In 2021, “plant-based” diets are all the rage. At least that’s the consensus of a 24-expert panel charged with ranking U.S.News and World Report’s Best Diets for 2021.
But what is a plant-based diet?
The answer to that question will differ slightly, depending on whom you’re asking. When I use the term plant-based, I usually clarify that I’m referring to a 100-percent, fully, wholly, or entirely plant-based diet.
When used to refer to an ingredient or product, it means vegan. What’s described came entirely from plants, not animals.
But for many people, including the U.S. News and World Reports editors, a plant-based diet means mostly plant-based. So their Plant-Based Diet category included:
1. Mediterranean Diet
2. Flexitarian Diet
3. Nordic Diet
4. Ornish Diet
5. Vegetarian Diet
6. Dr. Weil’s Anti-Inflammatory Diet
7. Asian Diet
8. Nutritarian Diet
9. Vegan Diet
10. Engine 2 Diet
11. Macrobiotic Diet
12. Raw Food Diet
The bolded, strictly plant-based account for only 25% of the list.
(The Ornish Diet allows protein from fat-free dairy products, fish, and egg whites and the raw food diet sometimes permits unpasteurized dairy foods and eggs, meat, or fish heated to no more than 118F.)
Picking The Best Diets For 2021: Criteria And Judges
In choosing their Best Diets for 2021, the U.S. News panel looked not only at a diet’s health benefits but also at how easy it was to follow.
On that score, the panelists found a vegan diet was “extremely restrictive.” They gave it a 1.8 out of 5.
Based on that, I suspect the panel was short on vegans!
I run a plant-based restaurant and have my family on board, so it’s easy for me. However, I recognize that following an entirely plant-based diet may seem daunting to those looking in from the outside.
The Mediterranean diet notched the top spot as the diet easiest to follow. That may indicate it’s the one some of the panelists personally prefer.
Yet, while their own eating habits might have influenced the scoring, they were serious professionals.
The twenty-four experts included:
- JoAnn E. Manson: chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School. She is also a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
- Christopher Gardner, Ph.D.: nutrition scientist and Professor of Medicine at Stanford University.
- Michael Greger, M.D., founding member and Fellow of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and founder of NutritionFacts.org.
- Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Associate Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health in the Division of Health Behavior Research & Implementation Science at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
- Eric Rimm, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Director of the Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School.
Top Three Best Diets for 2021: a Plant-Based Sweep
The second runner-up is the Flexitarian Diet, “… which emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains, and plant-based protein, is a smart and healthy choice.”
Its “flexibility” comes from allowing moderate amounts of animal products. And, like the top two mostly plant-based diets, it’s a great start – and a world apart from the SAD (Standard American Diet).
The rest of the Best Diets for 2021’s Top 10 also place a heavy emphasis on plant-based foods, including:
- Mayo Clinic Diet – “emphasizes fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”
- Mind Diet – “¦eating healthful mainstays such as leafy greens, nuts, and berries.”
- Nordic Diet – “Eat more fruits and vegetables every day. Eat more whole grains.”
- Ornish Diet – “The whole foods, plant-based diet is made up predominantly of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, minimally processed and low in fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates.”
- Vegetarian Diet – “healthful vegetarian diet around fiber-packed veggies, fruits, and whole grains.”
While “mostly” doesn’t quite measure up to “wholly” plant-based, it’s a giant leap beyond what most people are eating!
Either way, I hope more people pay attention to the U.S. News and World Reports’ Best Diets for 2021 rankings. Because, no matter how you define it, a plant-based diet is the Best Diet for 2021.
As I was growing up, my Dad always insisted, “Eat your fruits and vegetables.” It turns out he’s the only diet expert I’ve ever needed!