U.S. News Ranks the Diets

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It’s January, which means millions of people are either already on a weight-loss diet or considering one.  If you watch TV this time of year, you can’t help but see ads for Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Weight Watchers and all the other usual suspects.  So many options out there … which one should people choose?

Well, let’s suppose you were offered these choices:

On one plate, you’ve got a slice of grass-fed beef, some eggplant and green vegetables drizzled in olive oil, and perhaps a small sweet potato.  On the other plate — wait, make that in the other glass – you’ve got a brew of FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

That brew in the glass contains 18 grams of sugar, by the way.

So which meal should you choose?  Why, the glass of Slim-Fast, of course.  (How many of you guessed it from the list of ingredients?)

I know the Slim-Fast is a better option because a group of (ahem) experts says so.  Here are some quotes from an article on the NPR site, and from an article in U.S. News:

Despite the buzz about paleo and raw food diets, a new ranking of the 35 top diets puts these two near the bottom of the list.

Why?

I’m guessing it’s because the list was created by a bunch of nutritionists who still believe the same old anti-fat, anti-salt, hearthealthywholegrains nonsense they’ve been preaching for years.

The U.S. News & World Report rankings are based on evaluations by a panel of doctors, nutritionists and other health experts. For each diet, the experts evaluated short-term and long-term weight loss, ease of adherence, and how the advice stacked up against current dietary guidelines.

… and how the advice stacked up against current dietary guidelines.  In other words, the diets may as well have been ranked by the guiding lights at the USDA.

One expert concluded that “a true paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants.” But the problem, according to the report, is that it’s too difficult to follow in modern times.

Well, yes, if you tried to go out and track down a Megaloceros giganteus, you’d be sorely disappointed.  But the paleo diet is about eating nutrient-dense whole foods and avoiding Neolithic foods, not recreating the exact diets of our caveman ancestors.

The experts say that in avoiding dairy, grains and other mainstays of the modern diet, paleo followers may miss out on key nutrients.

Yeah, that’s why Custer kicked ass at Little Big Horn.  The Sioux and Cheyenne were perpetually weak and sick from a lack of dairy, grains, and other mainstays of the modern diet.

The paleo diet, by the way, was ranked 35th out of 35 – you know, because it lacks those mainstays of the modern diet.  The Slim-Fast diet – which requires consuming shakes that contain all those ingredients I listed above, including hydrogenated soybean oil –was ranked 13th.

Meanwhile, a  vegetarian diet was ranked 11th … because while we shouldn’t give up grains and other mainstays of the modern diet, giving up a mainstay of the modern diet is fine and dandy if the mainstay is meat.  And while the paleo diet was ranked last largely because it’s “too difficult to follow in modern times,” apparently switching to a vegetarian diet isn’t difficult at all.

Here’s what the U.S. News article said about the vegetarian diet:

As a health diet, vegetarianism is solid. It’s decent at producing rapid weight loss, according to experts, and is strong in other areas, such as heart health and nutritional completeness, that arguably are more important.

But if you take a vegetarian diet and remove the grains while adding meat, it’s no longer nutritionally complete, according to the (ahem) experts.

As for heart health, well geez, that must explain why vegetarians don’t die of heart disease.  No, wait … I seem to recall that they do.  As I recounted in a previous post, Bill Clinton’s own vegan-promoting doctor warned him against eating bread:

When Caldwell Esselstyn spotted a picture of him on the Internet, eating a dinner roll at a banquet, the renowned doctor dispatched a sharply worded email message: “I’ll remind you one more time, I’ve treated a lot of vegans for heart disease.”

And in another post, I quoted from a study titled Mortality Among British Vegetarians:

The mortality of both the vegetarians and the nonvegetarians in this study is low compared with national rates. Within the study, mortality from circulatory diseases and all causes is not significantly different between vegetarians and meat eaters.

Hmmm, kind of makes you wonder if these diet rankings are a bunch of poppycock.

The U.S. News article included a link to the panel of experts who ranked the diets.  I’ve never heard of most of them, but I have heard of Dr. David Katz.  He created something called the NuVal system, which is supposed to help shoppers choose healthier foods at the grocery store.  Foods are ranked from 100 (excellent) to zero (might just kill you.)  I wrote about NuVal in a previous post.  Here are how some foods rank on Dr. Katz’s NuVal scale:

Post Shredded Wheat ‘N Bran – 91
Silk Soymilk Light – 82
Silk Soy Milk Chocolate – 68
Chicken Breast (boneless) – 39
Turkey Breast – 31
Ham – 27
Coconuts (husked) – 24

So according to Dr. Katz, a big bowl of wheat is an excellent choice.  A cup of chocolate soy milk containing 17 grams of sugar is a good choice.  But a chicken breast, a turkey breast, a slice of ham or a coconut is a bad choice.  No wonder he thinks Slim-Fast is better for you than a paleo diet.

The #1 ranked diet was the DASH diet.  Here’s what U.S. News has to say about it:

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health.

The theory: Nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber are crucial to fending off or fighting high blood pressure. You don’t have to track each one, though. Just emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while shunning those we’ve grown to love (calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat). Top it all off by cutting back on salt, and voilà!

But if you take way the whole grains and low-fat dairy and add in some red meat, it’s now a paleo diet and the ranking drops from first to last — 22 spots lower than the Slim-Fast diet.  Yeah, that makes perfect sense.  And the extremely low level of salt allowed on the DASH diet is not only unnecessary for most people, it might actually be bad for your health, according to a study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

So here’s what we’ve got with the U.S. News diet rankings:  the same group of idiots who’ve been pushing low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets for decades were asked to rank diets and – surprise! – they chose the low-fat, low-salt, low-meat diets as the best … which means ordinary folks looking for advice to help them fulfill that New Year’s resolution to lose weight will read that a diet of meats and vegetables isn’t good for them.  Nope, a decent diet is based on meal-replacement shakes that include FAT FREE MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CANOLA OIL, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, FRUCTOSE, GUM ARABIC, CELLULOSE GEL, MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MALTODEXTRIN, SOY LECITHIN, CELLULOSE GUM, CARRAGEENAN, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SODIUM BICARBONATE, SUCRALOSE AND ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (NONNUTRITIVE SWEETENERS), SODIUM CITRATE, CITRIC ACID.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

And that’s why the same people will be making the same weight-loss resolution next year.  And the year after that.  And the year after that.

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177 thoughts on “U.S. News Ranks the Diets

  1. Gerard150

    Don’t know whether you have seen it or not (I havn’t and I follow these things), here is a good (and short) discussion between Dr. Eades and Bill Oreilly

    Reply
  2. Michael Cohen

    I put it this way to a friend who asked me about the diet rating article ; Suppose you took a roomfull each of Christians, Jews and Moslems and gave them a survey asking them which religion was best. What kind of answers would you expect from each group?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yup, the anti-fat hysterics are pretty much like religious zealots at this point. Logic and evidence have nothing to do with it anymore.

      Reply
  3. lemoutongris

    I remember seeing my brother drinking one of these shakes. SInce it was in Canada, there was sugar instead of corn syrup, but there was still at least 20g of carb per scoop. Yummy… NOT

    Reply
  4. lemoutongris

    I remember seeing my brother drinking one of these shakes. SInce it was in Canada, there was sugar instead of corn syrup, but there was still at least 20g of carb per scoop. Yummy… NOT

    Reply
  5. Michael Steadman

    I love how U.S. News writes that Paleo is hard to maintain; really, eating butter, eggs, meat, poultry and vegetables is harder to maintain than eating fake food like the worthless shakes, counting calories and letting blood sugar yo-yo all day long every day? Plus, paleo is flexible and nowhere near as dogmatic as the other higher ranked diets in the list.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yeah, that was a dumb excuse to give it a low rating. Do they really think it’s easier to eat vegetarian than paleo?

      Reply
  6. Michael Steadman

    I love how U.S. News writes that Paleo is hard to maintain; really, eating butter, eggs, meat, poultry and vegetables is harder to maintain than eating fake food like the worthless shakes, counting calories and letting blood sugar yo-yo all day long every day? Plus, paleo is flexible and nowhere near as dogmatic as the other higher ranked diets in the list.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, that was a dumb excuse to give it a low rating. Do they really think it’s easier to eat vegetarian than paleo?

      Reply
  7. Margaret

    I read this post back when it was published and since then have thought about it a lot, because even though I’ve been primal for the last 3-1/2 years, this month I decided to cut out all dairy, even butter, to see if I have any kind of dairy sensitivity. Turns out I don’t – no difference in the way I felt during the elimination nor after I reintroduced cheese and cream. But here’s the thing, I actually went PALEO for a period of time, and it was excruciating to me. Being able to put butter on my veggies and have cheese as a snack makes eating low carb so much easier! So was putting cream in my coffee (versus homemade almond milk or eh..coconut milk). So in a way, I can see what they mean when they say Paleo is hard to follow, however, I imagine vegan would be hard to follow and raw vegan the hardest of all. I image US News’s dietitians don’t really know what Paleo is. They may think it’s eating only wild caught game and wild gathered nuts and berries and such.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yeah, that’s what was silly about it. Their criteria seemed to change depending on whether they personally liked the diet or not. You can’t tell me being a vegetarian or especially a vegan is easier than going paleo.

      I tried cutting out dairy awhile back to see if it made any difference in my weight or how I felt. It didn’t.

      Reply
  8. Margaret

    I read this post back when it was published and since then have thought about it a lot, because even though I’ve been primal for the last 3-1/2 years, this month I decided to cut out all dairy, even butter, to see if I have any kind of dairy sensitivity. Turns out I don’t – no difference in the way I felt during the elimination nor after I reintroduced cheese and cream. But here’s the thing, I actually went PALEO for a period of time, and it was excruciating to me. Being able to put butter on my veggies and have cheese as a snack makes eating low carb so much easier! So was putting cream in my coffee (versus homemade almond milk or eh..coconut milk). So in a way, I can see what they mean when they say Paleo is hard to follow, however, I imagine vegan would be hard to follow and raw vegan the hardest of all. I image US News’s dietitians don’t really know what Paleo is. They may think it’s eating only wild caught game and wild gathered nuts and berries and such.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, that’s what was silly about it. Their criteria seemed to change depending on whether they personally liked the diet or not. You can’t tell me being a vegetarian or especially a vegan is easier than going paleo.

      I tried cutting out dairy awhile back to see if it made any difference in my weight or how I felt. It didn’t.

      Reply
  9. LizinOregon

    A late comment from marathon session of catching up with blogs. Anyway, I heard or read recently the Bill Clinton has switched to Paleo – maybe in the NYT. If true, one really has to wonder why.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      If so, I wouldn’t be surprised. Most people who try vegan or vegetarian diets eventually quit.

      Reply
  10. Michael Cohen

    I put it this way to a friend who asked me about the diet rating article ; Suppose you took a roomfull each of Christians, Jews and Moslems and gave them a survey asking them which religion was best. What kind of answers would you expect from each group?

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yup, the anti-fat hysterics are pretty much like religious zealots at this point. Logic and evidence have nothing to do with it anymore.

      Reply
  11. LizinOregon

    A late comment from marathon session of catching up with blogs. Anyway, I heard or read recently the Bill Clinton has switched to Paleo – maybe in the NYT. If true, one really has to wonder why.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      If so, I wouldn’t be surprised. Most people who try vegan or vegetarian diets eventually quit.

      Reply
  12. Justin McCullough

    “And the year after that.”… well, until they either develop heart disease or change gears. I recently read that a Mr. Bob Harper of the Biggest Loser tv show switched to paleo and recommends it. My wife watches the show and so I asked her if Bob touts this. Apparently he has been relegated to a studio off the main campus, gives the people that get booted off a second chance, and doesn’t have any sound bytes about diet. Meanwhile, all the others show the group how to eat hearthealthywholegrains by Kraft ™ and such like that. Do you have any web links on measuring subliminal hypnosis, because I can’t figure out why the show is so popular.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      I doubt we’ll ever have a network TV show where people lose weight by eating whole foods that can’t be brand-identified.

      Reply
  13. Sue from Australia

    Well, Tom, it looks like all we have to do is turn this list upside down and look at the bottom five on the list.
    We can make our choices from there, can’t we?
    If we follow lchf, Paleo, Banting etc. the people who make millions from crappy processed food,will be suitably rewarded with falling returns. There are some signs that this is already happening.Two years ago,you could only buy one or two brands of gluten free bread. Now there are at least eight in our major supermarkets in Australia.
    They do taste better than the original brands, but I still can’t eat them.
    They give me indigestion like nothing else in my mainly Lchf/Paleo diet.
    Glad to have you back! I missed you,too.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      Yeah, these goofs can make all the eat-your-grains recommendations they want, but fewer and fewer people seem to be listening to them.

      Reply
      1. eddie watts

        which just means, as always, they’ll say it louder and for longer!

        the upsurge in gluten free options makes me happy.
        I don’t eat them myself but it is a good sign overall I suppose

        Reply
        1. Tom Naughton

          I consider it a very good sign. It means more people are avoiding cereal grains, despite the official advice.

          Reply
  14. Garry Lee

    Well, exactly.

    You all these professory types giving you advice and then you have a comedian and Bob Briggs giving you the other. And, the irony is that the comedian and Bob Briggs are spot on. It just goes to show one thing…
    Take an initial wrong step (after Ancel Keys) and it can take you anywhere, except somewhere correct..

    My new year’r resolution was to stay on my current track which has me on exactly the regime I started Last New Year’s day. This was LCHF diet. I lost all my excess weight in 5 months and have been exactly my correct weight since. I actually lost a pound, uninentionally over Christmas, so maybe I should heed the warnings of all those “experts”.

    Tom, you don’t post enough!
    Happy New Year.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      It’s been years now since I’ve woken up on New Year’s and felt the need to make a big weight-loss resolution. Usually my resolution is to tweak a bit around the edges to see what happens.

      Reply
  15. Tammy

    Tom it’s funny you bring up Slimfast specifically. The other day when I read this article, Slimfast was the one diet that I picked out that is listed way above paleo, or any of the low carb for that matter which is completely absurd. The other thing I wondered was, other than grains how is paleo different than Mediterranean? And that was ranked really high!

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      That’s what’s so strange and arbitrary about their rankings. Paleo is actually pretty close to some of the highly-ranked diets — a helluva lot closer in nutrient values than some godawful Slim-Fast shakes. But these goofy panelists see “red meat” and think “heart disease, cancer, heart disease cancer.”

      Reply
  16. Be

    When I saw it ranked at the bottom for preventing Diabetes, I stopped reading. I know too many people having too much success controlling their own health issue through diet. And actually, their diets are even more restrictive than a Paleo diet – more like Whole 30 all the time. N=1? Sure, but seems to be more 1s on the no grains side of the ledger everywhere we look. Great rebuttal.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton

      And I think as more people give up grains, we’ll see more “you need grains to be healthy!” articles in the mainstream press.

      Reply
    2. Piper

      My last two pregnancies, I had gestational diabetes. I had to take their education classes on how to manage it with diet–both times I was praised for already being very low carb because the goal in pregnancy is to avoid insulin and I was able to control with just diet most of my pregnancies. However, my dad developed T2 and they pushed hearthealthywholegrains and he had to use insulin and blood pressure meds. He went low carb, lost weight, lost the insulin, lost the bp meds……and they are pushing him to go back to his hearthealthywholegrains *sigh* I’m just surprised (well, not really) that the advice is so polar opposite between gestational and T2 when the goal is the same…

      Reply
  17. Justin

    I was watching the new VH1 show “Hindsight” last night, about a woman who time-travels back to the 90s. In the show, after she goes back to the 90s, her mom had a seemingly-shoe-horned-in line, something like “If you give her even one pretzel, I’ll kill you. You know we’ve been watching our salt and saturated fat for 6 months now!”. It was so oddly placed and specific, and surrounded by references that show how silly and outdated things from the 90s are, that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was one of the writers commenting on how silly and outdated that should seem.

    Reply
  18. Bruce

    The problem with the Slimfast diet for children is, they don’t get enough servings of fruit. That’s why you should always include a heart healthy Sunny D with their meals.

    Ingredients…
    WATER, CORN SYRUP AND 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING: CONCENTRATED JUICES (ORANGE, TANGERINE, APPLE, LIME, GRAPEFRUIT, PEAR), CITRIC ACID, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), NATURAL FLAVORS, MODIFIED CORNSTARCH, CANOLA OIL, SODIUM CITRATE, CELLULOSE GUM, SUCRALOSE, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, NEOTAME, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM SORBATE TO PROTECT FLAVOR, YELLOW #5, YELLOW #6.

    Reply
    1. Firebird

      It reminds me of Carnation Instant Breakfast drinks that we use to drink as a kid. I’d be hungry 1/2 hour later. No way a kid or adult could have that for breakfast and be satiated.

      Reply

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