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Mediterranean diet voted the best diet for 2023

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The gold medals are piling up. For the sixth consecutive year, the Mediterranean style of eating has won the title of best overall diet, according to 2023 rankings announced Tuesday by US News & World Report. Meals from the sunny Mediterranean also ranked first in the categories of best diet for healthy eating and best plant-based diet, the report said.

In two new categories added for 2023, Mediterranean tied with TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) for cholesterol lowering and flexitarian diets as the best family diet, and with DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) for the best diet for bone and joint health.

“We are always looking for more health issues that we can address. But there is often not enough scientific data examining diet X and condition X,” said Gretel Schueller, managing health editor for US News & World Report, who oversees the annual diet ranking.

“However, bone and joint health is an area where there is a good amount of scientific literature,” said Schueller. “We also recognize that our population is aging, so focusing on diets that can increase the quality of life for seniors is an important element.”

Also new this year: Reviewers ranked only 24 diets instead of the 40 or so diets reviewed in recent years. Five diets from the original list – vegetarian, vegan, Nordic, traditional Asian and glycemic index – were integrated by judges into Mediterranean and other diets due to their underlying plant-based principles.

“The take-home message here is the recognition that the Mediterranean diet is really not just about the foods around the Mediterranean,” Schueller said. “You can learn the lessons and approach of the Mediterranean food pattern and apply it to any cuisine in any country.”

This approach is reflected in two new diets – Keyto and Pritikin — which were added to the review for 2023, Schueller said. (Yes. That’s Keyto with a Y.)

“We recognize that more and more people are eating some sort of plant-based or plant-based diet, or at least trying to,” she said. “Keto with a Y diet should be a flexible, low-carb Mediterranean plan.

“The Pritikin diet focuses on eating whole foods that are low in fat and high in fiber and is very flexible,” she added. “We are seeing a push to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, which I think is great.”

Numerous studies have found that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer. The diet, which is more of an eating style than a strict diet, has also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and a longer life.

The diet features simple, plant-based cooking, with most of each meal focused on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and seeds, with some nuts and a heavy emphasis on extra virgin olive oil. Fats other than olive oil, such as butter, are rarely, if ever, consumed, and sugar and refined foods are reserved for special occasions.

Red meat is used sparingly, usually just to add flavor to a dish. Eating oily, healthy fish, which are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, is encouraged, while eggs, dairy and poultry are eaten in much smaller portions than in the traditional Western diet.

Social interactions during meals and exercise are basic pillars of the Mediterranean style of eating. Lifestyle changes that are part of the diet include eating with friends and family, socializing during meals, mindfully eating favorite foods, as well as mindful movement and exercise.

As they did in 2022, DASH and the flexitarian diet tied for second place for the best overall diet. Similar to the Mediterranean style of eating, these diets reduce or eliminate processed foods and emphasize the need to fill your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

The DASH diet emphasizes limiting salt intake in its goal of lowering blood pressure, while the flexitarian diet, true to its name, allows for an occasional indulgence of meat or poultry.

A panel of 33 experts examined the top diets and classified them into several categories: the diet included all food groups; it was evidence-based; necessary foods available in any supermarket; how easy is the diet to prepare, and used additional vitamins or supplements.

“We focus on quality over quantity,” Schueller said. “Our reviewers felt that there are some diets that are so crazy that they aren’t worth the time, like the Dukan diet, which we no longer rate.”

The worst diet award went to the raw food diet this year, at least in part due to a lack of nutritional integrity, which raised safety concerns among reviewers. Since followers can only eat unprocessed foods that haven’t been cooked, microwaved, irradiated, genetically modified, or exposed to pesticides or herbicides, reviews find the diet nearly impossible to follow.

The popular keto diet, along with modified keto, ranked 20th out of the 24 diets, followed by Atkins, SlimFast, and Optavia. These diets emphasize eating foods high in protein or fat with minimal carbohydrates and receive low ratings because they are extremely restrictive, difficult to follow and eliminate entire food groups.

Despite keto’s low overall rating, reviewers gave the keto diet the top spot as the best diet for short-term weight loss, Schueller said, quickly adding that these diets aren’t considered healthy as a lifestyle.

“These are the diets for someone who has a wedding or event they want to go to in the next few months,” she said. “Are you going to lose weight in the short term? Absolutely. Are you going to keep it for the next two years? Probably not.”

In the best diet for (long-term) weight loss category, WW (formerly called Weight Watchers) took first place, with DASH and TLC tied for second place. WW also received the award for best diet program (commercial), followed by NOOM and Jenny Craig.

Flexitarian and TLC shared gold in the easiest-to-follow diet category, while Mediterranean and DASH diets tied for third.

The DASH diet received top honors as the best diet for heart health and for people with diabetes, followed by the Mediterranean, Flexitarian, and Ornish diets. The Ornish diet was created in 1977 by Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in California.

The Ornish Diet is combined with stress management techniques, exercise, social support and smoking cessation and, according to Ornish, is the only scientifically proven program to reverse heart disease without drugs or surgery.

Want to make Mediterranean-style eating one of your goals this year? Sign up for CNN’s Eat, But Better: Mediterranean Style newsletter, an eight-part series that walks you through a delicious, expert-backed food lifestyle that’s good for your health.