also asks you to take multivitamins in order to keep getting the nutrients you need on a reduced-calorie diet. And, losing weight requires staying on the diet for quite some time. U.S. News' experts were also lukewarm about the diet's potential to help diabetics or boost heart health.

6. Volumetrics (tie)


Score: 3.8 out of 5

Focusing on how much your food weighs, the Volumetrics diet focuses on eliminating "energy dense" items, meaning those high in calories per gram such as crackers, chips and cookies. That way you'll be eating fewer calories but having the same amount of food so you won't go hungry. For example, one pound of low density carrots has the same amount of calories as one ounce of high density peanuts, U.S. News points out.

This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables and soups, which isn't everyone's favorite dish. It also can take some time to prepare the dishes. But panelists said the diet is safe and nutritious, and could help diabetics and improve heart health.

6. Flexitarian Diet (tie)


Score: 3.8 out of 5

A "flexitarian" is a mix between being a vegetarian and being flexible with your diet. This means that flexitarians mostly eat vegetables and occasionally chow down on meat when they have cravings. And, according to U.S. News, flexitarians weigh 15 percent less than meat eaters.

Flexitarians focus on adding five food groups to their diet: "new meat" (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds and eggs), fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy and sugar and spice. Calorie restrictions are about 300 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch and 500 for dinner -- with room for two 150-calorie snacks. Since the food items are all easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive, being a flexitarian won't set your budget back that much. Plus, the goal isn't to strictly adhere to everything but to eventually have a healthier diet so there is wiggle room for any dietary splurges you may want to have.

It can be hard to curb that meat craving, plus you'll have to focus on making most of your meals at home.

3. Weight Watchers

Score: 3.9 out of 5

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.

3. Mediterranean Diet

Score: 3.9 out of 5

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. Mayo Clinic Diet

Score: 3.9 out of 5

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.

2. TLC Diet

Score: 4.0 out of 5

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.

1. DASH Diet


Score: 4.1 out of 5

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.

Visit U.S. News for a complete list of its best overall diets.

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