Nobody likes feeling fat. It used to be easy eating healthy: lots of veggies, lean protein, less fat and carbs, but with all of today's tempting flavors, foods and fast meals many dieters seem to accumulate weight more easily on their bodies than they wish to carry. Choosing the right diet program out of the thousands offered to consumers is an almost impossible task but two research teams have done the homework for us and recently released the results.
Consumer Reports and for the first time, reporters and editors at U.S. News and World Report, rated the top American diets for all of us who want to shed those “unwanted pounds.”
“The diet that works is the one you can stay on,” said Kathleen Melanson, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and food sciences at the University of Rhode Island and director of its Energy Balance Laboratory.
"If you're forcing yourself on a diet you hate, it's going to be really hard to stick with long-term," she said.
An independent panel of 22 experts, including nutritionists, dietitians, and cardiologists reviewed 20 popular diets and a team at U.S. News and World Report compiled the data.
The news team created categories to rate the nutrition plans, including Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Heart-Healthy Diets, Best Diabetes Diets, Best Diets Overall and Best Commercial Diet Plans.
Both Consumer Reports and the U.S. News and World Report team of researchers agreed that the Jenny Craig diet was one of the best diets for weight loss, but the ranking did not come without debate.
Consumer reports researchers said they selected the Jenny Craig diet because 92 percent of participants stuck with the program for two years, and at the end of that time weighed an average of about eight percent less than when they started.
Experts at the news team ranked Jenny Craig at No. 2 in the best diet overall and best diabetes diet categories.
But several experts and media outlets questioned Jenny Craig's first and second-place finish, citing that the diet is based on pre-packaged meals that may not help the dieter learn how to sustain lifelong healthy eating habits.
"I totally disagree regarding Jenny Craig, or any diet that actually provides the food," said Carla Wolper, a senior clinical nutritionist at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.
"That is because once the dieter gets tired of their food or no longer can afford it, they have not learned how to provide the proper food for themselves. They generally regain their weight as they return to their former eating patterns."
Scott Hensley at NPR's health blog, said the study conducted by Consumer Reports is in question because their study was actually funded by the Jenny Craig company.
CNN reported this hot button issue when the magazine released its findings.
Although there are numerous Hollywood actresses promoting Jenny Craig, there are cash-strapped dieters that are not so fond of the diet.
The program would be more attractive to dieters if all of the prepackaged food were free, according to media reports.
The food at Jenny Craig typically costs about $100 a week, in addition to a $359 enrollment fee.
Consumer Reports also rated Slim-Fast and Weight Watchers as best overall diet programs available to the public.
The diets were judged on criteria including nutrition and weight loss. The magazine rated the Atkins Diet as the worst-performing overall because it is a fat-heavy plan and contradicts the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The Dash Diet received top honors in both Best Diet Overall and Best Diabetes Diet in the U.S. News and World Report survey because the diet is mostly composed of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry and whole grains. It is high in fiber, potassium, calcium and magnesium, and low in fat.
Weight Watchers took home the gold for the Best Commercial Diet Plan and the Best Weight-Loss Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet, the TLC Diet and Weight Watchers all tied for second place in the Best Diet Overall.
Other top contenders in the U.S. News and World Report survey included the Raw Food Diet, the Ornish Diet, which ranked No. 1 in heart health, and the TLC Diet, a government-designed eating plan that took second place for the Best Heart-Healthy Diet.
"If there's one goal we had in ranking diets, it's to help you find your very own Best Diet," said Kurtis Hiatt, a health reporter at U.S. News and World Report who worked on the Best Diets project. "There is no one diet for everybody."
Both nutritionists and physicians say the real truth about losing weight is that you have to burn up more calories than you take in, no matter what kind of diet you're on.
Dr. Dean Ornish, a physician consulted for the studies, said emerging evidence shows that some forms of calories are more filling than others. Protein is the most satiating nutrient, followed by high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables.
"We used to believe that it was the same if you ate 200 calories of a cream puff or 200 calories of a chicken breast," said Karen Miller-Kovach, R.D., chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers.
"But people would ask, ‘Why do I feel hungry sooner after eating the cream puff?'"
While scientists sort out the confusion of what works best to lose weight and stay healthy at the same time, most dieters will search out the program that enables them to shed pounds with the fewest hunger pangs.
Dr. Michael L. Dansinger, assistant professor of medicine at Tufts University and a longtime weight-loss researcher, suggests there is a middle ground: "a low-ish carbohydrate diet that's high in vegetables and lean protein, including dairy; with non-saturated fat from sources such as olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish." And eat liberal amounts of fiber, fruits and vegetables.
U.S. News and World Report 'Best Diets'
Best Weight-Loss Diets
1. Weight Watchers
2. Jenny Craig The Raw Food Diet
Best Heart-Healthy Diets
1. The Ornish Diet
2. The TLC Diet
3. Dash Diet
Best Diabetes Diets
1. Dash Diet
2. Mayo Clinic Diet The Ornish Diet The Vegan Diet
Best Diets Overall
1. Dash Diet
2. The Mediterranean Diet The TLC Diet Weight Watchers
Best Commercial Diet Plans
1. Weight Watchers
2. Jenny Craig