DASH tops list of best diets for healthy eating; Atkins, Raw Food and Paleo come in last

U.S. News today released the results of its Best Diets rankings, including a brand new category of Best Diets for Healthy Eating, and you might be surprised by the findings. The top three best diets for healthy eating … drum roll please … were the DASH Diet, the TLC Diet and the Mediterranean Diet. The worst three? The Atkins Diet, the Raw Food Diet and the Paleo Diet.

After six months of in-depth research and analysis of 20 popular diets, 22 experts — comprised of medical doctors, dieticians and health educators — rated each diet from 1 to 5 in seven categories: overall, weight loss (short term), weight loss (long term), easy to follow, nutrition, safety, for diabetes and for heart health.

The new category, Best Diets for Healthy Eating, ranked diets on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the best), weighing heavily on safety and nutrition. Keep in mind that this category was not intended to be the “Top Diets to Lose 10 Pounds in a Week” list that you might find advertised on the cover of Cosmopolitan; this list is more likely to appear in something like Prevention magazine, and each diet’s weight-loss potential takes a backseat to health, safety and nutrition.

We reviewed the three best and the three worst diets for healthy eating so we could give you the CliffNotes version of each:

Top 3 BEST Diets for Healthy Eating


1. DASH Diet (score: 4.8)

  • Stands for: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension
  • Developed by: The federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services 
  • Type of diet: Balanced
  • The aim: Preventing and lowering high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • The claim: A healthy eating pattern is key to deflating high blood pressure — and it may not hurt your waistline either.
  • Promotes: Fruits, veggies, lean meats
  • Reduces: Saturated fat, salt
  • Pros: Heart healthy; nutritionally sound
  • Cons: Lots of grunt work; somewhat pricey
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Shown to lower blood pressure, increase “good” HDL cholesterol and decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Why No. 1? Experts gave DASH kudos for nutritional completeness and safety, and applauded its emphasis on fruits and veggies and its restrictions on saturated fat and salt.

2.  TLC Diet (score: 4.7)

  • Stands for: Therapeutic Lifestyle Change
  • Developed by: The National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program
  • Endorsed by: The American Heart Association as a heart-healthy regimen that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Type of diet: Low-fat
  • The aim: Cutting high cholesterol
  • The claim: You’ll lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol by 8% to 10% in six weeks
  • Promotes: High calcium, fiber
  • Reduces: Fat, especially saturated fat
  • Pros: Heart healthy; not a fad diet — it’s government-endorsed
  • Cons: Must decode nutrition labels
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Considered the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay
  • Why No. 2? Experts commended TLC’s generous amounts of fiber and calcium, as well as its restriction on saturated fat.

3. Mediterranean Diet (score: 4.6)

  • Type of diet: Balanced
  • The aim: May include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention and control
  • The claim: You’ll lose weight, keep it off and avoid a host of chronic diseases
  • Promotes: Whole grains, lean meats and fish, olive oil, fruits and veggies; encourages eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; suggests a glass or two of red wine (!!!)
  • Reduces: Sweets, red meat; poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt in moderation
  • Pros: Nutritionally sound; diverse foods and flavors
  • Cons: Lots of grunt work; moderately pricey
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Associated with a decreased risk for heart disease and has been shown to reduce blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol
  • Why No. 3? Experts praised the Mediterranean Diet for how well it matched the government’s recommendations for healthy eating without compromising safety.

Top 3 WORST Diets for Healthy Eating


1. Atkins Diet (score: 2.0)

  • Type of diet: Low-carb
  • The aim: Weight loss
  • The claim: You’ll lose up to 15 pounds within two weeks, and eat lots of fatty foods
  • Promotes: Protein and fat, such as chicken, meat and eggs
  • Reduces: Carbs, sweets
  • Pros: Fatty food guilt-free; quick weight loss
  • Cons: Goodbye to sweets and bread; more calorie-restricted than you might think
  • Cardiovascular benefits: According to U.S. News, “a few small, short studies suggest Atkins raises HDL cholesterol and lowers blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. But many of the studies were small and short, and some of the positive findings did not carry enough statistical weight to be trustworthy. And all that fat worries most experts.”
  • Why No. 20? Experts took issue with the diet’s high amount of fat and severe dearth of carbohydrates. They also believed the drastic restrictions Atkins places on veggies, whole grains and fruits hampered dieters ability to obtain nutritional completeness in their diet.

2. Raw Food Diet (score: 2.1)

  • Type: Low-calorie
  • The aim: Depends, but may include weight loss, improved health and helping the environment
  • The claim: Raw food is packed with natural enzymes and nutrients that help the body reach optimal health — and you’ll shed pounds.
  • Promotes: Raw food that hasn’t been cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered or exposed to pesticides or herbicides, including fresh fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs
  • Reduces: Eliminates anything pasteurized, all processed foods, refined sugars and flours, table salt and caffeine
  • Pros: Fruits and veggies dominate the menu; nearly guaranteed weight loss
  • Cons: Tedious meal prep; equipment required; lots of rules
  • Cardiovascular benefits: According to U.S. News, it’s unclear, but this diet could have a positive effect. “An eating pattern heavy on fruits and veggies, but light on saturated fat and salt, is considered the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay,” U.S. News stated.
  • Why No. 19? Experts found this diet to be lacking in calories, calcium and vitamins B12 and D. Its safety was also questioned because experts felt the emphasis on raw and undercooked ingredients resulted in a high risk of food poisoning.

3. Paleo Diet (score: 2.2)

  • Type: Low-carb
  • The aim: May include weight loss and maintenance, and prevention or control of many “diseases of civilization,” like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease
  • The claim: You’ll lead a healthier, fitter, disease-free life.
  • Promotes: Meat, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies
  • Reduces: Refined sugar, dairy, legumes and grains
  • Pros: Carnivore approved; very low in sodium
  • Cons: Goodbye to grains and dairy; pricey
  • Cardiovascular benefits: Unknown. There have been only a few small, short studies linking Paleo diets with a reduction in blood pressure, bad “LDL” cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Why No. 18? Experts had a problem with the diet’s elimination of entire food groups, such as dairy and grains, which prevents dieters from obtaining all of the nutrients they need. This diet was one of the few that was actually considered “somewhat unsafe” and only “somewhat complete” on nutrition.