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6 Effective Diets for Weight Loss

Learn the pros and cons of some of the most popular weight loss diets, including Mediterranean, DASH and MIND 

spinner image Finding the right diet for your needs can be challenging. Learn the pros and cons of many popular diets.
Sarah Rogers (Source: Getty Images)

​Amid all the buzz surrounding a new generation of weight loss drugs, it’s easy to forget about diet. For anyone looking to lose weight — and keep it off — what you eat and don’t eat still matters.  

Question is: With so many eating plans offering an assist, how do you know which diet is the most effective for you?  

A review of studies published in 2021 in the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome shows there is no single best strategy. The best one for you should take into account your food preferences, access to particular foods, cooking ability, lifestyle and — perhaps most important for anyone over 50 — your medical history. If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease, consult your health care provider before beginning any weight loss plan.  

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“The one thing all successful weight loss programs have in common is they lower total calories,” says Liz Weinandy, dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and instructor of practice in medical dietetics at OSU. “If more calories are burned compared to those taken in, then weight loss will occur. ... Beyond looking at total calories, consider if the weight loss plan is healthy, meaning it includes all food groups and offers plenty of variety. Perhaps most important is if the weight loss plan is sustainable long-term, meaning not too restrictive and manageable for real life.”  

The ripple effects of even modest weight loss include improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy weight involves a lifestyle with healthy eating patterns, regular physical activity and stress management. Some people prefer to follow a specific diet plan when launching, or relaunching, their weight loss journey. Keep reading to learn about popular diets that might be right for you. 

How do the diets work?   

1. Mediterranean  

There are practically as many versions of this diet as there are countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but what you’ll find in each one is an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, healthy fats and fish (especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines and mackerel). Even though the Mediterranean diet wasn’t designed for weight loss, research suggests it’s good not only for that but for weight maintenance. One study found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet for a year lost as much as twice the weight as those who followed a low-carb diet.

  • Especially appealing to: People who want the freedom to have a glass of wine with dinner.  
  • Pros: The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with heart health. More recent research shows a link to reduced risk of dementia, type 2 diabetes and cancer. 
  • Cons: If you prefer a regimented diet with specific do’s and don’ts, this one may be challenging. The Mediterranean diet is more about an approach to eating with an emphasis on fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables and enjoying meals with family and friends. Staying physically active is also part of the overall plan.
  • Potential pitfall: Serving sizes aren’t specified, so it’s important to watch portions — especially given the diet’s emphasis on heart-healthy fats found in avocados, nuts and olive oil, all of which are high in calories. 

2. WW 

Formerly known as Weight Watchers, WW doesn’t promote a specific meal plan but rather a program based on a points system. Every food is assigned a certain number of points based on nutritional data, and it’s up to you to determine how you want to spend those points. The WW app helps you track what you eat; you’re awarded bonus points for physical activity. WW also promotes and sells weight loss drugs, including Wegovy and Saxenda. According to WW’s website, these drugs can help to address the biological and psychological factors that contribute to obesity.

  • Especially appealing to: People who like having the guesswork taken out of their weight loss plan. WW offers motivational coaching, as well as online and in-person communities to help give support and keep you accountable.
  • Pros: Research funded by WW showed that the program works for those who stick with it. One study published in 2022 in JAMA Network Open found that participants on WW lost more than twice as much as those who relied on a do-it-yourself approach. 
  • Cons: You must be a member to follow the WW plan. Members pay a starter fee of $20; subscriptions start at $23 per month, although sale prices are available at various times. You can cancel at any time. Six- and 12-month contracts are also available.
  • Potential pitfall: You can’t follow the points system outside WW, making the plan hard to continue if you cancel your subscription.
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3. DASH 

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH, for short) plan was designed to reduce blood pressure. Turns out, it’s also good for weight loss. Though you’ll find the usual suspects on this plan — fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans and nuts — a few things distinguish DASH from similar plant-focused diets: Sodium intake is capped at about 2,300 mg per day (the amount in one teaspoon of salt), and since calcium has been found to help lower blood pressure, the plan calls for at least three servings a day of low-fat dairy. 

  • Especially appealing to: People looking to improve heart health.
  • Pros: In an American Heart Association’s evaluation of 10 popular dietary patterns, DASH received high scores for heart-healthiness. In addition to lowering blood pressure and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, research shows, the DASH diet helps prevent type 2 diabetes and reduces the risk of kidney disease.
  • Cons: Although the diet suggests a specific number of servings of recommended foods, it’s up to you to plan your daily menus based on the allowed servings. Important to keep in mind: “Without creating a calorie deficit, DASH will not yield weight loss,” notes Holly Lofton, M.D., director of the Medical Weight Management program at NYU Langone Health.
  • Potential pitfall: If you have an aversion to dairy or you’re lactose intolerant, you’ll need to modify the plan (i.e., swap regular milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products for lactose-free versions).  

4. MIND 

An offspring of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, the MIND (short for the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) plan focuses on plant-based foods and limits foods high in saturated fat. Unlike its forerunners, MIND zeroes in on brain health with 10 “brain-healthy” food groups to eat — including vegetables, berries, olive oil, nuts, whole grains and beans — and five unhealthy foods to limit (red meat, fried foods, cheese, pastries and sweets). This diet could be helpful for those who may be at risk for cognitive decline and who also may need to lose weight.

A 2023 randomized controlled trial followed 604 adults 65 and older who were overweight and considered at risk for dementia. One group followed a MIND diet, while a control group consumed their usual diet. Both groups reduced their intake by 250 calories a day. The study's authors found improved cognitive performance in both groups. Additionally, both groups lost about 11 pounds, but the MIND diet group showed greater improvements in their diet quality score.

  • Especially appealing to: People with a family history of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia who want to focus on brain health as they age.
  • Pros: The MIND diet contains foods rich in certain vitamins and antioxidants that are believed to protect the brain by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Research suggests the diet may help prevent or improve cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
  • Cons: Since there’s no specific meal plan, you’ll need to create your own based on the specific foods recommended.
  • Potential pitfall: If you can’t stomach dark green leafy vegetables or you can’t get through the day without cheese, the MIND diet may not be for you.  
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5. Plant-based 

A way of eating that focuses mostly on whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. Key word: mostly. In other words, meat, fish, eggs and dairy are all allowed on a plant-based diet, but they’re meant to play a supporting role. Whole plant foods are the star of the plate.

  • Especially appealing to: People who care about animal welfare or reducing their environmental footprint.  
  • Pros: In addition to a lower body mass index (BMI), multiple studies have linked plant-based diets to an improvement in blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease, better diabetes management and prevention and kidney health.
  • Cons: This diet is more about a way of eating than a specific meal plan. If you like a precise road map, this one might lead to too many detours. Case in point: The term “plant-based” isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it can be tempting to succumb to the many highly processed plant-based meat and dairy substitutes and energy bars.
  • Potential risks: Make sure you get enough high-quality protein. That includes tofu, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, nuts and seeds, as well as navy, pinto, red kidney and black beans. It’s important to make sure you get all the nutrients you need. Some plant-based diets are poor in vitamin B12, iron, zinc and calcium.

6. Noom 

This app-based weight loss program uses the results of an interactive quiz to create a calorie plan based on your specific needs and goals. The Noom app allows you to log what you eat and how much you exercise, and some app versions measure blood pressure and other important health info. In a study published in 2023 in Obesity Science & Practice, 75 percent of participants maintained at least 5 percent weight loss after a year; 49 percent maintained 10 percent weight loss. Another study showed the potential positive influence of having this type of nutritional knowledge for weight loss on a self-managed commercial program.

  • Especially appealing to: Dieting newbies who need guidance on making healthy food choices. 
  • Pros: Noom provides nutritional information, easy-to-understand guides on what you should eat (based on a color-coded system) and lots of recipes. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. Instead, the app encourages consuming more green-tagged foods (i.e., fruits and veggies) and fewer orange-tagged ones (pizza, fried foods, alcohol).
  • Cons: Membership is about $70 per month. According to Noom, most users start with a four-month subscription, which comes out to $42.25 per month.
  • Potential pitfall: It doesn’t provide a full meal plan, so you’ll have to subscribe to plan meals as you go. The tracking can be time-consuming.

Diets That Need More Research

Though some diets get tons of splashy headlines and online chatter, the scientific support for their effectiveness for weight loss can be limited. Here are two diets that need further research:​


​While most diets preach a message of calorie-cutting, the Golo plan works off the notion that hormone imbalances are at the root of weight loss struggles, leading to hunger, fatigue, binge eating and poor sleep quality. Golo was designed to help balance hormones through its Release supplement and personalized meal plans featuring the kind of foods you’d find in any balanced diet (chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds), as well as a few less commonly allowed (beef and butter).

  • Especially appealing to: People who don’t like to count calories. Golo focuses instead on portion sizes.
  • Pros: The Golo plan isn’t overly restrictive, and it offers a 60-day money-back guarantee on your first order.
  • Cons: A relative newcomer on the diet landscape, Golo needs randomized clinical trials and observational studies to back up its weight loss claims.
  • Potential pitfall: You’re required to pay for the Release supplement to get access to the plan and other materials. Though Golo says its supplement (a proprietary formula made of seven plant-based ingredients and three minerals) is safe for most people, it is not FDA-approved and you should consult your health care provider before taking it. “Many plans that sell an additional item, either a supplement or a device or an extra service, should raise a red flag — unless the item has been tested rigorously in research,” says William Yancy Jr., M.D., medical director of the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center and professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. “Dietitians and medical providers can help tease out whether there is evidence (to support the claims) or not.” 


​The granddaddy of high-fat, low-carb plans, the keto (short for ketogenic) diet was conceived in the 1920s to treat medical conditions such as epilepsy. There are several variations, but most keto plans allow 70 to 80 percent of your daily calories to come from fat, 10 to 20 percent from protein and 5 to 10 percent from carbs. Keto meal plans are built on meats, nuts, avocados, cheese, fish, poultry and nonstarchy vegetables such as broccoli and leafy greens. Bread and pasta? Don’t even think about it. 

  • Especially appealing to: Carnivores.
  • Pros: Going keto can help you shed pounds if you can stick with it. One small study published in 2020 in Nutrition & Metabolism found that participants, ages 60 to 75, lost an average of nearly 15 pounds after eight weeks.
  • Cons: In the beginning, you may suffer what’s known as “keto flu” symptoms (nausea, fatigue, headaches), as your body adjusts. Over the longer term, research suggests, following a keto plan can increase the risk of kidney stones and digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea and bloating. It could also lead to nutrient deficiencies, high cholesterol, heart disease and cognitive decline. Many dietitians and health care providers do not endorse the KETO diet.
  • Potential pitfalls: A low-carb, high-fat plan can be hard to sustain. If you return to carbs, you may gain the weight back. “Any diet that is restrictive in a particular type of food or food group, like carbohydrates, should not be followed unless there is a medical reason,” says Liz Weinandy, dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and instructor of practice in medical dietetics at OSU. “Even for someone with blood sugar disorders like diabetes, carbohydrates shouldn’t be eliminated but rather limited, and the type of carbohydrates should be a focus.

Intermittent Fasting  

Under this plan, it isn’t so much what you eat as when you eat. The three most popular approaches are alternate-day fasting (fast every other day); 5:2 intermittent fasting (eat as you normally would five days a week, then fast or sharply restrict calories for two days); and time-restricted eating, in which you choose a six- to eight-hour daily eating window, which means you are then fasting for 16 to 18 hours a day.  

  • Especially appealing to: People who want a simplified approach to eating.
  • Pros: Although the science is far from conclusive, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be as effective as calorie-cutting. One review of studies, published in 2022 in Frontiers in Nutrition, suggests that intermittent fasting is more beneficial in reducing body weight, insulin resistance, cholesterol and triglycerides, compared with nonintervention diets.
  • Cons: Intermittent fasting may not be a good choice for people with health conditions that require eating at regular intervals (people with diabetes, for instance) or people who are on medications that must be taken multiple times a day and/or with food. “People with serious chronic conditions that require monitoring or medication adjustment should be more careful,” notes William Yancy Jr., M.D., medical director of the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center and professor in the Department of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Studies have also raised concerns about the long-term sustainability and potentially serious health effects of this type of fasting, including cardiovascular disease.
  • Potential pitfall: Overeating on nonfasting days or during your eating window. More research is needed about this method’s sustainability and health effects.

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