Like many other Americans, one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2012 may have been to lose weight. The next logical step is to come up with a way to actually do it. With the plethora of diets available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start your search. To choose the diet that’s best for you, it can be helpful to weigh the pros and cons of several different options. Here is the good and the bad about the 5 most popular diets in America. (Keep in mind, though, that no diet is perfect. Pick the one that seems best for you, and don't forget to check with your doctor before you start.)
Weight Watchers Since the 1960s, Weight Watchers has helped millions of people lose weight through a balanced program involving group meetings, exercise, and nutrition. You can attend meetings in person or get an online membership, both of which involve a support network and nutrition education.
Pros: As mentioned above, Weight Watchers uses community support networks to help motivate people to succeed, which is one of its best assets. The program also includes nutrition education, which stresses the importance of choosing the right ingredients and portion control. People who join tend to lose weight at a steady rate, which is much healthier than some other diets, and makes them more likely to keep the pounds off.
Cons: Weight Watchers requires that you “weigh in” each week, which could be intimidating for some people. The cost of the program may also present an issue for some, since each weekly meeting is between $10-15. Additionally, Weight Watchers is not as structured as other diets. It won’t, for instance, lay out a menu for you with exact food items and portions. The education involved in the program provides a good outline for choosing healthy options, but it’s up to you to make the right decisions.
Atkins Diet This high-protein, low-carb diet is based on the idea that carbohydrates easily lead to weight gain, and so they should be consumed less. The Atkins diet is highly popular because it often leads to significant results quickly. It involves lowering your intake of carbohydrates drastically, virtually eliminating certain things from your diet like bread and pasta, and eating more meat and dairy products.
Pros: The Atkins diet is very effective at helping people lose weight quickly, if you follow the program correctly. You’re also allowed to eat a lot of protein. Some people who are on the Atkins diet end up increasing their levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind.
Cons: A potential drawback to the Atkins diet is that it includes unhealthy fats that could end up being detrimental to your heart’s health. The long-term effects of the Atkins diet are questionable, and research has shown that many people to try it do not stick with it for long. People on the diet have also reported having low energy levels and trouble focusing.
South Beach Diet. Much like the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet involves very few carbohydrates and lots of protein. However, the main focus is on eating low amounts of glycemic carbohydrates, which your body slowly absorbs so that your blood sugar levels don’t go up.
Pros: The South Beach diet is fairly simple in that it doesn’t involve measuring exact amounts of food or a strict diet regimen. It’s been said to be healthier than the Atkins diet since it stresses reducing saturated fats and eating lean protein, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
Cons: The South Beach diet involves an initial phase of three to four weeks that involves cutting out carbohydrates, which is very restrictive and could turn some people off. The next phase involves slowly adding the carbs back in, but there isn’t a lot of structure, so you have to be very self-motivated to stick with it.
Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean diet, which has been approved by the American Heart Association, uses traditional Mediterranean-style cooking to foster a heart-healthy diet utilizing fresh ingredients. This diet focuses on what you can eat, rather than what you can’t. Staples include lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, seeds, legumes, seafood, and olive oil. The diet also stresses the importance of healthy fats and portion control.
Pros: Unlike many popular diets, the Mediterranean Diet is has been shown to be very good for your heart. Research has suggested that it lowers the risk of heart disease and cancer, which is probably due to the abundance of monounsaturated fat as opposed to unhealthy fat. The Mediterranean diet also contains lots of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight disease.
Cons: The Mediterranean diet is slightly complicated because it does not state exactly how much of each ingredient you should eat per day. For example, there is no calorie limit, so it’s easy to overdo it. The ingredients involved in the diet also tend to be expensive since you must buy foods that vary with the seasons.
Zone Diet: The Zone Diet stresses a balance of carbs, protein, and fat, which are said to keep your body in balance. Your daily calorie intake should be 30 percent from protein, 30 percent from fat, and 40 percent from carbs. This reworks your metabolism thus leads to weight loss.
Pros: Because of the focus on lean protein and healthy fat, the Zone diet is thought to be good for your heart. It involves eating five small meals per day, which keeps your blood sugar levels in check. It also highlights the importance of exercise and drinking lots of water.
Cons: Many people don’t feel like the Zone diet is sustainable since it’s a super low-calorie diet. According to the American Heart Association, it doesn’t contain enough nutrients or fiber, and contains too much protein.