What Is the ‘Best Diet’ for You?

We’ve named some standouts, but you have to decide for yourself which diet is the best fit for you

What makes a diet best? In Best Diets 2012, the latest set of exclusive rankings from U.S. News, the DASH diet beat out 24 others, among them Atkins, Jenny Craig, and Slim-Fast, to win the “Best Diets Overall” crown. Among the 12 commercial diet programs marketed to the public, Weight Watchers came out on top. (Our methodology explains how.) We also ranked the diets on likelihood of weight loss, ability to prevent and control diabetes and heart disease, healthiness, and how easy they are to follow.

Our analysis puts hard numbers on the common-sense belief that no diet is ideal for everybody.

Take DASH, the Best Diets Overall winner. It wasn’t created as a way to drop pounds, but as a means of combating high blood pressure (it stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The federal government, which funded the research behind DASH, doesn’t even call it a diet—it’s an “eating plan.” If losing weight is your No. 1 goal, a diet in our Best Weight-Loss Diets rankings would be a more likely choice. Or if you have diabetes, you might want to look especially hard at Best Diabetes Diets.

That’s why we’re giving you lots of tools. Each diet was scored by a panel of experts in short-term and long-term weight loss, on how easy it is to follow, how well it conforms to current nutrition standards, and on health risks it may pose—plus its soundness as a diabetes and as a heart diet. On the data page, you can reorder the 25 diets in any of these categories with the click of a mouse.

Besides the rankings and data, each diet has a detailed profile that tells you how it works, what evidence supports (or refutes) its claims, a nutritional snapshot, right down to daily milligrams of potassium, and, of course, a close look at the food you’d eat—with photos. All of it is reliable and easy to understand.

These tools will be at least a start at helping you, your mother, your brother—whoever—find that elusive perfect-for-me diet. Once you’ve whittled down your eligible diets to a few, consider your personality and lifestyle. If you’re a foodie, you probably won’t be happy with a plan built around frozen dinners, like Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig, or mostly just-add-water meals, like Medifast. If cutting carbs will just make you cranky and resentful, you’ll want to stay away from low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach.

Then think about what did and didn’t work the last time you were on a diet. Was it too restrictive? Lots of diets we covered don’t consider any food off-limits. Didn’t provide enough structure? Some plans will tell you exactly what to eat and when.

With any diet, ask yourself: How long can I stay on this? No matter how good it looks (or how good it might make you look), if you can’t stick with it in the long run, you’ll be right back where you started after a couple of months.

And consider physical activity, an important component of any healthy lifestyle. Does your plan lay out a specific exercise program, or are you on your own?

The questions are endless. Right now you may have no idea what will or won’t work for you. That’s what we’re here for. We’re not going to tell you what diet you should be on, but we can help lead you to a winner—the Best Diet for you.

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