Each year, a panel of leading medical and nutrition experts works with U.S. News & World Report to review a wide range of diets and put their stamp on the ones they find to be the best healthy eating options. The panel members look at a variety of factors, including how healthy the eating plans are, how easy they are to follow and how well they work.
According to the panel this year, the top 5 diets overall for 2023 are:
- The Mediterranean diet
- The DASH diet
- The flexitarian diet
- The MIND diet
- The TLC diet
Below, we break down the best diets of 2023 and what you need to know about each, including how to follow the diet, what foods are included and what health benefits they may offer.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet refers to the traditional eating habits of the people who live in the 16-plus countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Though the word "diet" is in its name, it’s not one particular diet, but rather more of a broad eating pattern. The Mediterranean diet has proven to be heart-healthy and helpful in reducing risk factors that can potentially lead to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
While the eating styles vary among the peoples of the different Mediterranean countries, their diets have many factors in common, including:
- Lots of fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Carbs, including whole grains, potatoes and beans
- Low to moderate amounts of dairy products (such as cheese), fish, poultry and eggs
- Olive oil as a main source of healthy fat
The Mediterranean diet also limits certain foods, including:
- Foods that are heavily processed
- High-fat and processed meats
- Refined carbs
- Saturated fats
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss and help with managing diabetes. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods, which may help with controlling blood sugar and managing your weight.
Wine is optional on the Mediterranean diet. In moderation, red wine may lower the risk of heart disease. If you include wine in your Mediterranean diet, limit yourself to one glass per day, and consume it during a meal rather than before or after.
The Mediterranean diet also encourages exercise, as fitness may help with blood sugar management and reduce the risk of nerve damage and cardiovascular disease.
Some examples of foods you can eat on the Mediterranean diet include:
- Tuna, salmon, trout or mackerel (preferably served grilled)
- Low-fat Greek or plain yogurt
- A variety of herbs and spices as no-sodium substitutes for salt
- Whole grain or vegetable noodles
- Green leafy vegetables
The DASH diet
Like the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is not any one specific diet, but rather a flexible, heart-healthy eating pattern that’s a good option for people who need to control their blood pressure (hence the abbreviation). The DASH diet was created from research funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a government agency under the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The DASH diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which can cause damage to your heart and affect how well the kidneys function over time.
Eating foods high in sodium as part of your regular diet can also cause the body to hold onto excess water, which in turn can mean more work for your organs. The harder they work, the greater the risk of potential health complications.
Rather than recommending specific foods, the DASH diet emphasizes eating a broad range of foods, including:
- Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Dairy products that are fat-free or low-fat
- Vegetable oils
In addition, the DASH diet recommends avoiding or limiting foods high in saturated fat, including:
- Full-fat dairy products
- Fatty meats
- Tropical oils, including coconut, palm and palm kernel oils
The DASH diet also recommends avoiding or limiting:
- Desserts and other sweets
- Sugary drinks, such as soda and juices
- High-sodium processed snack foods, such as chips and pretzels
Another key element of the DASH diet is limiting sodium to at most 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day — with aiming for a maximum of 1,500 mg of sodium a day being an even better goal. For reference, a single teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg of sodium.
On the DASH diet, it’s best to:
- Use low-salt, low-fat cooking methods, such as baking, roasting and steaming
- Avoid foods that are marinated, canned, smoked, breaded or cured
- Prepare rice, pasta and other foods without adding salt to them. Instead, use herbs and spices, as they’ll add flavor but not sodium to your meals.
Be sure to read the nutrition facts label on packaged foods, which can be a major source of sneaky sodium. Look for those labeled "reduced sodium" or "no salt added" to help cut down on your sodium intake.
The DASH diet also recommends making wise choices when eating out at restaurants — another significant source of high-sodium foods. Request any sauces or dressings to be served on the side so you can control how much you use, and ask your waiter what low-sodium menu items are available.
Some examples of foods you can eat on the DASH diet include:
- Baked chicken without skin
- Fat-free or low-fat cheese
- Fresh or frozen vegetables (prepared steamed or roasted)
- Fruits canned in their own juice
- Kidney beans and other beans
- Canned tuna in water
The flexitarian diet
The term "flexitarian" is relatively new — a combination of "flexible" and "vegetarian" — and it’s just what its name suggests: flexible. It’s considered more of a broad eating pattern than a traditional set diet because while it’s a plant-focused diet, it allows for occasional red meat and fish, which are good sources of protein. Eggs and dairy may also be eaten on occasion.
The flexitarian diet has been shown to reduce the risk of some types of cancer and heart disease. It can also assist in managing your weight and may help prevent diabetes.
The flexitarian diet doesn’t set specific calorie counts or require complicated food tracking. Instead, the idea is to increase the number of plants or plant-based foods in your diet over time and to eat meat, dairy and eggs less often.
The flexitarian diet emphasizes eating foods such as:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Legumes (such as beans and lentils)
When beginning a flexitarian diet, cut meat from your diet 2 days a week, and eat no more than about 3 ounces (roughly equivalent to the size of a deck of cards) each time. After a while, you can go from 5 days of meat a week down to 3 or 4. Eventually, you want to eat vegetarian 5 to 7 days a week and limit your meat consumption to just 1 or 2 days a week (no more than a total of 9 ounces of meat a week).
Any beef, chicken or turkey you eat should be labeled as organic, free-range, pasture-raised or grass-fed, and should be lean cuts. Fish should be labeled as wild-caught.
Some examples of foods you can eat on the flexitarian diet include:
- Black beans
- Brown rice
- Plant-based milks (such as soy, almond, coconut and pea milks)
- Nut butters
The MIND diet
The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines two of the other diets on this list — the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet — with the aim of reducing brain function decline as you age.
As with the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the emphasis is on eating:
- Whole grains
- A variety of fruits and berries
- A variety of vegetables (especially green leafy ones)
- Healthy fats, such as olive oil
The MIND diet highlights berries specifically as healthy fruit options because they’re high in antioxidants, which can help reduce oxidative stress. This kind of stress is thought to cause cellular damage in the body, especially in the brain.
The MIND diet also highlights green leafy vegetables, as they may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
The MIND diet should be combined with other healthy habits, such as:
- Not smoking
- Prioritizing quality sleep
Foods to avoid (or at least limit) on the MIND diet include:
- Pastries and other sweets and desserts
- Fried foods
- Butter and stick margarine
- Beef, pork, lamb and other food items made from these sources
Some examples of foods you can eat on the MIND diet include:
- Olive oil
The TLC diet
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is an expansion of the DASH diet. This diet is a three-part program — part diet, part physical activity and part weight management. The TLC diet or TLC program is used to help people reduce high cholesterol (including those on medication).
Cholesterol is a fatty substance the consistency of wax that can build up in the walls of cells. When your body makes too much cholesterol, it can get stuck in the artery walls and cause blockages that may lead to heart attacks and coronary artery disease (CAD).
The diet part of the TLC program includes:
- Limiting saturated fat to 7% or less of daily calories
- Consuming less than 200 mg a day of dietary cholesterol
- Eating the appropriate amount of calories for you to maintain a healthy weight
You’ll want to make sure to read nutrition labels when looking for foods that fit the TLC diet, specifically looking at saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.
Saturated fats are those that are typically solid at room temperature or when placed in the refrigerator. Foods highest in saturated fats include:
- Fatty meats
- Poultry with skin on
- Whole-milk dairy products
- Certain vegetable oils (such as coconut oil and palm oil)
Foods that are high in dietary cholesterol also tend to be high in saturated fats, so you’ll want to avoid these foods as well. They’re usually foods that come from animals, such as:
- Liver and other organ meats
- Egg yolks
- Whole-milk dairy products
Some examples of foods you can eat on the TLC diet include:
- Oatmeal and oat bran
- A variety of beans, including black, kidney and white beans
- Chicken without skin
U.S. News & World Report: Best Diets 2023.
American Heart Association: What Is the Mediterranean Diet?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Healthy Eating for People With Diabetes.
Mayo Clinic Health System: Eating for Your Heart: The Mediterranean Diet.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): DASH Eating Plan.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI): What’s on Your Plate?
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND): Is Sodium the Same as Salt?
American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR): Approach to Focusing on Plant Foods.
Cleveland Clinic: What Is the Flexitarian Diet?
Frontiers in Nutrition: Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature.
Food Insight: What Is the Flexitarian Diet?
Food Insight: What Is the MIND Diet?
Harvard School of Public Health: Diet Review: MIND Diet.
National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH-Supported DASH and TLC diets Earn Top Spots in "Best Diets" Report.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC.