Mind & Body

See Why These 3 Diets Are Ranked As 2024’s Worst Meal Plans

Here’s the bottom of the dietary barrel.

Slicing beef meat for Kazakh beshparmak. Preparation of horse meat by the chef for hot dishes. Cutti...
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There are as many dietary needs as there are people. No plan for a healthy lifestyle is one size fits all. That said, it’s important to remain skeptical of anything that pertains to our health.

U.S. News and World Reports published its list of the 30 Best Overall Diets for 2024. Graded by 43 medical and nutrition experts, the report evaluates everything from the South Beach Diet and Atkins to keto and paleo. Of course, every ranked list has a bottom. These options may have made the cut, but that doesn’t make them safe, effective, or sustainable.

The bottom three diets in this report are smack of food elimination, frivolous changes, and the worst of unscientific diet culture.

No. 28: The Dukan Diet

Developed by French nutritionist Pierre Dukan in the 1970s, this low-carb, high-protein diet consists of four phases: attack, cruise, consolidation, and stabilization. This formulation aims to help followers keep off weight after losing it. The first stage’s goal is to reach ketosis, the metabolic state in which your body burns fat for energy. During this first period, you live on a strict elimination diet that allows up to 68 lean proteins, but you can eat as much as you want of them, plus a daily 1.5 tablespoon of oat bran. This phase lasts up to a week and includes a daily 20-minute walk.

Lean proteins are certainly heart healthy, which can mean lower blood pressure and cholesterol, cutting the risk of heart disease, but the Cleveland Clinic derides this imbalanced diet in the name of quick weight loss. (The Dukan Diet doesn’t even make the top 5 weight-loss or fast weight-loss lists for 2024 U.S. News and World Reports, which brings into question whether it’s even the most effective diet for people who need or want to lose weight.)

The second phase incorporates non-starchy vegetables like cabbage, squash, spinach, and tomatoes, bringing your total up to 100 permissible foods. At this point, you also add a 30-minute daily walk to your routine. Dukan’s rule of thumb here is that you spend three days on this phase for every pound you’d like to lose.

You move on to phase three once you’ve hit your weight loss goal, at which point you focus on weight maintenance. Previously verboten foods like cheese and whole-grain bread can slowly return in moderation, though one day a week, you’re meant to revert to the “Attack” menu. This phase lasts five days for every pound you’ve lost since the beginning.

Finally, the stabilization phase is lifelong. You’re entitled to eat everything, but one day a week, you return to Attack mode, gulp three tablespoons of oat bran daily, and always opt for the stairs over the elevator.

Cleveland Clinic points out there isn’t much evidence supporting the diet’s ultra-restrictive rules. Such a strict regimen means greater room for error or frustration. But more importantly, a week of lean protein alone can cause fatigue from a lack of carbohydrates and a dearth of vitamins from no vegetables. In one study, women who followed this diet came out the other end with low Vitamin C levels. This diet isn’t safe for those with diabetes or other blood sugar requirements because it doesn’t permit carbs for days at a time. That means those with diabetes can’t regulate their blood sugar the way they need to.

No. 29: The Herbalife Diet

This 1980s fad diet comes from a multi-level marketing corporation that sells dietary supplements, which is its first red flag. A second red flag is that the Federal Trade Commission charged the company with deceiving buyers and sellers, which resulted in a $200 million settlement from Herbalife. Then, in 2020, the company dealt with a lawsuit after charges of foreign corrupt practices in China, including bribery of government officials and falsifying records.

As far as diets go, its sole goal appears to be weight-driven, aiming for weight loss, gain, or maintenance. Of its four weight-loss plans, none of them exceed 2000 calories per day, and each consists of two Herbalife meal replacement shakes for breakfast and lunch, made with fat-free milk. Of course, these two shakes plus a paltry dinner are scarce in protein, so Herbalife also encourages its clan to purchase extra protein powders.

Speaking of extra, Herbalife supplements have names like “Cell-U-Loss,” “Snack Defense,” and “Total Control,” which purport to do things like reduce water retention, help control blood sugar, and boost energy levels. No studies confirm these supplements’ effectiveness, nor has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluated these claims for accuracy. (Remember: The FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements.)

Of course, replacing two meals with a glass of fat-free milk and shake formula can lead to weight loss, but nothing about Herbalife hints that this diet is safe or sustainable.

No. 30: The Raw Food Diet

The raw food diet is simple: no cooked or processed foods. Adherents believe that cooking foods, especially vegetables, rob them of their nutritious enzymes. In the short term, it can cause weight loss, but following the diet for years can lead to health complications.

One 2022 study compared 16 strict raw foodies with 32 vegans and 27 omnivores. It focused on body composition, dietary intake, and blood serum levels. While raw foodies had a lower body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage on average, they were also underweight and showed vitamin B12 deficiencies as well as an absent menstrual period, a telltale sign of malnourishment. A 1999 study of 500 people eating raw for almost four years demonstrated that BMI was below normal for 15 percent of men and 25 percent of women and that 30 percent of women under 45 had also lost their period.

Raw food diets may seem simple, but kitchen equipment that allows for more palatable meals and variety can get costly. Dehydrators, blenders, and juicers, for example, can run hundreds of dollars. In general, the raw food diet isn’t the best place to start if you want to go plant-based or lose weight fast.

These diets focus on depriving ourselves of nutrients in the name of losing weight. Unsurprisingly, many of them also lead to myriad health complications and too low body weight. Looking out for diets that masquerade as extreme wellness trends can help you keep your body healthy in 2024.

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