News | Published December 28, 2020 | Written by Paul L. Klink, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group, Weight Management

Healthy Holiday Tip: What is the best diet?

Paul L. Klink, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group, Weight Management

Over half of us are going to try to lose weight in 2021. If this is you, you may wonder what the best diet is. Fortunately, there many good studies on this topic, and the answer varies depending on the results you are looking to attain.

For weight Loss, research has shown that there is essentially no difference in any particular diet over the course of a year. In other words, you will lose the same amount of weight in 1 year, no matter which diet you pick. However, there are differences in how healthy a diet is, how expensive it might be, and how easy it is to follow.

Each January, US News and World Report uses all these criteria to rank the best diet — so you will see this headline soon. The ratings have been fairly constant over many years, so here is what you will likely read in the 2021 rankings.

All of the top-rated eating plans emphasize eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, they all have favorable effects on blood pressure, diabetes risk, and heart health. Plus, they pass the test of being "doable." There can be ways to eat even healthier than these diets, but because those ways tend to be very restrictive, they are difficult to actually do. So, if you can't actually implement the diet, it's not very helpful.

Here are the top diets:

Mediterranean Diet: This diet has lots of fruits and vegetables, seafood, and fish twice a week, Olive oil, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, yogurt, and some cheese and wine. That could be fun, right? With the Mediterranean Diet, sweets are limited, and there are some eggs and poultry. Meat is used in small quantities for flavoring rather than as a main part of the meal.

DASH Diet: This diet is very similar to the Mediterranean diet. The diet prescribes four to five cups of fruits and vegetables, six to eight servings of whole grains, and two to three low-fat dairy servings daily. Salt is limited to less than one teaspoon a day, and lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and low-fat red meat are kept to six ounces or less a day.

Flexitarian Diet: Again, fruits and vegetables, whole grains are encouraged, along with plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and eggs. Meat is mostly avoided. Jackson Blatner's motto, who inspired this way of eating, is "eat more plants and do the best you can."

Weight Watchers:  This is the only commercial program to break into the top five best diets. Weight Watchers encourages healthy eating combined with support that is available in-person and on-line.

The fifth best diet is a three-way tie between the Mayo Clinic Diet, MIND Diet and the Volumetrics Diet. These three diets have many of the same points of emphasis, as previously mentioned.  Dr. Barbara Rolls pioneered the volumetrics diet right here at Penn State University, which focuses on four classes of foods. The four classes of foods are distinguished by how many calories are in each food. Low-calorie foods are encouraged (again, think fruits, vegetables, whole grains), and other higher-calorie foods are included in the diet but in smaller quantities.

With all of these eating styles and diets, the goal is not to eat less but to have fewer calories by eating healthier. More food with fewer calories means you won't go hungry.

Several popular diets rank poorly, and I refer to them as the bottom feeders (no pun intended) of the 35 diets ranked. The Keto diet was ranked number 34 out of 35, and the Atkins diet was ranked number 32. Although these diets are very popular and can help with weight loss, they rank poorly for long-term do-ability and health outcomes.

The 2021 rankings should be out this week. The new report will provide links to each plan, explain the diet's rating and provide resources for how to get started.

Now that you know some healthy ways to eat, next week, I will cover the benefits of weight loss, how to pick a calorie goal, and ways to track your calories.

For more tips to help you through the holiday season and all year long, and to learn more about our program or schedule an appointment, please visit