Focused on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein, the Mediterranean Diet has been the most popular diet in the U.S. for nearly a decade. In its annual ranking of the best diets and diet trends, U.S. News & World Report chose the following as the top five for 2023 (in order):
- Mediterranean Diet
- DASH Diet
- Flexitarian Diet
- MIND Diet
- TLC Diet
These diets remain popular because (unlike Atkins, keto, and other diets that restrict entire categories of foods) they are sustainable and intuitive. Here’s more information on each of these popular diets.
The Mediterranean Diet is not overly restrictive and emphasizes whole foods and variety. Followers of this diet consume significant amounts of olive oil, seafood, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Red meat and foods with added sugar are limited, but eggs, poultry, and dairy are encouraged in moderation. Wine is also allowed.
A typical day’s Mediterranean diet menu might include avocado toast on whole grain bread for breakfast, a hummus platter with whole wheat pita and vegetables for lunch, and grilled salmon with sides of couscous and salad (with oil-based dressing) for dinner. Snacks and desserts would include yogurt, nuts, and fresh fruit.
Because of its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, the Mediterranean Diet can be followed wherever you are. In Nordic regions, you may use more canola oil than olive oil. In Asia, your carbs may come from rice and sweet potatoes more than whole grains and legumes, but the essential characteristics of the diet could be readily achieved.
Based on research from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health) in the 1990s, the DASH Diet aims to reduce hypertension by cutting sodium and consuming a well-balanced diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet also helps to prevent diabetes and can produce significant weight loss.
DASH emphasizes large servings of fruits and vegetables at every meal, plus lean meat, seafood, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, with herbs and spices replacing most salt to boost flavor. Added sugars are not forbidden, but they are limited. Meat-free meals are encouraged.
A typical day’s menu on DASH might include a vegetable omelet and a small serving of whole-grain cereal for breakfast, green salad with grilled chicken for lunch, and salmon with sides of broccoli and spaghetti squash for dinner. Snacks and desserts might consist of smoothies made with low-fat yogurt and fruit.
Due to its flexibility, the DASH Diet is particularly suited to meal-prepping.
The Flexitarian Diet is composed of primarily vegetarian foods, although you can eat meat whenever you feel like it. For that reason, it’s particularly suited to people who enjoy vegetarian meals for health reasons rather than to avoid consuming animal products.
The Flexitarian Diet’s semi-vegetarian eating can promote heart health and weight loss. Dieters are encouraged to consume whole grains, plant proteins, eggs, nuts and seeds, dairy or dairy alternatives, and plant-based fats.
A typical day’s menu on the Flexitarian Diet might include a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and berries for breakfast, a bean burger with avocado for lunch, and a tofu stir fry for dinner (or, occasionally, a chicken stir-fry). Snacks and desserts might include whole-grain crackers with almond butter and fresh fruit.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. As you might expect, the MIND Diet combines concepts from the Mediterranean and DASH diets, focusing on improving brain health and reducing dementia. There are no hard-and-fast rules on the MIND Diet—you eat more of the 10 Recommended Foods and less of the 5 Foods to Avoid.
The 10 Recommended Foods include:
- Green, leafy vegetables: Aim for six or more servings per week.
- All other vegetables: In addition to green leafy vegetables, try to eat at least one other vegetable each day, preferably a non-starchy one.
- Berries: At least twice per week, especially strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
- Nuts: Aim for five or more servings each week.
- Olive oil: Use olive oil as your primary cooking oil.
- Whole grains: At least three servings daily.
- Fish: Eat fish at least once per week, with a focus on fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel.
- Beans: At least four meals per week.
- Poultry: Try to eat chicken or turkey at least twice weekly, but avoid fried preparations.
- Wine: Aim for no more than one glass daily.
The 5 Foods to Avoid include:
- Butter and margarine: Eat less than 1 tablespoon daily. Use olive oil instead.
- Cheese: Maximum of one serving per week.
- Red meat: No more than three servings weekly of beef, pork, lamb, and any products containing any of those.
- Fried food: Highly discouraged, particularly when obtained from fast-food restaurants; eat no more than once weekly.
- Pastries and sweets: No more than four servings weekly of processed snack foods or desserts such as ice cream, cookies, brownies, donuts, candy, etc.
A typical day’s menu on the MIND Diet might include a vegetable omelet with a side of fresh fruit for breakfast and a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with a side salad for lunch. Dinner could be whole wheat pasta with marinara sauce or grilled trout with brown rice and vegetables. Snacks and desserts might include nuts, berries, hummus, yogurt, or a fruit smoothie made from yogurt and berries.
TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. This diet is part of a three-pronged program to improve cholesterol, including physical activity and weight management. By following its step-by-step plan, users can lower their “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and their risks of metabolic disease, heart disease, and other serious health conditions.
The TLC Diet includes consuming plenty of vegetables, fruits, bread, cereals, pasta, and lean meats. The guidelines are broad, allowing people on this diet a lot of latitude in precisely what they eat daily. Calories are usually restricted to 1,200 a day for women and 1,600 a day for men.
A typical day’s menu on the TLC Diet might include half a grapefruit and two boiled eggs for breakfast, two bean burgers with cheese for lunch, and a stir-fried chicken breast with peppers and onions for dinner served over lettuce leaves. Snacks and desserts might include fresh strawberries, celery, and a pepper jack cheese stick.
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