For the seventh year in a row, the Mediterranean style of eating earned the title of best overall diet, according to 2024 ratings that U.S. News & World Report announced Wednesday.
The Mediterranean diet also ranked first in the categories of easiest diet to follow, best family-friendly diet, best diet for healthy eating and best diet for diabetes, bone and joint and heart-healthy eating, the report said.
The DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) won second place for best diet, with the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH intervention for neurodegenerative delay) capturing third in the list of 30 diets. All three top diets are plant-based, focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds.
The award committee of 43 nutritional experts evaluated the vegan diet for the first time, which won third place in best plant-based diets. Other newly evaluated diets for 2024 included the Dukan diet (28 of 30 best overall diets); the Herbalife Nutrition diet (29 of 30 diets); the HMR (Health Management Resources) (21 of 30 diets) and its sister brand, the Profile Plan (19 of 30 diets); and the Plantstrong (formerly Engine 2) diet, which ranked 15th in the best overall diet category.
“The world of diet and nutrition can be overwhelming and filled with misinformation and inaccurate health claims,” Shanley Chien, senior health editor at U.S. News, said in an email.
“That’s why U.S. News does the legwork for its users, gathering input from nationally recognized medical and nutrition experts to determine which diets rise to the top for nutritional completeness, ease of following and promoting a healthy lifestyle for the long term,” added Gretel Schueller, managing editor of health at U.S. News & World Report.
Studies have found the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer. The meal plan, which is more of an eating style than a restricted diet, has also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and longer life.
The diet features simple, plant-based cooking, with the majority of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with a few nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra-virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are consumed rarely, if at all, and sugar and refined foods are reserved for special occasions.
Red meat is used sparingly, usually only to flavor a dish. Eating healthy, oily fish, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, is encouraged, while eggs, dairy and poultry are eaten in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.
Social interactions during meals and exercise are basic cornerstones of the Mediterranean style of eating. Lifestyle changes that are part of the diet include eating with friends and family, socializing over meals, mindfully eating favorite foods and engaging in mindful movement and exercise.
Last place in the list of 30 best overall diets went to the raw food diet, which recommends eating food that hasn’t been “cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered or exposed to pesticides or herbicides,” the report said.
While those attributes may appear healthy, the diet is overly restrictive nutritionally and may be unsafe for some people, according to the U.S. News & World Report website. In fact, cooking some foods “allows for more variety and boosts the intake of protein and other essential nutrients,” said Dr. Vanita Rahman, an internal medicine physician and clinic director of the Barnard Medical Center in Washington, DC.
“The safest and healthiest way to enjoy raw foods is as part of a whole foods, plant-based diet that is rich in raw fruits and vegetables, and cooked lentils, beans, grains and vegetables,” Rahman said in the website’s evaluation.
The popular keto diet came in 25th in the overall rankings but did capture the No. 1 spot in the best fast weight-loss category, according to the report. However, experts say the diet, which calls for limiting carbs to about 20 a day, is too restrictive to be followed for long.
“I see a lot of people going on keto when they want to lose weight and then going off keto when they can’t do it anymore. This diet is hard to stick to, and many people aren’t actually (following a diet that is) keto but low carb,” said registered dietitian and panelist Amanda Sauceda in an evaluation on the U.S. News & World Report site.
People with heart, liver and kidney conditions and certain types of cancer should not go on the diet, the report noted. Children who have not been told by a doctor to lose weight, pregnant people and high-performing athletes should also not go on the keto diet.
A 2023 review of studies found concerns that staying on keto for more than two years may cause cognitive decline, nutritional deficiencies, kidney stones, heart disease and muscle loss.