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Winner of Best Diet for 2015 Isn’t Really a Diet at All

If you’ve been waiting for some dietary advice to fulfill your New Year’s health goals, help is at hand. The new annual “best diets” list is out from U.S. News World Report, and for the fifth year in a row, the magazine has named the DASH diet the best overall food plan for a healthy lifestyle.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was originally created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to help patients lower blood pressure without medication. To that end, it encourages a diet heavy on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy, and less on processed sugars, red meat, other saturated fats and salt.

In other words, DASH is not really a diet at all, more like a healthy eating plan that breaks through the clutter of fad diets. While the plan has been proven to lead to weight loss, its main focus is on well-being and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

As Angela Haupt, senior health and wellness editor at U.S. News World Report told Reuters, “Our experts, who rate these diets for us, say it will end up being very good for your waistline, in addition to your high blood pressure, because it is such a common-sense, balanced diet.”

How do the alternatives stack up?

The Ornish Diet

This diet, created by Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of San Francisco, was one that also did well, and is similar to DASH, but more complicated to follow. On nutrition, Ornish categorizes food into five groups from most to least healthful: for example, the difference between whole-grain bread and biscuits, between soy hot dogs and pork or beef ones. The diet also includes exercise as part of its plan, in the form of aerobic activities, resistance training and flexibility, and especially emphasizes the importance managing stress. Finally, Ornish says that spending time with those you love and respect can powerfully affect your health in good ways.

Weight Watchers

This plan won out for best weight loss diet, best commercial diet plan, and easiest-to-follow plan. You probably know that you can eat what you want on Weight Watchers, whether it’s pasta, steak, cheese and even ice cream. You just have to be willing to count the points. Each food is assigned a number of points, and foods that fill you up have fewer points than foods that are just empty calories. This isn’t so much a diet as a lifestyle change program designed to help you learn how to eat healthier and become more active. Still, it doesn’t sound too healthy to me.

At the bottom end of the rankings came the Paleo and Dukan diets, which experts faulted for both their restrictive nature and lack of studies to back up claims.

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet focuses on meat, fish and vegetables. Loren Cordain, who wrote the book on the Paleo Diet, claims that by eating like our prehistoric ancestors, we’ll be leaner and less likely to get diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems. It’s basically a high-protein, high-fiber eating plan that promises you can lose weight without cutting calories. If you go Paleo, you’ll eat a lot of fresh lean meats and fish, fruits, and vegetables, and healthier fats. You can also eat eggs, nuts and seeds, but no processed foods. Since our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, not farmers, wheat and dairy are both no-nos, along with other grains and legumes (such as peanuts and beans).

The Dukan Diet

Tied for last place came the Dukan Diet. According to Pierre Dukan, who created this diet, you can drop 10 pounds in one week and never get it back on this plan. Lean protein, oat bran, water, and a daily 20-minute walk are at the heart of the plan. The theory is that limiting carbohydrates forces your body to burn fat. Basically, you can eat unlimited quantities of food, as long as they’re on the approved foods list, which includes very few carbs, if any. So what do you eat instead? Basically a whole lot of protein and bran.

It’s clear why the DASH diet stands out: it is focused on living a healthy lifestyle, without being obsessed with the need to lose weight. There are no fads, no gimmicks, rather just a solid plan that is super-easy to follow. Because it is so healthy, you can both follow it for your whole life and also feed it to your whole family, bringing a sense of well-being to everyone.

Bon appétit!

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