The products featured in this article have been independently reviewed. When you buy something through the retail links on this page, we may earn commission at no cost to you, the reader. The Sports Illustrated editorial team is not involved in the creation of this content. Learn more here.
The best diet for your health and happiness is the one that works for you. If a restrictive diet leaves you feeling deprived or is impossible to maintain, you’re more likely to fall off the bandwagon than stick with it. And while many diets are out there, they aren’t one-size-fits-all. With so many eating plans to try, how do you choose?
Dieting shouldn’t be about only losing weight, building muscle or preventing disease. A successful diet improves your health and makes you feel good while enjoying your food. Any diet should nourish the body—even those designed for weight loss.
This article gives you the top 10 diets (backed by science) for your personal health and wellness goals. Our guide will also arm you with tips for choosing the right diet and answer the most common questions about dieting. Now, on to our highest-rated diet plans.
This content is meant to be informative, but should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention or treatment of health problems. Always speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement or exercise regimen.
Our Picks for the Best Diets:
- Best Diet for Overall Health: Flexitarian Diet
- Best Diet for Brain Health: MIND Diet
- Best Diet for Weight Loss: Mayo Clinic Diet
- Best Diet for Diabetes: Mediterranean Diet
- Best Diet for Gut Health: FODMAP Diet
- Best Diet for Heart Health: DASH Diet
- Best Diet for Cholesterol: Vegan Diet
- Best Diet for Cutting: Keto Diet
- Best Diet to Gain Muscle: Paleo Diet
Interested in managing your diet with an app? We recommend you check out Noom.
Best Diet for Overall Health: Flexitarian Diet
With the latest research suggesting that it lowers your risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer, the Flexitarian diet is the best diet for overall health. It’s a semi-vegetarian, or flexible (“flex-”) vegetarian (“-itarian”), way of eating that emphasizes plant and plant-based foods, but lets you enjoy lean meats on occasion.
On this diet, you’ll eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains (the latter being an important part of any healthy diet). Flexitarians avoid certain animal products like butter, cream and lard, but allow yogurt and cheese in moderation. They also limit meat intake to nine to 28 ounces per week and choose high-quality free-range or pasture-fed products for fuel.
Research suggests that a Flexitarian Diet improves metabolism, blood pressure and inflammatory markers that increase your risk for many diseases. The Flexitarian diet is generally safe for everyone, including pregnant women, children and those over age 60.
- Flexible, so it’s easier to stick with
- Reduces risk of chronic diseases
- Lots of variety for easier meal planning
Best Diet for Brain Health: MIND Diet
Emerging studies on dementia prevention led to the development of the MIND diet, now considered the best diet for brain health. It’s an eating plan focused on healthy foods that can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other brain diseases.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. The MIND diet recommends these “brain healthy” foods to slow the decline of brain function:
- Whole grains (at least three servings per day)
- Vegetables other than leafy greens (at least one serving per day)
- Green leafy vegetables (at least six servings per week)
- Nuts (at least five servings per week)
- Beans (at least four meals per week)
- Berries (at least two servings per week)
- Poultry (at least two meals per week)
- Fish (at least one meal per week)
These foods are rich in vitamins, carotenoids, and flavonoids that protect the brain and nervous system. In a ten-year study of older adults, those who consumed the largest amounts of these foods saw a 53 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The MIND Diet also limits the following five unhealthy foods:
- Pastries and sweets (less than five servings per week)
- Red meat (less than four servings per week)
- Cheese (max of one serving per week)
- Fried foods (max of one serving per week)
- Butter/margarine (max of one tablespoon per day)
Since many aspects of the MIND Diet are also part of the DASH and Mediterranean diets, it also benefits cardiovascular and metabolic health. Anyone can follow this diet for brain health. People with food allergies or intolerances can easily modify meals and stay on plan.
- Three daily whole grain servings may be hard for those with gluten sensitivity
Best Diet for Weight Loss: Mayo Clinic Diet
Another popular diet that offers variety is our best diet for weight loss: the Mayo Clinic Diet. First developed in 1949 by medical doctors and weight loss experts, it has been updated through the years based on the newest diet and weight loss research. The Mayo Clinic Diet is different from other weight loss diets because it’s a long-term eating plan meant to create positive life-long habits.
This diet has two phases:
- The “Lose It!” phase is two weeks designed to jump-start your weight loss with quick results. You can lose six to 10 pounds safely and begin practicing new healthy habits that you’ll carry into Phase 2. The diet is paired with 30 minutes of daily walking or other exercises.
- “Live It!” is a lifelong approach to long-term weight loss that includes learning more about portion sizes, food choices and meal planning. You may see continued weight loss (one to two pounds per week) until you reach your goal weight.
The Mayo Clinic offers free tools and digital resources like mobile apps to help users stick to the plan. The Mayo Clinic Diet is safe for everyone; however, if you’re not used to eating lots of fruits and vegetables, you could experience temporary stomach issues like gas, bloating or diarrhea while your body adjusts.
- Developed by medical professionals
- Allows unlimited fruits and vegetables
- Doesn’t eliminate any food group
- Fewer daily calories can lead to hunger pains or cravings
- The first phase is restrictive: no sugar or alcohol
Best Diet for Diabetes: Mediterranean Diet
With a focus on plant-based foods prepared with flavorful herbs and spices, the Mediterranean diet is the best for diabetes. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, high-fiber foods (like beans) and healthy fats (like olive oil) that regulate blood sugars.
Also known as the “Med Diet,” it’s more of a lifestyle than a diet. It’s based on the way Europeans typically eat in Greece, Italy and islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Eating “Mediterranean” is about what and how you eat. Med Diet guidelines include:
- Slowing down to eat
- Enjoying regular physical activity
- Socializing by enjoying meals with friends and family
- Eating seasonal and local produce
- Avoiding processed foods
The Mediterranean diet is flexible and easy to stick with. It doesn’t require you to measure foods or count calories, yet it still promotes weight loss. For those with Type 2 diabetes who are struggling with obesity, weight loss can reduce insulin resistance. It may even reverse the condition in 46 percent of cases. In fact, research suggests that each part of the Mediterranean Diet helps balance diabetes in some way.
This diet is generally safe for anyone, including children. It was also ranked number one by U.S. News & World Report.
- Family-friendly food options are healthy and balanced for all ages.
- Easy to follow for those with gluten intolerance
- No counting, measuring or tracking
- Whole foods are high in fiber and filling
- Weight loss may be slow if you eat too many healthy fats
Best Diet for Gut Health: FODMAP Diet
Backed by clinical studies, we’ve crowned the FODMAP diet as the best diet for gut health. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Yes, the name is a mouthful.
When you eat FODMAPs, these simple sugar molecules are not well absorbed in the small intestine. When they travel to the colon, they ferment. This process creates gas in your abdomen and may cause symptoms like cramping, pain, bloating or diarrhea. Examples of high FODMAP foods that are off-limits on this plan include:
- Beans and lentils
- Wheat products (bread, pasta, cereals)
- Certain vegetables (onions, garlic, asparagus)
There are three phases to the diet:
- Eliminate foods high in FODMAPs for at least two to six weeks.
- Slowly reintroduce foods, one every three days or so, to find your triggers.
- Avoid those foods in your regular diet to improve your health.
“The low FODMAP diet is a temporary eating plan that’s very restrictive,” says Hazel Galon Veloso, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. Since it eliminates many foods and can cause weight loss, it can be dangerous for underweight individuals, pregnant women and children.
- May improve the quality of life for people suffering from stomach problems
- Proven benefits for people with IBS
Best Diet for Heart Health: DASH Diet
Developed decades ago by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute to treat and prevent high blood pressure, the DASH Diet is still the best diet for heart health. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The DASH Diet is an eating plan high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains and low in sodium. Along with the nutritious diet, DASH encourages at least 30 minutes of heart-healthy exercise daily, with at least two and a half hours each week of moderate-intensity activity.
It has been widely studied and has many health benefits. Following this diet may lower your risk of cardiovascular conditions, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
The DASH diet is safe for the whole family. In fact, it’s recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association.
- Alcohol is allowed in moderation (one to two drinks per day)
- Developed and recommended by doctors
- Must track servings from each food group daily
- Low sodium requirement makes it difficult to eat out
Best Diet for Cholesterol: Vegan Diet
Research suggests that the best diet for cholesterol control is a plant-based, vegan diet. Vegan means avoiding all animal products, including dairy and eggs. A vegan diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains. It may be easier to follow than some might think since many grocery stores now carry vegan options for yogurt, cheese and milk made from plants.
Many studies have compared vegan and omnivorous diets and their effects on cholesterol levels. In general, science shows that plant-based diets lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—or “bad cholesterol”—high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and total cholesterol levels. One of the reasons is that plants contain phytosterols, which reduce blood cholesterol. Eating around one to three grams of sterols daily can lower LDL cholesterol by six to 12 percent. Plant-based diets are also rich in antioxidants which may offer protection against heart disease.
A vegan or vegetarian diet may not be the best choice for people with kidney disease because it could cause their potassium levels to go up. Also, anyone taking blood thinners has to be careful about diets high in Vitamin K. It’s best to talk with a doctor or registered dietician before starting a vegan diet if you have any chronic diseases.
- Lowers cholesterol and improves heart health
- Contains foods packed with vitamins and nutrients
- Low-fat and aids weight loss
- May require supplements for complete, balanced nutrition
Best Diet for Cutting: Keto Diet
If you’re looking to lose fat and keep muscle mass, the best diet for cutting is the Keto Diet. It’s a ketogenic, low-carb diet that gives the body plenty of fat and protein with few carbohydrates, so you lose water and fat while preserving muscle.
You’ll eat plenty of meats, poultry, fish and seafood on this diet. You’ll also have eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds and sauces. Keto dieters steer clear of starches like bread, pasta made from grains and higher carbohydrate fruits and vegetables.
Normally when you diet, your body breaks down muscle tissue for energy. However, taking in an adequate amount of protein will help protect your muscle tissue and encourage your body to use stored body fat instead. The diet also has a diuretic effect which can lead to initially rapid weight loss (up to 10 pounds in one week).
First developed in the 1920s by doctors to treat epilepsy, the keto diet has been studied for decades. It’s been repopularized thanks to Atkins plans, and millions of people have tried it. According to experts, a well-planned keto diet is considered safe for most people.
- High protein intake helps you feel fuller for longer
- Allows flavorful, high-fat foods
- Promotes fat loss while maintaining muscle mass
- It can be hard to stick with over time
Best Diet to Gain Muscle: Paleo Diet
If your number one dieting goal is to bulk up or add lean muscle mass, consider the best diet to gain muscle: the Paleo diet. It’s an eating plan based on eating only foods that would have been available during the Paleolithic Era (over 10,000 years ago). Think fish, game, fruits, nuts and plants. If your ancestors wouldn’t, or couldn’t, have eaten it, then you won’t either on this diet.
The Paleo diet eliminates processed carbs and dairy products. Instead, you’ll feel more satiated by a diet full of protein, healthy fats and veggies. These food sources also encourage muscle growth and repair to support your strength training regimen.
The Paleo way of eating is also family-friendly. Parents can create healthy and balanced meals from the diet staples for any age.
- Great for gluten sensitivities
- Greater satiety from foods rich in fiber and protein
- Difficult to stick to long-term
- Meal planning is more challenging
How We Chose the Best Diets
To choose the best diets for you, we cut through the claims to find diets backed by science. From published research to expert recommendations, we examined the diets in each category objectively. We’ve presented the top diets most likely to meet our readers’ individual needs and give them the nutrients needed for overall health and wellness.
How to Choose the Best Healthy Diet for You
Remember, there’s no single best diet out there that works for everyone. You have to find one that works for you. Before choosing a healthy diet, think about your eating habits. Then, answer these questions:
- What foods do you most enjoy eating?
- What are your normal eating patterns? (ex: bigger meals, more snacks, etc.)
- How and when do you normally eat? (ex: cooking at home, eating out, etc.)
- Who do you eat with?
These questions can help you sort out diets that will fit your life for long-term benefits.
When looking into diet and eating plans, remember that a healthy diet should give your body the essential nutrition you need, including macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). It should also incorporate physical activities. You need to get your body moving to use that good fuel you’re taking in!
What is the easiest diet to follow?
The easiest diet to follow will be one that works with your lifestyle. It will also fit your tastes, personal preferences and food sensitivities.
What is the simplest diet?
From our list, the simplest diet to follow may be the Flexitarian diet. It includes eating vegetables and grains for each meal and adding animal protein once or twice a week. The Mediterranean diet is also simplistic, with a wide variety of foods for all tastes and no calorie counting, tracking or measuring.
Which diet gives you the best results?
The Flexitarian and Mediterranean Diets give the best results in terms of overall health.
Whether you’re looking to make huge lifestyle changes, optimize your health or just want a taste of something new, there are lots of healthy diets out there. With the tips in this guide, you can narrow down the choices to find the diet that’s right for you.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of publish time.