Ranked: The Best and Worst Diets

The weight loss industry makes big bucks in a losing proposition – losing weight that is.

There are thousands of diets purporting to be the best plan for shedding the pounds, but do they work?

Interestingly, U.S. News and World Report assembled an independent panel of 22 recognized experts in heart disease, diabetes, diet and exercise to review 20 diets.

The categories for this report were Best Diets Overall, Best Commercial Diet Plans, Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Diabetes Diets and Best Heart-Healthy Diets. There was a method to the madness and a rating scale measuring effectiveness, ease of compliance, nutritional completeness and health risks on a five point scale.

Related: Yo-Yo Diets 'Better Than No Diets,' Study Finds

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Most people want a quick fix, but let’s face it; those extra pounds didn’t appear over night. A key component of healthy weight loss and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is exercise or physical activity. This was not included in the review, nor was cost (of food or classes).

Many of the winners and “losers” come as no surprise to this diet and nutrition expert. The findings of this report confirm what health experts have known to be true – and hopefully the results will convince millions of people to stop using ineffective and dangerous diet plans for weight loss.

Rapid weight loss is always what many overweight and obese individuals are looking for, despite recommendations from health care providers that one to two pounds a week is best. Slow weight loss leads to lasting weight loss – unlike the results you see on television shows like “The Biggest Loser” (and we know that more than half of those participants gain the weight back).

Best Weight-Loss Diets
Weight Watchers, with its ever-evolving points system came in at No. 1. Gone are the days where individuals must buy all their food prepackaged from Weight Watchers, this program encourages fruit and vegetable consumption, portion control, and offers support through meetings and online.

Jenny Craig and the Raw Food Diet tied for second place.

The Glycemic Index Diet and the Paleo Diet plans were at the bottom of the ranking. These plans lacked scientific evidence and long-term weight loss maintenance.

Best Heart-Healthy Diets
The Ornish Diet, which comes as no surprise, ranked highest for heart health. This food plan is low fat, high in fiber, vegetarian and integrates the mind-body experience of exercise, yoga and meditation (even though this was not scored, it is a key aspect of the program’s success in heart-healthy outcomes).

In second place was the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet in third place. These two diets evolved from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and are great examples of how to apply scientific findings to improving health.

It comes as no surprise that The Atkins Diet and Paleo Diet plans were at the opposite end of the heart-health spectrum. The evidence has been clear that high-fat diets are not best for our ticker, arteries or veins.

Best Diabetes Diet
With diabetes rates growing as fast as our waistlines, it is a likely fit for a diet plan review. The interpretation for this category was for the prevention or treatment of diabetes. The DASH Diet ranked first, with the Mayo Clinic Diet (the real one, not that e-mail or chain letter that has passed around), the Ornish Diet and the Vegan Diet in a three-way tie for second place.

The Zone Diet and the Paleo Diet were the big losers when it came to helping people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Best Diets Overall
The DASH Diet leads with the Mediterranean Diet for first place, while the TLC Diet and Weight Watchers tied for second.

Are you sensing a trend yet? We often don’t want our government to tell us what to eat, but our tax dollars have certainly been put to great use in helping us to lose weight in a manner that is good for overall health.

The lower scoring diet plans are The Atkins Diet and Paleo Diet. The Atkins plan has been notable for rapid weight loss, but health experts have questioned its impact on overall health and the inability for its “losers” to keep the weight off.

Best Commercial Diet Plans
This category is not about best television commercials or spokespeople; it is about the brand-name programs which offer support and structure. Weight Watchers persevered in the top spot, followed by Jenny Craig and then Slim Fast.

The Atkins Diet and Medifast were the bottom of the list in this category. Experts agreed they lacked nutrients and ease of use.

Here is the take home message: Celebrities are not weight loss experts, even though they can successfully lose weight and be a role model for others – like Jennifer Hudson is for Weight Watchers. Even though we eat to live, there are real experts in the field of weight loss and we should be wary of those who purport to be so without the appropriate credentials.

If it sounds too good to be true (lose 30 pounds in 30 days), it is. The quick fixes are not safe or effective for long-term weight loss or maintenance.

With the exception of the Best Commercial Plans category – all of the winners placed an emphasis on a plant-based diet: fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains with smaller portions of animal-based proteins. Fat and sodium levels were lower with fiber intake being higher. The secret to weight loss is in the laws of physics – eat fewer calories and move more.

Click here to check out U.S. News and World Report's Best Diets website. 

Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RD, FACSM is a doctorally trained registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, TV personality and expert consultant in disease prevention, wellness and healthy living. She is the author of "Living Skinny in Fat Genes: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great." She hosted TLC's groundbreaking series "Honey We're Killing the Kids!" Become a fan of Felicia on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or visit her website FeliciaStoler.com