Emotional wellbeing has been top of mind these past couple of years, which is why many people who are looking to lose weight now are embracing diets that have less to do with how they look and more so with how they feel. As nutrition pros have long established, there are diet plans out there that can help you feel great inside and radiate on the outside, without leading to “yo-yo” dieting or exasperatedly watching pounds trickle back after crash dieting for weeks or months at a time, explains Amy Fischer, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian working within the Good Housekeeping Institute.
Our list of the top weight-loss diets of the new year — which focus on supercharging your heart health, boosting your mood or safely guiding you through a significant physical transformation — help you practice nutrition basics that you can adopt for life, regardless of whether you’re actively dieting or not. A hallmark example is the Mediterranean Diet, a program that went from an under-the-radar trend to nutrition pros’ current crown jewel for what constitutes a healthy and wholesome eating plan. “It’s great as it focuses more on improving your overall lifestyle rather than being a typical diet,” says Fischer, drawing connections to other standouts on this list.
If there’s one recurrent theme in the health industry right now, it’s the shift to plant-based eating. The diets on our list (and all of the top diets named in U.S. News and World Report’s 2022 diet rankings, for that matter) emphasize nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits on a near daily basis; this shift can help cut your cardiovascular disease risk and minimize issues like chronic inflammation, but can also end up impacting weight management in the process, Fischer adds.
Regardless of which diet you may or may not choose to follow this year, keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure you eat enough. You may need to cut back on calories to hit a goal, but don’t obsess or overdo it when it comes to keeping track. The latest guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health maintain that a standard range of daily calories for most women is between 1,600 and 2,400 each day (2,000 to 3,000 for men) depending on your activity levels. Diets should never dip below 1,200 calories for women (1,400 for men), Fischer stresses.
- Avoid lots of added sugar. The American Heart Association suggests keeping your sugar intake to below 25g each day (36g for men) which is a lot less than you may think. Start by quitting the habits that can stoke sugar cravings, then try to keep track of the sugar on food labels (it’s more important than calories in most cases).
- Cut back on salty packaged items. Eating too much salt can greatly influence your risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation. Excess sodium hides neatly in packaged, processed meals and snacks, so gradually wean yourself off these grocery aisle staples and opt for whole foods instead. Try to keep sodium intake to about 1,500mg daily, or at least below 2,300mg, to keep your heart as healthy as can be, experts say.
- Drink more water. It’s advice you’ve heard your whole life, but staying hydrated is important. Drinking at least 72 ounces of water each day — about six to eight cups in total — should be your starting point; then up that total based on how active you are.
- Get sweaty. The food you eat is only half of the equation if you’re attempting to reduce your weight. While you don’t need access to a fancy gym or a trainer for results, aim to get at least 30 minutes of heart-pumping exercise in each day — even just walking may help you achieve that goal.
Take time to speak with your primary care provider and/or a registered dietitian before making changes to your diet. Pre-existing health conditions may prevent some from following prescribed dietary plans without harming their health in unexpected ways. Make sure you identify any specific nutritional needs or potential physical side effects before selecting a long-term diet.
Also note that a diet targeting weight loss may not be the solution you’re ultimately searching for. Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — before deciding to go on a diet, we invite you to gain a broader perspective with our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
Our list of the best diets of 2022 takes a deep dive into all of the reasons why each of these programs should edge out the trendier, TikTok-fueled diets you may see elsewhere (Whole30 included!). Read on to learn why each of these diets earned a spot on our best-of list:
- Best Overall Diet: Mediterranean Diet
- Best Diet for Heart Health: DASH Diet
- Best Diet for Weight Loss: Volumetrics Diet
- Best Sustainable Diet: Flexitarian Diet
- Best Digital Diet: WW PersonalPoints (Weight Watchers)
- The One to Watch: Galveston Diet
Best Overall: Mediterranean Diet
For the fifth year in a row, this take on the daily diets of people who live in Italy, Greece and parts of France has earned top marks across the industry. As the gold standard for nutrition pros working with patients on weight management, newcomers to the Med Diet are surprised to learn just how few concrete rules there are — including a lack of restriction on any one food group. Meals on this program are stacked with cruciferous vegetables, seafood and lean poultry, unrefined whole grains, and legumes and pulses, often dressed in the heart-healthy olive oil and accompanied by a 5 oz glass of red wine. The result? An influx of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and wholesome nutrients working to extend your longevity and reduce the risk of disease.
The only hurdle may be how broad the diet can be interpreted by interested dieters. “Focusing first on consuming whole foods and eliminating processed foods is a great place to start,” Fischer says, adding that supermarket lists are crucial, which can be sourced in Good Housekeeping‘s 28-Day Plan. “You’ll double down on using healthier cooking methods like baking, broiling, grilling, sautéing and avoiding anything fried or prepared with saturated fats.”
Those who turn to a Mediterranean Diet often feel more energized for their routines, and see physical results in due time. Fischer explains that those who stick to a 1,500 calorie daily intake may lose upwards of 2lbs each week on the Med Diet, depending on activity levels. “This diet is more about improving overall health, however studies indicate a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, among others. This diet isn’t a quick fix; it’s something you can do 365 days a year instead of just 30.”
Best Diet for Heart Health: DASH Diet
High blood pressure (or hypertension) affects upwards of 50% of Americans, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, and high sodium and saturated fats are often the culprits. The DASH Diet (“Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”) was first introduced in the 1990s to combat high blood pressure — but has since been endorsed by the National Institutes of Health for its magic-like effect on holistic health. Current research published in 2021 indicates that this diet indeed reduces blood pressure over time, while also promoting weight loss and dashing risk thresholds for type 2 diabetes and stroke.
The science-backed diet pushes you to swap red meat for lean poultry and seafood, while limiting alcohol consumption as much as possible. And it’s rare in that it prescribes at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise each week. The diet’s official plan places emphasis on different food groups, primarily whole grains, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, lean proteins and seeds and nuts; sweets are allowed thrice a week. Fischer adds that, like the Mediterranean Diet, this program is meant to be adopted for longer than a few weeks — many dietitians often consult their patients on a DASH program designed to change their health for years to come.
Best Diet for Weight Loss: Volumetrics Diet
A majority of Americans don’t eat enough fiber, missing the mark on optimal gut health — which is why this diet in particular often ends up moving the needle a bit faster on weight loss. Out of all the diets on this list, the Volumetrics program may be the most encouraging for frequently snacking on its approved staples. The diet, which was first created by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, encourages you to eat your favorite foods while practicing moderation. You’ll be regularly enjoying more than a fair share of servings of fresh vegetables and sweet fruit, all while learning to balance rotating in snacks you may already love and a fair share of lean protein and whole grains. “You’re likely going to be more satisfied after each meal because you’re consuming more fiber and foods that are high in their water content, which works to deter overeating,” Fischer explains.
Newcomers to the diet often turn to a guide, The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, written by Barbara Rollins, Ph.D., to get started. Meal plans include an influx of fruit and fresh and frozen veggies, paired with whole grains, beans and legumes, and lean seafood and low-fat poultry. The diet’s guide does encourage you to load your plate with as many of its preferred fibrous greens as you’d like, and does account for planned snack breaks: “Eating three balanced, fiber-rich meals a day, and if a snack is needed in between meals, usually works best,” Fischer adds. “This program encourages that and offers flexibility.”
If you’re noticing that fiber is being linked to successful weight management, that’s because diets like Volumetrics target your digestive tract to keep you satiated longer. “Studies indicate that both soluble and insoluble fiber does help to decrease hunger, keeps you satisfied longer and therefore helps with long-term weight management,” Fischer says.
Best Sustainable Diet: Flexitarian Diet
They’re not exactly vegan, but flexitarian diets are often a gateway lifestyle change to moving into firmly vegetarian or exclusively plant-based diets if that’s a goal. As most Flexitarian diet plans do not eliminate entire food groups, Fischer says it may be the easiest diet to adapt on this list, despite there not being a “one-size-fits-all” approach to diets, particularly this one.
You’ll work to cut back on meat and dairy at your own pace, but the best Flexitarian diets emphasize more vegetables and whole grains, as faux “vegan” packaged meat alternatives can be just as fat and sodium-laden as other processed items. The diet’s emphasis is placed not on counting calories or eliminating food groups for good, but being more aware of the choices you’re making in the kitchen; eating whole foods and wild, grass-fed and sustainable beef, chicken, turkey and wild fish, Fischer adds.
Beyond impacting your waistline or blood pressure, medical experts and conservationists alike have pinned more plant-based meal plans as a primary solution to reverse the trend of depleting our planet’s resources. Regardless of whether or not you adopt this dietary approach, doubling down on vegetarian meals and embracing trends like Meatless Monday is always a great idea.
Best Digital Diet for Weight Loss: WW PersonalPoints
The WW community (formerly Weight Watchers) has been treated to a slew of new plans over the last few years, but its 2022 program — a new endeavor called PersonalPoints — is undoubtedly the most customizable paid diet support service we’ve seen yet. Both new and existing WW members have been asked to complete a new data-backed assessment to gauge their favorite foods and forms of physical exercise, which are put through the brand’s algorithm to generate a point-based system that’s unique to that user. The new point system rewards users for fiber-rich items, lean proteins and forms of healthy unsaturated fats, a combo to help you feel satisfied all day long while improving heart health; it also prioritizes naturally sweet items like fruit over added sugars in sweets. You’ll also be able to earn extra points for getting exercise, drinking more water and smart choices like doubling up on non-starchy vegetables; this new feature was well received by our nutrition experts.
No digital service is perfect, though. While zero-point foods are intended to encourage dieters to turn to lean proteins, fruits and better vegetables over other choices, the system may end up leading some WW dieters to overindulge. “Counting points at all may be a deterrent for some people, as a concept,” Fischer says. And the recurring cost may be a factor for some to consider: WW’s new plan starts at $13 per month for a three-month membership.
“WW is science-backed, based on research, and effectively teaches users about portion sizes. The goal of any good diet is to be able to eat any food within moderation; WW doesn’t exclude food groups and is suitable for every preference, from vegetarians to carnivores,” Fischer explains, adding that dining out is easiest using WW’s point system compared to other digital services. “There is also a strong community that WW members can tap into for support, which is crucial.”
The Diet to Watch in 2022: Galveston Diet
There’s a good chance you have yet to hear of this highly specialized diet, which was actually crafted entirely with perimenopausal and menopausal women in mind — and, more specifically, to address frustrating weight gain during this pivotal time in any woman’s life. Adapted by Mary Claire Haver, M.D., an OB-GYN who has launched an official diet plan and some free services online, the Galveston Diet aids weight management in a roundabout way by addressing hormonal imbalances and other root menopausal issues. It’s among a group of solutions for women that are largely unknown to those searching for this exact solution, Fischer says. “It’s a diet to watch, but more importantly, it’s part of a category that is definitely one to watch,” she adds.
The meal plan is highly curated and designed to target the seemingly uncontrollable weight gain that is common during perimenopause and menopause, Fischer adds, and focuses on reducing inflammation as well. It incorporates an intermittent fasting tactic known as the 16:8 approach (which isn’t recommended for all) and prioritizes foods that are naturally high in fiber, which can be challenging for some to meet daily requirements. More importantly — especially for those who aren’t close to the diet’s intended age range — the Galveston program categorically eliminates processed foods as well as major sources of added sugar. That approach can help most anyone better manage their weight, Fischer adds. The program is also free of calorie restrictions, which is a major draw for the 65,000 women who have previously subscribed to it.
There’s a monetary requirement for the program, ranging from $59 for a detailed meal plan and shopping lists to $229 for full access to Dr. Haver’s web services, including targeted recipes and personal coaching. And while materials reviewed have been promising, Fischer points out that there isn’t quantifiable research on the Galveston Diet’s effectiveness yet — nor on the category of hormonal-based dietary treatments as a whole.
“The diet focuses on incorporating anti-inflammatory whole foods, fiber, healthy fats, legumes, lean proteins and whole grains while minimizing added sugar and processed foods. All things we know to be a recipe for improving overall health and may help with weight management if desired,” Fischer says. “More interest is being placed on women directly, with a spotlight on their hormonal changes, which can fluctuate widely and occur 10 to 15 years prior to menopause.”