16 meal plans for diets that are supported by science

Jill Bridges, SATI STAFF

Weight loss is more than a fad in our society, though there does always seem to be a new fad to pursue the end goal of a healthy weight. The craze has lasted for decades and is only gaining traction. In the end, this is a very good thing; as a country we have an overwhelming problem with obesity and it has led to epidemic levels of heart disease, diabetes and other problems.

It’s vital for us to get this under control, but jumping onto every fad diet that comes along is the worst way to go. Many of these diets are demonstrably unhealthy and can result in horrible consequences and even death from not getting enough nutrients. It’s important to follow a rightly balanced diet and get the correct nutrition, and there are certain diets that are scientifically backed which can help you do this. Learn about a number of meal plans that are supported by valid scientific research to help you lose weight and live a happier, healthier lifestyle.

The low carb, balanced diet

Quite simply, the best diet out there today is a completely natural and balanced diet. We eat far too many carbs in our diet these days, so going with a low-carb diet that maintains a healthy balance of all other nutrients[1] is the greatest way to go.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is to keep this diet. It doesn’t require you to cut anything out—in fact, your body needs carbs and any diet that tells you to cut them out entirely is dangerous. It does, however, reduce carbs to the level they should be, cutting down on processed foods, sugars and starches, while increasing protein and healthy vegetables.

The mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is another terrific approach to healthy living. It is supported by scientific studies[2] and focuses on the kinds of food that were commonplace in the Mediterranean area during the 20th Century. This diet, much like the low carb diet above, focuses on a balance of nutrients, including vegetables, fish and poultry, legumes, fruits and berries, whole grains, dairy and lots of extra virgin olive oil. It’s outstanding for heart health[3].

One thing these two diets, low carb and Mediterranean, have in common is that both are heavily focused on a very natural balance[4] of the right nutrients, protein and vegetables, and cut down on processed foods. They work because that’s what they’re about—maintaining balance—and the science shows it[5].

The alternate day diet

Since weight loss is a balance of calories in vs. calories out, there are some research studies that claim alternating your caloric intake can be an wonderful way to stay healthy and still lose weight. In this diet, supported by scientific studies out of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore[6], showed that when rats were fed very little one day and allowed to eat as much as they liked the next, they gained the benefits of a restricted calorie diet.

It is thought that this kind of diet forces the body to burn fat and also triggers changes in hormones, including production of higher activity of the SIRT3 and SIRT4 anti-aging genes. People who have tried this diet claim that while it takes a bit of getting used to, it’s not as grueling as an everyday cut back.

The ludwig diet

More commonly known as the “Always Hungry?” diet, this diet was created by Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School. This diet is considered to be sensible and heavily supported by hard science[7], as well as claiming to help you conquer your cravings, lose weight and keep it off, and re-train your body. The diet lines up with decades of research on how our body works.

It starts with a boot camp lasting 2 weeks during which you cut processed sugars, grains, starches, alcohol and artificial sweeteners. You then gradually add grains back in but focus on natural, unprocessed foods, and by the end of the diet you’re taking in around 40% of your calories in fat, 40% from carbs, and 20% from protein.

The paleo diet

The Paleo diet is one of the most popular diets out there right now. It’s based on the idea that you eat the way cavemen did, before we had processed food or cultivated crops and still lived as hunters and gatherers. The science behind it[8] claims that it’ll make you lose weight and reduce the chances to get heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other prominent health problems.

This diet allows you to eat lots of lean meats and protein, fish, fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, fiber and the like, but you’ll avoid things like refined sugar, dairy products, salt, potatoes and refined vegetable oils. The key is to cut carbs way down[9], a strategy that some studies indicate can even save your life[10].

The DASH diet

The DASH Diet, which is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a diet that’s designed specifically to address blood pressure problems [11]. As you might expect, it’s a low-sodium affair and focuses on specific nutrients like magnesium, calcium and potassium, all minerals of which many people experience a shortage in their diet. From a scientific standpoint it’s solid, according to the NHLBI (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)[12], allowing a reduction of several points in just a couple of weeks.

The DASH diet offers more than just optimal blood pressure, however. It’s a generally healthy diet so it offers a range of other health benefits, including weight loss. There’s also a lower sodium version of the diet to address more serious problems.

Gluten free diets

Everyone’s heard of the gluten free diet. We’re in the midst of a massive controversy, in fact, about whether a gluten-free diet is healthy or unhealthy. Many people process gluten just fine, though we all probably eat too much of it. Others, however, cannot tolerate it, and it can cause all kinds of health problems[13]. It’s for these folks that gluten free plans exist, and there’s science behind them.

It’s important to understand that while these diets eliminate barley, oats, rye, wheat and other grains, they still don’t require you to deprive yourself of the things you love[[14]. In fact, gluten-free diet options are available in just about every grocery store and can even include breads and pasta!

The dukan diet

The Dukan diet claims that it can help you lose half a stone (that’s ten pounds) in a week and never put it back on. It focuses on eating oat bran and lean proteins, drinking plenty of water and taking a 20-minute walk every day[[15]. It’s another low-carb option, like the Paleo diet, and focuses on the concept that when you limit carbs, your body reverts to burning fat for energy.

It works in four phases, starting with just protein, bran and water, moving to non-starch vegetables, then adding small amounts of fruit and cheese, and finally maintaining. Be prepared to load up on meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, and fat-free dairy[16] and you’ll find yourself dropping the pounds and even regulating blood sugar.

The pritkin diet

Of the many scientifically-supported diet meal plans on our list, the Pritkin diet may be one of the most sensible. It’s easy to follow because it does not require you to make any significant sacrifices in your diet and it’s supported by over 100 peer-reviewed scientific studies[17] published in a number of medical journals.

Like other diet plans, the Pritkin diet focuses on all-natural foods that are unprocessed. It’s full of good things like lean proteins, fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes and lean sources of calcium. It allows a broad variety of foods while avoiding things we know to be bad for us like salt, oils, refined sweeteners and refined grains.

Volumetrics diet meal plans

You may have heard of Volumetrics but be uncertain as to what precisely it is. Developed by Dr. Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., this diet focuses on allowing you to lose weight while still eating as much in terms of healthy food options as you want[18]. The idea is that the more full you feel, the less likely you are to binge on unhealthy things. Unlike other diet meal plans, however, this isn’t a quick-loss plan, but a long-term one.

It divides food into free foods, reasonable portion foods, small portion foods and sparing portion foods. These range from broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms and broth (free foods) to fried foods, candy and cookies (sparing foods)[19]. It’s essentially a basic program of watching what you eat and taking things in moderation.

The diabetes diet

Anyone who lives with diabetes knows that it can be a challenge. Even with modern medications, the things you can eat safely are far outnumbered by those that will spike your blood sugar. Creating a proper diabetes meal plan requires vigilance and paying attention to your own body’s needs. But in general it comes down to a low-carb diet that allows you to eat most things in moderation while sticking to a strict mealtime schedule[20] so your body gets used to the routine. As a bonus, you’ll lose weight by just eating healthy!

Recommended foods for diabetics include plenty of fiber, lean protein, good fats and healthy carbs such as whole grains, fruits and legumes in moderation. Avoid saturated fats, processed sugars and cholesterol, and above all, stick to that routine. Diabetes loves a schedule.

The mayo clinic diet

The only one of the diet meal plans on our list that is named after an actual medical facility, the Mayo Clinic Diet has some powerful support behind it. It’s designed to help you not only drop excess weight but create a meal plan that is sustainable for the rest of your life[21], helping you to keep the weight off for many years. It focuses on common-sense solutions like eating more vegetables and fruits, moving around for 30 minutes per day, and not eating in front of the TV.

This is a diet that was developed by a team of medical experts, the basic idea behind it being the motivation to drop the pounds and set achievable goals. It’s full of free foods and several means by which you can develop a healthy lifestyle.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Recent medical research has pointed to chronic inflammation being the root cause of a vast number of diseases and illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, heart disease and more. As such, the anti-inflammatory diet is not designed to help you lose weight (though that is a happy side effect), but to help you remain in outstanding health throughout your life[22]. One of the greater benefits of it is that you can adapt existing recipes to its principles.

The general idea behind this diet is that you aim for a variety of foods, avoid fast food and processed foods, eat fresh and consume an abundance of fruits and veggies while maintaining the recommended daily allowance of fats, carbs, fiber, protein and other nutrients.

The raw food diet

This diet is one of the older ones on our list, dating all the way back to the end of the 19th century, when Dr. Maximillian Bircher-Benner was able to cure his own jaundice through eating raw apples. The science[23] has come a long way since then but the core premise remains. Eating raw food that hasn’t been processed, cooked, genetically engineered or chemically treated is better for you than the range of processed and treated food we consume today.

There are a number of variations on this diet, but it focuses heavily on plant-based foods that you do not cook. It’s a diet that is quite vegan-friendly, though some non-vegans add raw milk, sashimi and the like to the mix.

Women’s and men’s meal plans

Women and men have different physiologies, and their diet plans should accordingly be different. However, both the women’s meal plan[24] and the men’s meal plan[25] to lose weight both depend on your level of activity. The focus is on the amount of calories, spread over four meals per day, that you should eat based on your body weight. To keep things simple, portion sizes are based on the size of your hand rather than grams or ounces of food. These meal plans are very easy to follow as a result.

To measure the success, just monitor your results and expect to lose between 2 and 3 pounds per month, making adjustments as needed, increasing or decreasing calories and portion sizes.

The nutrisystem diet

Nutrisystem has been a major player in the diet and weight loss game for decades. They have the goal to make weight loss simple. It works by having you buy your food from a single source—Nutrisystem—who ship it right to you. This allows you to structure meal plans that are developed strictly to maintain proper health and nutrition[26], which leads to weight loss, without a lot of thought going into the process.

This 28-day meal plan focuses heavily on getting a good variety of nutrients, smart carbs, limiting your calorie count and sodium, and buying your food from a single source. It’s easy to order the food, but harder to maintain due to a lack of variety.

Other thoughts on diet and weight loss

There is plenty of scientific evidence out there for low carb, low fat and similar diets[27] that can lead directly to you not just losing weight but keeping it off and living a much better lifestyle overall. Losing weight can be a factor of not just what you eat, but when[28], making a schedule of eating an important factor in your weight loss.

Besides those listed here, many people swear by diets such as the Jenny Craig, Biggest Loser and Weight Watchers diet meal plans[29], all of which also have scientific advantages. Creating a diet plan that works is generally a factor of setting the right goals and expectations and making small, manageable changes in your life[30].

The sati line

The truth is, there isn’t a secret, closely-guarded solution to weight loss. It’s just a matter of making the right choices and making them your daily routine. By following simple, common-sense patterns, you can lose weight and stay healthy. There are many different diet meal plans out there which have solid science behind them, but it’s also important to remember that everyone’s body is different and unique; you need to find a diet program that will work for you and that you can maintain in order to lose weight, keep it off and stay healthy.

One of these diets may work wonders for you, but you may have to try several different strategies to find the diet that works for you, meets your lifestyle needs and that you know you can stick with every day. Eat right, take things in moderation, get the right amount of exercise, and be sure to work with your doctor to try to find the weight loss solution that fits your lifestyle.

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