Type 'best weight loss diet' into Google and it will duly ping back 310m results.That’s a lot to take in when the results you actually want aren’t on the screen but in body composition. ⚠️ Want to create a body for life through a lifestyle you love? Think about ‘diet’ in the traditional sense of the word, you know, the kind of foods you eat most of the time. And it’s this – what you do daily, not for one week in the summer – that makes the real difference.But how can you discern the eating plans which are healthy and sustainable from the ones which are anything but?
Well, WH has done the hard work for you. We’ve called in the experts to sort the claims from the gains. Consider this your crib sheet to discovering the best diet of 2019 for you (and dropping knowledge bombs on your smuggest wellness mate).
The best diets to try—and which to avoid 1. The Pegan DietWhat do you get if you cross a caveman with a vegan? Not a bad joke, but The Pegan Diet. An amalgamation of a vegan (plant-based) and paleo (if a caveman didn’t eat it, then neither can you) diet, it delivers all the antioxidants, fibre and healthy fats you expect from a plant-based plan, with all the protein of a carnivorous one. Typical meal: Grilled chicken with five-coloured salad.What the diet advocate says: The brainchild of Dr Mark Hyman, he came up with the concept after finding himself sandwiched between a vegan and a paleo advocate while doing a panel talk. ‘The best versions of both diets are built into the foundation: eat real, whole food,’ he says. What the expert says: ‘This diet has lots of positives - we know wholegrains are heart healthy and an important source of fibre,’ says Tew. ‘But it also cuts out gluten and restricts all grains, making it hard to stick with and unsustainable in the long term.’ WH Verdict: While it’s unlikely to be popular with those who’ve chosen a plant-based lifestyle for ethical reasons, the principal of eating real, whole food is sound. And combining two ways of eating certainly makes it easier to get enough protein and vital nutrients. But it’s still pretty restrictive, so consult a nutrition professional to make sure you aren’t at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
2. The Mediterranean DietPasta, fish, olive oil. Mamma mia! The Mediterranean Diet is so-called because it incorporates healthy living habits from Med-bordering countries like Italy, Spain and Greece. It consistently tops the list when it comes to diets recommended by Western medicine and is similar to Public Health England’s Eatwell Guide.Typical meal: Pan-fried fish with brown rice and vegetablesWhat the diet advocate says: 'The key components of a Mediterranean diet are lots of vegetables, olive oil, oily fish and nuts, with no calorie restrictions. Combine that with cutting down on sugar, which was traditionally a rarity in the region, and you’ve got the base of the Mediterranean diet right. And if you get the base right you can eat a little of whatever else you like,' says Consultant Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra.
What the expert says: ‘There is a large amount of evidence to suggest that following the MD reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease,’ says registered Dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson Kirsty Barrett. ‘Significantly, a meta-analysis of randomised-control trials in 2011 found that the MD was effective for weight loss, though results were better when the diet was combined with energy restriction and physical activity. It has also been found to reduce LDL (bad cholesterol) more than low fat and low carb diets.’WH verdict: A foodie diet that delivers natural weight long-term term health goals gets our vote. Eating the rainbow means you won’t be missing out on any vital nutrients, too. Win win.
3. FODMAPWhile it might have been brought to your attention by your mate with the ‘Kale 4 lyf’ tee, know that FODMAP isn’t a diet for weight loss. The acronym describes a group of short-chain carbohydrates which, when eliminated, improve the symptoms of IBS-sufferers, and it should only be followed under the supervision of a dietitian. Typical meal: Sea bass with vegetables What the diet advocate says: ‘FODMAPS are either absorbed slowly from the small intestine or not absorbed at all,’ says Dr Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and the brains behind the low-FODMAP diet. ‘When the FODMAPs move into the bowel, where they are fermented by bacteria, this produces gas and can also cause water to move into the bowel. This stretches the bowel wall, which stimulates the gut.’ What the expert says: ‘There have been a number of cases where GPs have said, “You’ve got IBS, go on the low-FODMAP diet”,’ says Dr Megan Rossi (@theguthealthdoctor). ‘The only support they give you is a printout with a limited explanation of the diet from the internet. I’ve had clients come into my practice who’ve been given a list of 10 “friendly” foods to survive on, which is nutritionally dangerous.’ WH Verdict: While studies suggest the low-FODMAP diet is effective in the management of IBS symptoms, it has also been linked with disordered eating, and should only be followed under the supervision of a dietitian who’s been trained in the low-FODMAP diet.
I’ve had clients come into my practice who’ve been given a list of 10 “friendly” foods to survive on
4. The Dubrow DietThink of it as intermittent fasting 2.0 – only a bit more complicated. Ready? Here goes. There are three windows: one to get you started, one to help you reach your goal weight and a maintenance plan. You eat within a 12-hour, 14-hour or 16-hour window depending on which phase you’re in. But what you eat counts, too. The ‘green light’ lists of foods changes with every phase. Still there? Typical meal: Depends what phase you’re in. And what time it is. But high-fibre carbs, lean protein, fruit and vegetables are your friends. What the diet advocate says: The food baby of the US reality couple Heather and Terry Dubrow (she stars in the Real Housewives of Orange County; he’s a plastic surgeon starring in a show called Botched). ‘As opposed to the keto diet that aims to get you to a ketogenic state of using fat as fuel, which isn’t healthy or sustainable in my opinion, interval eating helps you go into a fat-burning state that leads to increased energy and cell renewal - a process called autophagy, the toxin-eating phase,’ says Terry. What the expert says: ‘Based on intermittent fasting, this style of diet has some evidence to suggest it can work for some people. But it certainly isn’t going to suit all personalities and the initial stage is intense.’ WH Verdict: The evidence for the benefits of fasting is promising, if not conclusive. Not one for poor time-keepers. It’s also framed as ‘a diet’ as opposed to a sustainable eating plan for life.
5. WWWeight Watchers – the diet your nan used to follow – is no more. In 2018, the company had a re-brand, with the new WW branding signalling a move away from diet culture and into the wellness-sphere – hint: WW now stands for ‘Wellness that Works’. ‘We are not classed as a diet,’ a member of the press office team tells WH. ‘It is a lifestyle change – a healthy living programme that encompasses food, activity and mindset.’
As for the substance, it’s been getting results since Atkins was a twinkle in Jennifer Aniston’s eye. But the re-brand includes WellnessWins - rewards for small, positive behaviours which are proven to lead to healthier habits - as well as FitPoints – a system designed to encourage activity choices based on what will have the healthiest impact on you. Typical meal: If you’ve got the points for it, you can eat it.What the diet advocate says: ‘We are committed to always being the best weight management program on the planet, but now we’re putting our decades of knowledge and expertise in behavioural science to work for an even greater mission,’ says Mindy Grossman, President and Chief Executive Officer, WW. ‘We are becoming the world’s partner in wellness. No matter what your goal is – to lose weight, eat healthier, move more, develop a positive mind-set, or all of the above – we will deliver science-based solutions that fit into people’s lives.’What the expert says: ‘While it’s great that WW are looking at a holistic approach, I would prefer to see a lot more emphasis on nutritional education and teaching cooking skills and portions sizes,’ says Tew. ‘We need to be encouraging people to tune into their internal cues of hunger, thirst and fullness as well as focusing on all over health.’ WH verdict: It’s still a diet by any other name, but props to Weight Watchers for acknowledging that there’s more to being healthy than ‘weight’. The new platform really does consider all aspects of wellness. And with plans to partner with Alexa and Google Assistant to help track your progress, WW could be to 2019 what Weight Watchers was to the early noughties.
6. Carnivore DietA purely plant-based plan. We jest. As the name suggests, it’s all about meat, and other animal products. In short: it’s the anti-vegan diet. Typical meal: SteakWhat the diet advocate says: Controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson is a fan, crediting the diet for curing his daughter’s various ailments, from juvenile arthritis to depression. But it was popularised by Shawn Baker, author of the aptly titled ‘The Carnivore Diet’ – in which he describes the diet as ‘a revolutionary, paradigm-breaking nutritional strategy that takes contemporary dietary theory and dumps it on its head’. What the expert says: ‘A totally unbalanced diet. Fruit and vegetable have a wealth of research showing their importance in keeping the body healthy. With evidence for heart health, cancer and gut health benefits why would you cut them out?’WH Verdict: Ethics aside, an eating plan in which your five-a-day is actively discouraged is not one for us.
An eating plan in which your five-a-day is actively discouraged is not one for us
7. Carb CyclingThis one does what it says on the tin: you cycle your carbs from one day to the next. On days when you’re training, you eat more, and on rest days, you eat less. It’s one strand of nutrient cycling – scheduling your intake of macros around your training. Typical meal: On a high carb day it’s wholewheat pasta with chicken. On a low carb day it’s grilled fish with asparagus What the diet advocate says: ‘It essentially means scaling your carbohydrate intake up and down in accordance with your activity levels,’ explains performance nutritionist Liam Holmes (phnutrition.co.uk). He uses the principles of nutrient timing to get elite athletes and CrossFit enthusiasts to their leanest before competitions. ‘The body works harder when it doesn’t have carbs as fuel, so it learns to become a more efficient burner of the fuel once it is there.’ What the expert says: ‘This is something that is used for athletes as part of their training. While it can lead to weight loss, carbohydrates are an energy source for the body, and restricting them can lead to headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. You would be better to find the level of carbohydrates your body needs by eating normal portion sizes and a balance of all food groups.’WH Verdict: Carb cycling is based on the principles of sports nutrition, so unless you’re training enough to warrant a meticulous approach to nutrition, then it’s probably not for you.
8. Dr Gundry DietThe diet that brought ‘lectins’ into the mainstream - a plant-based protein found in the likes of legumes (lentils and beans), nightshade veg (tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine), eggs and grains. The man who popularised the lectin-free diet – Dr Steven Gundry – describes them as ‘toxic’. In his book that brought a lectin-free lifestyle to the masses – The Plant Paradox – he cites them as the source of modern ailments from obesity to gastrointestinal disorders. Typical meal: Pasture-raised meat with a side of asparagusWhat the diet advocate says: Kelly Clarkson is a fan, claiming it helped her lose weight and improved the symptoms of her autoimmune disease. What the expert says: ‘While lectins can be harder for some people to digest, it doesn’t mean we all need to all stop eating them,’ says Tew. ‘This is where working with a properly qualified nutritionist or dietitian can help you find what foods your body can tolerate and which ones may not be right for you.’ WH Verdict: Not all lectins are created equal and research into their impact on the body is ongoing. In fact, to date, there are no human studies linking the dietary lectins with a harmful immune response in healthy people. A lectin-free diet is also incredibly restrictive, with the list of foods you can’t eat reading like a typical shopping list for your average nutrition-conscious foodie, making it unsustainable and putting you at risk of nutritional deficiencies.
9. Intermittent FastingThe 5:2, essentially you eat what you want for five days. Fast for the other two. Sounds easy. But try telling that to someone after ‘lunch’ on a fast day. For women, fast days involve eating 500 calories (600 for men). Typical meal: Fishcake served with asparagus and a poached egg What the diet advocate says: Michael Mosley, the scientist behind 5:2, claims women will lose 1lb a week, as well as seeing reduced cholesterol levels, a lower blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. What the expert says: ‘Over 50 years ago researchers realised they didn’t have to restrict energy every day and they still got a protective effect. In animals, these diets were shown to reduce visceral fat, oxidative stress and reduce cell proliferation, which is involved with the development of cancer. The models that were used in humans were two consecutive days of 650kcal then five days following a normal, healthy diet, versus a healthy med diet of 1500kcal. This research found the weight loss was slightly greater in the group fasting for two days compared to the other group. It’s worth noting that the participants in these studies were given a huge amount of support, which wouldn’t happen if you were just picking up a book on the 5:2 diet. Overall, there isn’t actually much evidence and we need more data on the long-term success of these diets.’The WH verdict: The jury’s still out on 5:2. And the danger is that if you literally eat anything you want on non-fast days, your daily diet could lack nutrition in favour of sugary treat-style foods. But with the research around IF stacking up, and more in the works, fasting is going nowhere, erm, fast.
Overall, there isn’t much evidence and we need more data on the long-term success of these diets
10. The 16:8The diet for people who love to eat. Interested? Thought so. Like its sister diet, the 5:2, this one’s a numbers game. You have an eight-hour window during which you can eat, then you fast for 16 hours. Typical meal: Whatever you fancy. As long as it’s within your window. What the diet advocate says: According to David Zinczenko, author of The 8-hour Diet, eating all your meals within a set window is the key to burning fat. ‘By carving out an eight-hour window in which to eat to your heart's content, you'll burn your body's fat stores effortlessly. The science is actually simple: for several years, researchers have been producing remarkable weight loss results in people using "intermittent fasting". In this case, fasting is about eating whatever you want, but staying within a sensible eight-hour window. This gives your body the chance to burn away your fat stores for the energy it needs.’ What the expert says: ‘This is based on the same principle as 5:2, but the fact that it doesn’t involve any calorie counting or dietary restriction is a bonus. There may be some benefits to IF in relation to healthy ageing, but again, more research is needed.’ The WH verdict: An early afternoon brunch and a late dinner – aka Saturday. We’re onto a winner here.
11. The New AtkinsIf it all feels a little bit '90s, that’ll be because this was basically the diet that kept Rachel from Friends looking, well, like Rachel from Friends. Think of it as the 20th-century version of no carbs before Marbs. Thankfully though, the old premise of each as much as you want, as long as you don’t go near a carb, has had a makeover. The New Atkins diet reintroduces carbs in phases. Typical meal: Steak with a side of spinach What the diet advocate says: ‘Every phase of the New Atkins plan is based on proven scientific principles and is a completely safe, natural way to lose weight,’ say Akins Nutritionals Inc. ‘Phase one is about transforming your body into a fat burning machine and kickstarting your weight loss. By limiting the amount of carbs you eat to around 20g a day, your body will switch its main fuel source from carbs to fat.’ What the expert says: ‘Atkins will result in quick weight loss as the body uses all the carbohydrate stores adults tend to have. But limiting carbs will mean you could be lacking in fibre and b vitamins like niacin, thiamine and b6. Aside from cutting out a major food group, Atkins tends to result in eating a lot of food that’s high in saturated fats, which is linked to raised cholesterol and heart disease.’ The WH verdict: Any diet that requires you to cut out a major food group can create a negative relationship with food, isn't sustainable in the long-term, or good for your overall nutritional intake.
12. The Keto DietThe ketogenic diet – keto among friends – is so-called because it aims to get the dieter into a state of ketosis, when the body stops using glucose as its main energy source and starts using ketones instead. The high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet is beloved by Silicon Valley for its alleged brain-boosting benefits. Typical meal: Grilled chicken breast with vegetables What the diet advocate says: 'The classic keto diet was very strict and nowadays what’s become more popular even to use from a clinical scenario is called the Modified Keto diet which is more liberal in protein. And that’s generally what people are following for weight loss and energy. That would be roughly 65-70% fat, 20-30% protein with a very small carb amount 5-10%,’ says Dr Dominic D’agostino, professor of neuropharmacology at the University of South Florida. What the expert says: ‘Like with Atkins, you will lose weight quickly. The ketogenic diet is used in medicine, but under strict supervision and for set periods of time, so with appropriate support it can be safe in the short to medium term. The brain does use glucose as its fuel of choice, so ‘brain fog’ lethargy are common side effects. You’ll known when your body is running off ketones by your breath – it’s known as ‘keto breath’, and it’s bad. It also can affect your ability to exercise by due to a lack of quickly accessible energy.The risks are more long term, such as risk of nutritional deficiency (vitamin c, a, k and b vitamins) and also increased risk of bowel and possibly breast cancer cancer due to limited fibre intake. Ketosis generally isn’t recommended and it’s not exactly a state that would the body would usually be in, but it can be done safely for set periods of time.’ The WH verdict: It might work as a short-term solution, but fall off the no-carb wagon and you’re back to square one. And we don’t like the sound of that keto breath. We like our diets to be more #balance, less food shaming and not require army-style adherence. Avoid.
13. The Paleo DietThe paleo diet, or Paleolithic, is dubbed the caveman diet because, if a caveman didn’t eat it, neither can you. On the menu are foods that you can hunt, fish or gather – grass-fed meat, fish, nuts and veggies. Out are foods which we consume thanks to modern agriculture – cereal grains, potatoes, dairy and (surprise surprise) all processed foods. Typical meal: Grilled lamb skewers with saladWhat the diet advocate says: According to Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, Paleo is ‘the only nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic.’What the expert says: ‘Paleo does promote the consumption of fresh ingredients over salty, processed meats. It also advocates a high consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is no bad thing. Research published in the journal Nature suggests that following this kind of diet can improve blood pressure, insulin resistance and cholesterol levels. That said, it is incredibly restrictive, and cutting out dairy, cereal foods and starchy carbohydrates will likely leave you low on fibre, calcium and iodine.’The WH verdict: You might feel like you’re doing your body a favour by upping your intake of fresh ingredients and cutting out the processed stuff, but #balanced it ain’t.14. The Nordic Diet Created in 2004 by a group of nutritionists, scientists, and chefs, to manage the growing rates of obesity and the unsustainable farming practices in the Nordic countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, the Nordic diet stays away from processed options and encourages locals to eat what they grow. It is a diet rich in omega 3 i.e. oily fish and canola oil. Typical meal: Salmon with lentilsWhat the diet advocate says: Not only is a Nordic diet comparable in terms of nutrition to the celebrated Mediterranean diet, but it also provides an easy plan for eco-friendly eating.What the expert says: Generally nutritionist Jenna Hope says she can see the benefits long term of the diet, ‘and as a general population, we need to eat more fish as we’re not getting enough omega 3 as with plant based diets, you need more food for it to be the equivalent of eating oily fish twice a week.’However, the Nordic diet encourages you to eat low-fat dairy which Hope discourages. ‘When consuming dairy such as milk, we should be consuming low fat dairy as removing the full fat from the item, removes the good fats. When dairy products are also low fat, they tend to be high in sugar also.’ The WH verdict: The Nordic diet seems to be both sustainable to the planet and to our bodies as it encourages eating local, whilst also cutting down processed and sugary snacks. However, we don’t encourage eating low-fat dairy products as this means a reduction in gaining your good fats and necessary nutrients for the brain. Just be sure to watch your saturated fat intake, the NHS recommends no more than 20g of saturated fat a day for women.15. The DASH DietA diet that reduces the intake of salt, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or the DASH diet was made for those with high blood pressure and to reduce the risk of heart disease. It is also thought to decrease cancer and diabetes risk.Typical meal: One whole-wheat bagel with two tablespoons of peanut butter What the diet advocate says: DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life. The DASH eating plan requires no special foods and instead provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. What the expert says: Though a relatively healthy diet, ‘it’s also another diet that encourages low-fat dairy which means you’re not absorbing Vitamins A, D, E and K.’ 'Vitamin D is hard to get from a diet but milk is a great source. When you’re removing the fat, you’re reducing the absorption.' Nutritionist Jenna Hope notes that the diet is however heavily fibre-based, which is great for your gut health. 'I would only recommend it to those with high blood pressure, essentially who the diet was created for, as cutting out regular dairy is not essential.'The WH verdict: A step forward in the right direction to reduce extra salt intake or sugary snacks. However, it's not necessary to only consume low-fat dairy unless your GP has stated otherwise.16. The Very Fast 800 DietCreated by Dr Mosley, the Very Fast 800 Diet is for those who are trying to lose weight quickly and involves eating just 800 calories every day. Want to lose weight slowly? The Fast 800 Diet ('the new 5:2') involves eating a Mediterranean Diet for five days and cutting down to 800 calories on two days. Typical meal: Grilled calamari saladWhat the diet advocate says: For those looking to lose a lot of weight and re-set their metabolism fast... [the Very Fast 800] has been shown to help people shift the most weight, and keep it off, in the shortest time.What the expert says: 'I wouldn't recommend this diet as it promotes a poor relationship with food as you are counting your calories' says nutritionist Jenna Hope. 'This then drives people to eat processed food, which is high in sugar and low in fat and is not sustainable'. The WH verdict: Whilst the diet encourages healthy Mediterranean meals, counting your intake and limiting yourself to 800 calories could lead to an unhealthy relationship food.