News Flash: Most Diets May Not Work

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 2, 2011 3:20PM

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Moral of the story? Eat more plants.
Is U.S. News and World Report even a news site anymore? Or do they just put out lists of things that use criteria no one understands so that snarky bloggers (or college admissions officers) can object to them? Their latest salvo is a ranking of diets - some fad, some medically-developed and some commercial. They brought in experts, statistics and all sorts of information to rank the top 20 diets. Only problem? The diets pretty much don't work.

Marion Nestle (nutrition expert, author and professor at NYU) wrote a brief piece in the Atlantic yesterday that made us spend a bit of time looking at the U.S. News numbers. The first (and most obvious) problem? A poll that is being conducted on the site. Under each of the diets, readers are asked "Did this diet work for you?" Only one of the officially ranked "top 5" comes anywhere close to a positive response.

The number one diet (according to the official rankings) is the "DASH" diet, developed to fight high blood pressure. The unscientific poll numbers? 253 yes, 843 no, more than 3 to 1 against. Worse is the TLC Diet (ranked #3) created by the National Institute of Health - almost 10 to 1 against. Even worse are the South Beach and Zone diets (which didn't make the top 10) - 19 to 1 against and 39 to 1 against respectively.

Guess which diets worked? Unsurprisingly (at least to Michael Pollan fans) Vegetarian and Vegan diets have gotten overwhelmingly positive responses from readers - 17 to 1 and 15 to 1 in favor. Moral of the story? Healthy eating and lots of veggies probably works better than fads. Weight Watchers also did pretty good - it made the top 5 AND got a positive response from readers, the only diet to do both.

Ok, so these are crowdsourced responses. If we look at the expert numbers, we see a couple of things. At least U.S. News firmly places most of the "fad diets" in the bottom 10. We also can see why they put Vegetarian and Vegan down pretty far - their low "easy to follow" score kills them. However, when the best diet on the list (DASH) only gets a 3/5 from the experts for "long-term weight loss," we can be pretty sure that "dieting" as a category isn't really doing all that well.

As always, we prefer the Pollan mantra - Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. Oh, and exercise occasionally.