U.S. News and World Report just released their Best Diets of 2021 list – generated annually by a panel of experts who evaluate modern and popular diets based on safety, how easy the plan is to follow, nutritional value, and how effective the diet is for weight loss. The best diets of 2021 also have to be effective at preventing diabetes and heart disease, and evidence of these outcomes, via published studies, weighed heavily in their rankings. Here are the five top diets, and our thoughts on each.

Mediterranean diet

We fully expected the Mediterranean diet to rate at the top again this year. The eating pattern has long been considered the gold standard for nutrition, disease prevention, wellness, and longevity. The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, pulses (beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas), and olive oil. It severely limits processed foods and sugar, as well as red meat, and naturally provides a wide range of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.

The Mediterranean diet is nutritionally balanced and provides a diverse array of satiating foods and flavours. However, it is an eating style, not a rules-oriented diet. As such, there are no guidelines for specific portions, calorie targets, or meal configurations. That said, you may lose weight simply by shifting your intake away from processed foods toward more fibre and nutrient-rich produce and whole foods.

DASH diet

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, but it’s not only for people with high blood pressure.

This plan borrows elements of the Mediterranean diet, but it's a very specific eating pattern that’s been highly researched. In addition to being effective for reducing blood pressure, DASH has been shown in studies to promote weight loss, protect heart health, as well as lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers. DASH recommends specific portions from various food groups, depending on one’s daily calorie needs.

While rate of weight loss with DASH can be slow, it’s sustainably long-term. Our one issue is the lack of obvious alternatives to animal protein for those who are looking for a plant-based plan. It’s also a bit lower in healthful fats.

Flexitarian diet

A flexitarian diet is primarily vegetarian with the occasional inclusion of meat or fish. Numerous studies have shown that the shift towards a mostly plant-based diet is tied to lower body weight and a reduced incidence of chronic diseases, including improved markers of metabolic health, blood pressure, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

There is no one way to follow a flexitarian diet, as far as the number of times per week animal products are consumed or the overall makeup of a day’s worth of meals in regards to servings of produce, whole grains, etc. The best way to follow this plan is to maximise your intake of whole plant foods and minimise highly processed foods, even if they are fully plant-based. Opt for dishes like a grain bowl made with leafy greens, veggies, quinoa, lentils, and tahini over a vegan cheeseburger with fries.

Mayo Clinic diet

The Mayo Clinic diet is from the highly esteemed American academic medical center and is focused on integrated health care, education, and research.

The diet, which is supported by a book and website, are based on research-backed, tried and true healthy habits. There is a strong emphasis on fitting in 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, eating more whole foods, including veggies, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fats, and limiting sugar to what's naturally found in fruit.

The plan includes two phases, "Lose it!" and "Live it!" The first emphasises 15 key habits to focus on and which ones to eliminate, without counting calories. After two weeks, the next phase involves identifying how many calories you should aim for to either lose or maintain weight, and how to consume your calories in a healthful, balanced way. No foods are completely off limits though, as the diet stresses a long-term, maintainable lifestyle approach.

MIND diet

The MIND diet combines aspects of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet to create an eating pattern designed to focus on brain health – including the prevention of dementia and age-related cognitive decline. But the MIND diet can be followed by anyone for weight loss and overall wellness.

MIND specifically stands for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Because both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have such strong research to support their healthfulness, MIND highlights aspects of the two that are particularly protective to the brain.

Rather than a set meal plan, MIND’s primary directive is to eat more of 10 brain-defending foods, such as green, leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, olive oil, whole grains, fish, poultry and more. The plan also lays out five foods to avoid, which have been shown to hinder brain health: butter and margarine, cheese, red meat, fried food, and pastries and sweets.