U.S. News & World Report's choices are healthy eating guidelines, not fast weight loss plans.

By Renee Cherry
Photo: Flaffy / Shutterstock

Choosing and sticking to a diet is made even harder by the fact that a new trendy variety pops up nearly every five minutes. Luckily, there's a handy ranked list to help you choose. U.S. News & World Report released its best diets for 2018 just in time for anyone who is setting (and maybe already struggling with) healthy eating goals.

FYI, to come up with its top picks, the U.S. News & World Report called on 25 experts including nutritionists, dietary consultants, and physicians. They rated 40 of the most popular diets in the U.S. for factors such as how easy a diet is to follow and how effectively it targets heart health. The diets are each ranked in nine categories based on the experts' feedback.

So which were the winners of best overall diet? The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) tied for first place-a position it's held for eight years in a row. This year, DASH shared the top spot with the Mediterranean diet, followed by the flexitarian diet in third.

But, do you notice anything about these top three choices? Perhaps a commonality they share? All of these "diets" are really just balanced, healthy eating habits. There aren't any quick-fix solutions or restrictive diets here. In fact, these are almost anti-diet diets.

Plus, all three focus on eating for health benefits. Sure, they're conducive to weight loss, but the foundation of them is about much more than that. The Mediterranean diet focuses on healthy fats, seafood, and lots of veggies and fruit, and has long been praised for its ability to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease without being overly restrictive. The DASH diet's main goal is to lower blood pressure and generally asks that you eat wholesome, nutritionally dense foods-again, sans extreme restrictions. And flexitarianism (being a flexible vegetarian) emphasizes mostly plant-based foods that will help lower your risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, while still allowing you to score protein and nutrients from limited meat and fish. (More on that here: Why You Should Seriously Consider Following a Flexitarian Diet)

"These all point to a very similar concept, which is that vegetables and plant foods should play a starring role on the plate, with animal products being more like a side dish," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It.

Each diet's focus on eating a variety of macronutrients, as well as not being restrictive and therefore simple to adhere to, was reflected in their rankings in the other categories. The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet both also ranked in the top three for the "Best Diets for Healthy Eating" and "Best Heart-Healthy Diets" categories. Conversely, none of the three broke the top 10 for fast weight loss-remember, these are healthy lifestyle habits, not a way to lose 10 pounds fast.

Despite countless trendy diets hitting the internet at all times, the annual report doesn't necessarily change drastically from year to year. Just the opposite, actually. Three of the top four diets in the report's first annual ranking in 2011 are also in the top four for 2018. This is the first year the DASH diet wasn't the solo overall winner, but its tie with the Mediterranean diet-a longtime favorite among health experts-was by no means an upset.

Another thing we're excited to see with this year's picks is the diets' accessibility and feasibility. "None of these diets require that you join a class or buy any special food in particular, and they could all fit into a diet with foods purchased at a supermarket anywhere on the globe," says Taub-Dix. The list also helps to redefine your associations with dieting, proving "the word 'diet' actually means 'way of life,'" she says. "It doesn't mean 'how much weight you lose.'"

So if you're looking for a diet to go all-in with, know that the DASH, Mediterranean, and flexitarian eating styles all get the stamp of approval. (Start with some of our favorite DASH foods, Mediterranean dishes, and flexitarian recipes.) Another great place to start? Our 30-Day Clean-ish Eating Challenge.

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