Choose a diet specific to your health needs, and recognize that even small changes will create a healthier you

Dieting doesn’t just mean cutting back on calories anymore. Now you can choose a diet based on specific outcomes such as weight loss, heart health or diabetes control, writes Travis Thomas, assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences.

Nutrition professionals embrace having more than one choice in dieting, recognizing that a single diet plan doesn’t suit all people, Thomas writes. The goal is to “tailor a diet strategy to the goals and personalities of each patient,” with the understanding that a structured diet plan makes dieting easier.

But just because there are plenty of diets to choose from doesn’t mean they are equally recommended.

U.S. News and World Report recently posted the Best Diets Rankings for 2014, evaluating 32 of the most popular diets. They were evaluated on ease to follow, nutrition, safety and effectiveness for weight loss and whether they were against diabetes and heart disease.

Many of the trendy diets like Atkins, which ranked No. 29; Zone, No. 22; and Paleo, No. 31, are near the bottom of the U.S. News rankings. The DASH diet, developed to fight blood pressure, and the TLC diet, or Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, ranked Nos. 1 and 2.

Thomas says it is important to recognize that no one diet is right for everyone, and to remember that our dietary needs change throughout life. For example, certain medical conditions such as pregnancy have specific dietary recommendations that many popular diets don’t support. He also notes that sometimes the list of restrictions in some diets is not sustainable.

And for those who find following a rigid diet plan overwhelming, Thomas recommends starting small.

Making small lifestyle changes that include the attributes found in the top-rated diets is also effective in improving overall health, Thomas writes. Incorporating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables, paying attention to what you eat and including structured exercise will “improve overall health without the perceived rigidity of a traditional diet plan.”

“Recognize that significant diet overhauls may be difficult to maintain long-term and are not always indicated or scientifically validated,” Thomas writes. “Consider starting with small, manageable changes to help you on your way to a healthier life.”

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