This 50-year-old weight-loss juggernaut tops every nutritionist's list. Although the plan's been tweaked in recent years, the basic concept remains. Because you count points instead of calories, the math is simple, and no food is strictly off-limits. "Weight Watchers is based on sound nutrition science and a balanced diet," says registered dietitian Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D. The point formula relies on ratios of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber in foods, so empty-calorie junk racks up more points than super-nutritious fare, training you to make smarter, more filling choices. Plus, access to supportive communities, simple recipes, and a mobile app makes the program easy to follow. "Those of my patients who've been on Weight Watchers have very good foundations--they know the principles of healthy weight loss, portion sizes, and how to maintain," says registered dietitian Therese Franzese, M.S..
The South Beach Diet
If it works for Eva Mendes, we're interested. Created in 2003 by cardiologist Arthur Agatston, the premise of this plan is to limit carbs in favor of foods higher in protein and fat. "I like South Beach because it treats meal composition and macronutrient ratios--meaning the balance of fat, protein, and carbs--as the key to weight loss," says nutrition expert JJ Virgin. The plan is broken down into three phases: The first two weeks are the most restrictive, cutting out all starches, sugary foods, and alcohol. The second phase adds in whole grains, fruits, and more vegetables, and focuses on healthy snacking so you can nip crazy-making hunger in the bud. Once you hit your weight-loss goal, the final maintenance phase draws on the smarter-eating strategies you've picked up along the way.
The Zone Diet
Created nearly 20 years ago by biochemist Barry Sears, the Zone got its big break much later when Jennifer Aniston used it to slim down. "Meals are 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat, making it a healthy and balanced eating plan," says registered dietitian Laura Cipullo. "The Zone" refers to Sears's belief that when insulin levels are humming at an optimal level, the body releases health-promoting, anti-inflammatory chemicals, and won't store excess calories as fat. The rule of thumb is to divide your plate into three equal sections, filling two thirds with colorful, non-starchy carbs and the rest of it with low-fat protein no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand. It also recommends lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which are said to make your digestive system work more efficiently.
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The DASH Diet
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute designed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to help Americans lower their sodium intake and blood pressure, but it turns out they also stumbled upon an excellent weight-loss regimen. "Like any healthy diet, it's chock-full of fruits and vegetables, and includes protein at each meal so you feel satisfied," says nutritionist Franci Cohen. "Plus, unlike fad diets, it doesn't eliminate carbs." Cutting back on sodium and eating foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium is good for your blood pressure and helps stave off osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes. Best of all, the DASH diet factors in lots of fruits, veggies, grains, lean protein, healthy fats, and even sweet treats, making it realistic to follow in the long-term.
The Mediterranean Diet
While not exactly a commercial diet--although it has spawned tons of diet books--the National Institutes of Health confirms that a Mediterranean style of eating may help stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and reduce heart-disease risk. Every meal is based around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs, and spices. Fish is recommended twice a week; poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt can be daily or weekly staples; other meats and sweets are demoted to an occasional treat. "The Mediterranean Diet is my personal favorite because it consists of balanced, moderate portions of natural, healthy foods," says registered dietitian Michelle Daum. It also allows for an occasional glass of red wine, so you can still kick back with an adult beverage after the kids go to bed.