What’s the Most Effective Diet? Breaking Down Today’s Most Popular Diets

The most effective diet is the one that works for your body.

It seems like every day there’s some new diet trend that everyone on Instagram (and IRL) is talking about. A few years ago it was paleo, then Whole30 swept the nation, then it was all about keto — so how are you supposed to know which is the most effective diet? The fact is, there’s not one “right” approach to eating, and each of these different diets has benefits and drawbacks depending on your unique nutritional needs. So, we dug into the latest research to help you make sense of it all. Read on to learn the benefits and downsides of 6 of the most popular diets today, as well as the best diet for autoimmune disease, the best diet for cancer patients, and more. 

Today’s Most Popular Diets

A funny thing about diets is that they’re subject to the trend cycle. Considering that the human body has worked the same way for centuries, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and underscores the fact that the most popular diet of the moment might not actually be the most effective diet. We’re writing this guide at a precise moment in time, and so it’s nearly a guarantee that in a few years, the most popular diets will be completely different diets than the six you see here (did you know that one of the most popular diets in the 1970s was called the “sexy pineapple diet”??). 

Still, we needed to start somewhere, so we’re basing this guide on 6 of the most popular diets today, in 2022. The different diets we’re looking at are:

  • The keto diet
  • The vegan diet
  • The paleo diet
  • The low FODMAP diet
  • The Mediterranean diet
  • The Whole30 Diet

Of course, these are not the only diets out there and certainly not the only ones people are following today. There are tons of different diets, like vegetarian and pescatarian diets, the DASH diet, gluten-free diets, raw food diets, Ayurvedic diets, and many, many more. Each diet has its own risks, benefits, drawbacks, and perks, just like the ones highlighted here. 

Best Diet for Cancer Patients: The Keto Diet 

What it is: The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet based around the idea that cutting carbs drastically puts your body in a state of ketosis (Ketosis is when your body doesn’t have enough carbs from food to use for energy, so it burns fat instead. This produces a chemical called ketones, which your body then uses for fuel)

Benefits: Being in a state of ketosis has a lot of purported benefits, such as dramatically increasing how efficiently your body burns fat, and reducing blood sugar and insulin levels. Given this, keto is considered by many to be the most effective diet when it comes to weight loss and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Various studies have shown that keto can help with a wide range of other conditions, including epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, PCOS, and heart disease. It’s also generally considered to be the best diet for cancer patients, as lower blood sugar levels caused by keto may inhibit tumor growth

Drawbacks: Much of the criticism of the keto diet comes from the fact that most of the research on it has been done in medical settings, with clinical controls and safety precautions, and there’s no research on long-term effects. There’s concern that the extreme lack of carbs and high fat content can do damage to the heart as well as cause muscle loss. There’s also the issue of decreased brain function and lack of vital nutrients that you’d normally get from higher-carb foods like fruits and whole grains (i.e., barley, brown rice, or oatmeal), though some research has shown that the keto diet can actually improve cognitive function

Who It’s Best For: Given all the above, the keto diet is probably best followed as a short-term approach for people looking to lose a lot of weight (though you need to be careful about how you go off the keto diet to avoid gaining the weight back), or for diabetics trying to get their blood sugar levels under control. For those battling cancer, the research suggests it may be the best diet for cancer patients. 

Most Heart-Healthy Diet: The Vegan Diet

What It Is: A completely plant-based diet that eliminates meat (including poultry and fish), eggs, and cheese. Some vegans also avoid any animal-derived products, including honey.

Benefits: Animal fats have been linked to a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease so eliminating them from your diet subsequently reduces your risk. Numerous studies have shown that a plant-based diet can help lower risk of heart attack and lower cardiovascular risk factors, like high cholesterol. The vegan diet has also been shown to lower cancer risk

Drawbacks: Some essential nutrients, like B-12, can only be found in animal fats, so a vegan diet without supplements can lead to a B-12 deficiency, which impacts nerve function and blood cell production. Vegans also need to be cognizant of getting enough iron, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Who It’s Best For: Because of the lack of animal fat, vegan diets can be extremely beneficial for people with heart conditions or hypertension, or who are simply genetically predisposed to heart disease. It’s also a smart choice for people looking to actively cut their cancer risk.

Best Diet for Autoimmune Disease: The Paleo Diet

What It Is: The paleo diet is based on the premise of eating the foods our Paleolithic ancestors (aka the early humans who lived during the Paleolithic era some 3 million years ago) likely consumed. This means it includes lean cuts of meat (including pork, chicken, beef, and lamb), fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (which all grew freely and didn’t need to be harvested), and excludes foods such as legumes (such as beans, soy nuts, peanuts, and peas), dairy, and grains, which were introduced later when agriculture (or farming) became part of human civilization. 

Benefits: Paleo is also an anti-inflammatory diet, eliminating most sugar and processed foods, and has been shown to be effective for relieving the symptoms of certain autoimmune conditions, like IBD, psoriasis, and even celiac (though more research is needed). There’s a specialized version of paleo, called the Autoimmune Paleo Diet, which is geared specifically toward reversing bodily inflammation and is considered the best diet for autoimmune disease. 

Drawbacks: Because it eliminates all legumes, it can be difficult for vegetarians to get enough protein on a paleo diet (beans are some of the highest protein-containing plant-based foods). And because of the lack of grains, it’s a relatively low-carb (and therefore lower-energy) diet, which can make it difficult for athletes to follow. Plus, the focus on meat might increase your risk of heart disease.  

Who It’s Best For: Paleo is the best diet for autoimmune disease as it can help you reduce your symptoms naturally through diet. It’s a good choice if you have an autoimmune condition or other chronic symptoms you’re struggling to identify, and you don’t have a problem with eating meat. Just be sure all the meat you eat is grass-fed, organic and pasture-raised!

Best Diet for Digestive Issues: The Low FODMAP Diet

What It Is: Of all the different diets out there, this one might be the most technical! First off, wtf is a FODMAP? It’s an acronym for a category of foods, and it stands for fermentable, oglio-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols. This group of foods designates a group of carbs that are known to trigger bloating, gas, and other digestive distress. Low FODMAP diets eliminate or vastly reduce these foods, which include things like wheat, onions and garlic, most dairy, certain fruits, and low-calorie sweeteners.

Benefits: Most of the benefits of the low FODMAP diet have to do with the gut. It has been shown to help leaky gut symptoms and increase production of serotonin in the intestines, which can help with IBS. It’s also linked with improved immune system activation.  

Drawbacks: This one can be very tough to follow, because there’s not an easy-to-remember set of rules on what to eat and not eat. To really adhere to the diet, you’ll likely need to frequently consult a list of low- and high-FODMAP foods.

Who It’s Best For: People with gastrointestinal distress can benefit the most from low-FODMAP diets. So if you’re experiencing IBS, IBD, or other digestive issues, this might be the most effective diet for you. 

Most Time-Tested Diet: The Mediterranean Diet

What It Is: Lots of different diets come and go, but the Mediterranean has remained one of the most popular diets for decades. Consistently ranking high in popularity and effectiveness among diets, the Mediterranean Diet is based on the foods typically eaten in Mediterranean countries like Italy and Greece. This means eating lots of fish and lean meats (mostly chicken and fish, with minimal red meat), fruits and vegetables, whole grains, wine, and healthy fats like olive oil, and avoiding processed and high-sugar foods.

Benefits: This eating approach has been linked to many health benefits, including weight loss, and can have a protective effect against heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

Drawbacks: There aren’t many drawbacks to this moderate approach, however if you have a chronic health issue and grains or fruit are a trigger, this may not be the best for you. Also mercury-filled fish and dirty meat can have an inflammatory effect on the body, so make sure you’re eating low-mercury fish and grass-fed, pasture-raised organic meat. It also includes daily wine, which isn’t advisable for some people. 

Who It’s Best For: This is another good choice for people looking to reduce their risk of heart disease. It’s also a smart approach for people who can’t stick to anything too strict, as it’s a fairly moderate and inclusive diet that doesn’t drastically eliminate anything. 

The Short-Term Reset Diet: Whole30

What It Is: Whole30 is a relatively new diet that quickly became one of the most popular diets in the country. It emphasizes eating whole foods (or one-ingredient foods like an apple or a carrot) and eliminating sugar, processed foods, dairy, alcohol, and legumes.

Benefits: Just like paleo, Whole30 is an anti-inflammatory diet that proponents say can help with a wide range of issues, from joint pain to digestive issues and skin conditions (however there’s no peer-reviewed research to confirm these claims). It can also be effective for helping you identify food sensitivities, since it’s an elimination diet

Drawbacks: It’s a pretty extreme approach, which can be challenging and frustrating (and expensive) to follow. Some critics also say it includes too much animal protein.

Who It’s Best For: Whole30 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a total “reset” (which is probably why it’s so popular right after the holidays). It’s also good for people who think they might have a food sensitivity or allergy but aren’t sure what it is.

The Most Effective Diet Overall: The Everyone Diet

You might find that one of these different diets is perfect for you — or none of them might feel totally right. If the latter is true, don’t stress. Picking and choosing different elements from a bunch of different diets and coming up with your own set of dietary rules is often the most effective diet you can follow. 

What’s more, almost all of the most popular diets share a number of common factors, which we like to call the “Everyone Diet” and consider to be the most effective diet overall. If you don’t know where to start, try sticking with these simple guidelines of the Everyone Diet:

  • Avoid or eliminate added sugar
  • Avoid or eliminate fried or processed foods
  • Include fresh, organic fruits and vegetables at each meal
  • Make sure you’re getting enough protein (organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed!)
  • Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol 
  • Hydrate with filtered water
  • Listen to your body, pay attention to how different foods affect you, and adjust accordingly.

If you want to get started with the “Everyone Diet” and need recommendations for food brands without added sugar or lots of chemicals and preservatives, check out the WellBe Non-toxic Product Database! You’ll find recommendations for tons of healthy, vetted food products, as well as products in 20 other categories.

The WellBe Takeaway on the Most Effective Diet 

There are a ton of different diets out there, and it’s hard to know which of the most popular diets are actually effective. There’s also the added complication that the most effective diet for one person might be totally wrong for another person! It’s a lot to keep straight, so here’s a cheat sheet to some of the most popular diets and how to choose the right one for you:

  • The keto diet involves drastically reducing your intake of carbs and sugar and increasing your intake of fat. It causes dramatic weight loss and is thought to be the best diet for cancer patients as the reduction in blood sugar may inhibit tumor growth. The downsides are that it’s not very sustainable, and the high amount of animal fat can cause heart problems.
  • The vegan diet is a wholly plant-based diet, meaning no meat, dairy, or eggs (and for strict vegans, no animal byproducts like honey). It’s a good diet for lowering your risk of cardiovascular issues, but can lead to some nutritional deficiencies.
  • The paleo diet is a diet based on consuming a diet that mimics that of our Paleolithic ancestors — that means no dairy, legumes, or grains. It’s an anti-inflammatory diet, which makes it the best diet for autoimmune disease.
  • The low FODMAP diet involves avoiding a specific category of food called FODMAPs (which stands for fermentable, oglio-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols). It can be great for those with sensitive guts and digestive issues, but is difficult to follow because the foods you can and can’t eat are so specific.
  • The Mediterranean diet has been one of the most popular diets for decades. It is based on the traditional diet eaten in Mediterranean countries, and involves lean meats, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, and red wine. It’s the most moderate of the different diets listed here.
  • The Whole30 is a full reset diet, which restricts certain categories of food, including dairy, legumes, and processed foods. While there is no research to back up its claims, proponents say it can help you identify food allergies and resolve a range of health problems, from skin issues to joint pain and beyond.
  • The most effective diet will be different from person to person, but we recommend following what we call “the Everyone Diet.” It pulls together the common threads of the most popular diets outlined above (reducing sugar and processed foods, eating organic produce and meat, limiting vices like alcohol and coffee, and staying hydrated). By following those guidelines and observing how your body responds, you’ll likely land on the best diet for your unique needs.

Do you follow (or have you followed) any of the most popular diets outlined here? What was your experience? Tell us in the comments below!


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