Paleo, Plant-Based, or Just Plain Raw? New Report Ranks the Top Diets of 2015

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ligthelm/10866943666/">Rick Ligthelm</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>

U.S. News and World Report recently came out with its findings of the top 35 diets and surprisingly, popular food trends like Paleo and raw foods ranked near the bottom of the list.

What did snag the #1 spot? The government-endorsed DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which was originally developed to prevent or lower high blood pressure.

The rankings are based on evaluations by a panel of doctors, nutritionists, and other health experts, who analyzed each diet based on its short- and long-term weight loss, ease of adherence, health risks, and how it stacks up against currently recommended dietary guidelines.

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The Paleo, or caveman, diet ranked second to last (at #34) for all of these factors, with experts finding many of its claims of weight loss and cardiovascular benefits inconclusive.

And in reality, true Paleo is unrealistic for most people. In order to follow an ancestral diet, one would have to consume wild game and wild plants the way a hunter-gatherer would. Even the "purest" of foods, like grass-fed beef or organic kale, would be stretching the definition of what our ancestors actually ate.

The report suggests that by shunning dairy and grains, Paleo dieters could potentially miss out on a lot of nutrients. And if they're not careful about making lean meat choices, they could inadvertently increase their risk for heart problems. Since Paleo hasn't yet drawn the attention of many researchers, the jury is still out on whether it holds up to its anecdotal claims.

As for the raw food diet, which came in at #32 on the list, experts found it an effective regimen for weight loss. Raw food dieters tend to eat fewer calories and weigh less than other types of dieters overall, but experts concluded that it was difficult to follow as "raw foodism is a vague concept interpreted differently by each dieter." While some people are strictly raw vegan, others delve into raw milk, raw fish, and raw meats, which come with inherent health risks. The highly restrictive diet also makes it unsuitable for children, since it could lead to growth problems.

A plant-based diet like the Mediterranean scored highly in most aspects (coming in at #3 on the list), and ample research points to proven benefits in cardiovascular health. It's not surprising that a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat, combined with an active lifestyle, is the "secret" to good health.

As for the top overall diet, DASH is effective because it doesn't ban entire food groups. Though obscure, it emphasizes much of the same principles as the Mediterranean diet: more fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, and less red meat and fat-laden sweets. Top it all off by cutting back on salt and you have a diet that benefits all dieters, whether or not you have hypertension.

To see the full list of rankings as well as recommended diets based on your dietary needs, click here to view the U.S. News report.

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