With almost 40 percent of U.S. adults classified as obese, it's isn't hard to see why it seems like almost everyone is looking for the best diet to lose weight. But with so many diets out there, from the keto diet to the paleo diet, picking the right one can get pretty overwhelming. So what should you be looking for in a diet? And how do you know which one is right for you?
What to look for in a diet
Journalist and professor Michael Pollan coined a great rule of thumb to follow when starting a diet: "Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants." The most important thing when it comes to the best diet to lose weight is whether or not it consists mostly of "real" food. That is, minimally processed food with an ingredients list that doesn't include anything you wouldn't recognize as being food —say, something like "sodium tripolyphosphate." Once you take care of that, the next thing to make sure of is to "always leave the table a little hungry" so you don't overeat. And when you do eat, be sure to eat plenty of plants, as they contain lots of fiber, which reduces appetite and helps you lose weight.
Still unconvinced? Even Dr. Oz, who has come under fire for promoting "miracle diet pills," admits that "most of weight loss...is about the food choices you make," and "what works for most people is a diet based on real foods — food that comes out of the ground and looks the way it looks when you eat it, that's not been processed."
So now that you know what goes into a healthy diet, which one should you choose?
More of the same?
As it turns out, most healthy diets at least roughly follow the guidelines listed above, and are thus very similar to each other. Therefore, the specific diet you choose may matter less than you think. Even diets that may seem relatively unrelated are actually more alike than different. Don't believe me? Let's take a look at two of the most popular diets today, the keto and Mediterranean diets, and what Healthline says you should eat and avoid on each:
- Fatty fish
- Butter and cream
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils
- Low-carb veggies
- Condiments, including various healthy herbs and spices.
- Sugary foods
- Grains or starches
- Beans or legumes
- Root vegetables and tubers
- Highly processed low-fat or diet products
- Some condiments or sauces
- Unhealthy fats, like trans fats and refined oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Fish and seafood
- Herbs and spices
- Healthy fats, including avocados
- Added sugar
- Refined grains
- Trans fats
- Refined oils
- Processed meat
- Highly processed foods
As we can see, these two diets are actually quite comparable. Even though the Mediterranean diet de-emphasizes the red meat and fatty foods favored by the keto diet; and keto eschews the legumes, tubers, and grains of the Mediterranean; seven of the ten things to spring for on the keto diet are included in the Mediterranean diet, and five of the six things to avoid on the Mediterranean diet are to be avoided on keto as well. And, as both are lauded for their fat-busting capabilities, you probably can't go wrong on either one.
Similarities continue when we look at macronutrient ratios across diets. For example, a paleo diet might include 19 to 35 percent protein, 22 to 40 percent carbs, and 28 to 47 percent fat; while a vegan macro ratio may consist of 25 to 30 percent protein, 40 to 45 percent carbs, and 30 to 35 percent fat. On the surface it may seem like these two diets can't be any more dissimilar, with the former favoring lean meat and fish and the latter avoiding animal products altogether — but when it comes to the basic macronutrients being consumed, they're actually almost the same.
Eat what you like
At the end of the day, there's no singular best diet to lose weight. Everybody's body works slightly differently. What works for one person may not for another. What's important is to do your research, and once you start a diet, to stick with it. It can take days, even weeks for your body to adjust to a new diet, and no matter what you do, you'll almost never see results immediately. So if you're thinking of starting a new diet, do your research, make a list of healthy diets you might be interested in, and pick the one you think you'd enjoy the most. That way you'll maximize your chances of staying true to it long enough to see results.
With so many diets out there, it's hard to tell which one is the best. And what are the actual differences between diets, anyway?