- One of the best diets for weight loss is the whole food diet, which eliminates all processed foods.
- The Mediterranean diet discourages eating red meat but encourages vegetables and whole grains.
- A plant-based diet can also help you lose weight, as some meats have been linked to weight gain.
New fad diets pop up every year with promises that drastically changing your diet can help you lose weight. But in reality, this kind of quick-fix weight loss doesn’t last long.
If you’re looking to improve your diet, it’s best to adopt healthy habits that you’re happy to maintain in the long run. Following diets such as the Mediterranean diet or a flexitarian diet can improve your health and help you lose a few pounds.
Here are four types of diets that really improve your health and aren’t too hard to stick to:
1. Mediterranean diet
“There is no standard definition of the Mediterranean diet per se,” but it emphasizes plant-based, heart-healthy foods, says Heather Seid, MS, a registered dietitian and manager of the Bionutrition Research Core at Columbia University.
Named for the region’s traditional cuisine, the Mediterranean diet generally consists of:
- Fresh vegetables and fruits
- Whole grain such as brown rice and whole wheat
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean protein such as fish and poultry
- Dairy only in moderation
- Legumes such as beans and lentils
- Heart-healthy fats like olive oil instead of butter
The diet also discourages eating things like processed foods, red meat, and too much sugar, all of which can contribute to chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Following the Mediterranean diet has been shown to help with weight management and may promote weight loss because:
- The foods in the diet tend to be higher in fiber and healthy fats, which help you feel fuller and help stabilize your blood sugar, Seid says. This can make you less likely to overeat or crave sugary snacks.
- “Heart-healthy fats are also slower to digest, which helps people feel full longer,” says Seid.
Research also suggests that following an eating plan like the Mediterranean diet may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
2. DASH diet
The DASH diet, also known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was originally developed as a way to treat high blood pressure, but it can also help you lose weight or maintain it.
The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure by encouraging a diet rich in important minerals — it promotes foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and low in sodium, says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The DASH diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it involves eating high-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. However, there are two main differences:
- “Unlike the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet promotes low-fat or fat-free dairy products instead of full-fat,” says Seid. Some experts believe that low-fat dairy is better for heart health, especially if you already have heart disease.
- DASH also heavily limits your salt intake, which can help control hypertension — the goal is to stay under 2,300 mg of sodium per day, or about one teaspoon of salt.
If your current diet is high in red meat and butter, following the DASH diet can help you shift your weight. “Lean proteins and low-fat dairy products are less caloric and can contribute to an overall calorie deficit and subsequent weight loss,” says Seid.
“Even without a major weight change, the DASH diet can have a desirable impact on blood pressure,” which could motivate you to stick with the diet and potentially shed pounds in the long run, says Stefanski.
3. Full-fledged diet
A whole food diet includes all major food groups, but you will need to read the labels on your products. The diet emphasizes foods that are not refined or processed – this means checking that your food:
- Contains no preservative chemicals such as benzoates or sorbates.
- Contains no additives such as artificial colors.
- Don’t use label words like “refined,” “bleached,” or “hydrogenated” to indicate processing.
Some examples of processed versus unprocessed foods are:
Shifting your diet to whole foods can help with weight loss, as processed foods can contain extra calories, says Stefanski. Processed foods usually have a higher calorie count because they often contain added sugars and fats.
Eating a processed food diet can also push you to eat more calories. A very small 2019 study found that people ate more and gained more weight when they ate an ultra-processed diet and ate less and lost weight when they were offered meals with the same amount of calories but from unprocessed foods.
4. Plant-based diet
The goal of a plant-based diet is to eliminate or reduce animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. There are several types of plant-based diets you can choose from, including:
- Vegetarianwhich cuts out all meat, but including eggs and dairy.
- Pescatarianwhich eliminates all meat except seafood.
- Flexitarian, including eggs and dairy and eating meat occasionally.
- Veganeliminating all animal products, including eggs and dairy.
Following plant-based diets can help you lose weight for several reasons, including:
- They reduce or eliminate red meat and processed meats, both of which have been linked to long-term weight gain.
- Plant-based diets are generally high in fiber, which adds bulk to meals. “This means people can consume fewer calories while still feeling full,” says Seid. In fact, a small 2021 study comparing a low-fat, plant-based diet to a low-carb, meat-based diet found that people ate 550 to 700 fewer calories per day while on the low-fat, plant-based diet. until when they were on the low carb diet with meat.
However, there are many highly processed foods on the market that are plant-based — non-dairy ice cream, for example, is vegan, but is often loaded with sugar. “People should look for whole-food options instead of processed or ready-to-eat foods,” says Seid.
We know that short-term diets don’t really work to help you lose weight and keep it off, but you may have better luck trying more flexible long-term eating habits that you can stick with and enjoy.
“Choosing to eat more foods that are part of a Mediterranean eating style or DASH-focused plan may have more long-term benefits that target health rather than just weight,” says Stefanski.