Our Nutritionist Explains Why the Mayo Clinic Diet Is One of 2021’s Best
- Teams at U.S. News and World Report have named the Mayo Clinic Diet the second-best paid diet of 2021, and one of the top 5 diets of the new year.
- The diet doesn’t restrict any food groups but works to restructure diets to help you lose up to 10 pounds in two weeks, and additional weight afterward on a calorie-restricted meal plan.
- The diet doesn’t require membership fees up front, or for dieters to buy branded foods, but a book of tips and guidelines may help you get started.
A team of analysts and medical experts at U.S. News & World Report have named the Mayo Clinic Diet one of the best diets of 2021, pulling ahead of both Jenny Craig and Noom. Its new ranking as the second-best paid weight loss program may come as a surprise given that the diet lacks an overly strict rulebook; especially to those who are considering adopting popular diets in the new year, which tend to cut out entire food groups. Rather, the Mayo Clinic Diet focuses in on the medical center’s signature food pyramid, stressing time-honored dietary guidelines in a new way.
The Mayo Clinic Diet is about restructuring any questionable eating habits and doubling down on healthy staples in the fruit, vegetable, and whole-grain categories — alongside supercharged cuts of protein, and the occasional sweet treat. By asking you to eat more veggies, fruits, and grains rich in fiber and other nutrients, the Mayo Clinic Diet promises immediate results in the first two weeks of the program: Anywhere between 5 and 10 pounds of weight lost, per the program’s website. But the diet’s true allure, per experts, could be its design beyond this two-week period, in a phase that promotes two-pounds-per-week weight loss until you’ve hit your goal in mind. Technically, the Mayo Clinic Diet could be continued for however long you like — and some dieters may stick to its tips and suggestions for the rest of their life.
While the diet doesn’t ask you to cut out bread entirely or avoid desserts forever, it does require you to skimp on calories — as few as 1,200 for women and 1,400 for men after the first two weeks. Stefani Sassos, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian within the Good Housekeeping Institute, says this calorie restriction may be tougher for some than eliminating food groups in other diets. “1,200 calories may be the right number for some people, but it can be very restrictive for others,” she says.
Should you give the Mayo Clinic Diet a try in 2021? Below, we’re exploring all the ways that the diet program promotes weight loss, as well the details and rules you need to know about before signing up.
How does the Mayo Clinic Diet work?
Newcomers to the Mayo Clinic Diet will find a website with plenty of guidelines, diet tips, and healthy recipes at their fingertips — but the diet was initially based on a book that was republished in 2017. While the most essential guidelines and tips are printed in the Mayo Clinic Diet book (along with a select amount of menu plans and recipes), dieters are able to access all that info and more resources via the Mayo Clinic Diet website online.
Whichever route you choose to go, all dieters start on the same path: A first phase that’s called the “Lose It!” section of the diet program. Here, you’ll learn how to adapt 15 key diet tips and tricks into your own routine, mostly working on adding more green, healthy staples to your plate based on the Mayo Clinic’s pyramid. You’ll also work to reduce how frequently you eat things like processed meats, desserts, and refined grains, but you won’t have to give them up entirely throughout the diet. There are meal plans and recipes to help you get started during this section: You’ll focus on swapping saturated fats for healthier fats in staples like avocados, rethinking your dairy, eating a nutritious breakfast, and reducing how frequently you order takeout. The diet also encourages you to keep a food and activity journal to document your progress and reactions at first.
But you’ll mostly spend time learning the bare basics of moderation and good nutrition — and you won’t be counting calories at first. A key aspect of the “Lose It!” phase of the diet is ensuring you’re meeting at least 30 minutes (if not 60!) of physical activity each day. “The Mayo Clinic pyramid does have a circle in the center for physical activity; the program recognizes that both nutrition and exercise play important roles not only in weight loss but also in your holistic health,” Sassos, Good Housekeeping‘s registered dietitian, explains.
The first phase of the diet may result in upwards of 10 pounds of weight loss due to all the dietary changes you’ve made in this two-week time period. But the second phase, known as “Live It!”, encourages you to adapt the diet’s rules into your lifestyle — while also instituting a calorie limit on your meals to encourage you to lose up to 2 pounds each week. Based on your current body weight and your weight loss goals, the Mayo Clinic Diet provides a few different calorie goals for you — but a minimum of 1,200 calories per day for women (1,400 for men) must be maintained. “I would start on the higher end of the range if possible and see how your body responds; you may not have to restrict to 1,200 calories to see results,” Sassos says. “I never advise going below 1,200 calories per day since you’ll likely be unable to get sufficient nutrients from your diet, and won’t have enough fuel to support basic biological functions and a healthy metabolism.”
There are recipes and meal plans available for this phase, too, but everything is broken down into servings; you’re allowed four servings of protein or dairy each day on a 1,400-calorie plan, for example. Even if you aren’t always hitting a workout goal during this phase, Sassos believes the diet restriction is enough to promote weight loss on its own. “The Live It!” phase is designed to cut upwards of 1,000 calories per day, so you should be able to lose weight gradually during that stage… since a caloric deficit is still present,” she says.
What can I eat on the Mayo Clinic Diet?
Much of the diet prioritizes restructuring how you eat rather than restricting entire food groups, so you won’t have to say goodbye to all of your favorites just yet. During the “Live It!” phase, you’ll need to eat certain amounts of servings in each food group to meet your calorie restrictions. The Mayo Clinic Diet offers recipes and meal plans, and subsequent serving suggestions, for four different calorie intakes; 1,200, 1,400, 1,600, and 1,800. Each of the meal plans and all of the recipes in the program promote foods that are high in priority on the Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Weight Pyramid.
You can choose which kinds of meals and recipes you eat, as long as they meet guidelines set forth by the diet’s instructions and the clinic’s pyramid. For best weight loss results, you may wish to focus on gradually increasing the amount of fibrous vegetables (or other items!) in each of your meals: “Fiber not only keeps us full and satisfied, but it’ll maximize your calories and the volume of what you’re eating,” Sassos says. “I’d recommend prioritizing those naturally high-fiber choices like produce, whole grains, and legumes during the Lose It! phase of the diet.”
In general, the experts behind the diet recommend the following foods as much as possible, as has been laid out in the Mayo Clinic Diet guidebook:
- Vegetables: They’re at the crux of this diet, and should be eaten whenever possible! There are no rules on which kinds you may eat, or where they’ve come from, as long as they’re largely unprocessed. You can eat anything from the fresh produce section or frozen varieties that may be easier on your budget.
- Fruits: Fresh is best, but you can also buy frozen and canned varieties as long as they’re free of added sugar. The diet stipulates that you can have up to four ounces of pure fruit juice a day as well.
- Whole Grains: Again, unprocessed options are best here! Cereals, oatmeals, whole-grain bread, wheat pasta, and brown rice can all be part of your daily menu.
- Protein: It’s not all about meat in the Mayo Clinic Diet when it comes to protein; you can also source beans and legumes and lean seafood, alongside eggs and tofu, too. Poultry and beef can also be enjoyed, especially if they’re low-fat cuts or grinds.
- Fat-Free Dairy: Like yogurt, cheese, and low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Unsaturated Fats: Swap out other fatty items with things like heart-healthy olive oil, avocados, and plenty of nuts, among others.
You’ll notice that sugar and sweets are on the top of the Mayo Clinic’s nutritional pyramid, and are restricted to just 75 calories each day — and the diet also counts sugars found in alcohol during the second “Live It!” phase. Reducing your sugar intake is likely going to be the biggest challenge on this diet, Sassos says, but these sugar guidelines are partly why this diet is ranking as one of the best. “Americans are eating and drinking far too much added sugar, which can lead to several health problems like heart disease and diabetes,” she explains. “I don’t advise meticulously counting or obsessing over added sugar counts — it can lead to a binge cycle and a negative relationship with your food — but by reducing your added sugar consumption… you may substantially reduce your caloric intake throughout the day, which can lead to weight loss.”
How long is the Mayo Clinic Diet, and how much does it cost?
The diet is divided into two phases: First, the “Lose It!” section, which lasts for two weeks and encourages rapid weight loss. Then, the Mayo Clinic Diet transitions into the “Live It!” phase, which aims to make lifelong changes in your dietary habits while encouraging continuous weight loss on a weekly basis. You’ll be restricting your calories during this time, but this period fluctuates for each person based on their weight loss goals; theoretically, you could stay on this phase for as long as you’d like.
“A general rule of thumb is to aim for 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week; more than that may be too aggressive and unrealistic,” Sassos explains. “It also depends on your starting weight… which is why there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss.”
It’s entirely up to you how long you remain on the diet, and believe it or not, you don’t have to buy the book or pay for a subscription to access information on the Mayo Clinic Diet’s site. While some info, tips, and recipes are available to anyone who registers for an account, you can sign up for an online support service — a place to ask your questions, review more meal plans and recipes, and other features — that is billed at $65 for 13 weeks (about $5 a week). The easiest way to see if the Mayo Clinic Diet is right for you might be starting with the book and then moving onto an online subscription as needed.
The bottom line:
Primarily, the Mayo Clinic Diet stresses eliminating troublesome eating habits and restructuring the kinds of foods you put on your plate every day. You won’t have to eliminate your favorite foods entirely, but the program will certainly teach you the value of moderation, as you’ll enjoy them as sparingly as possible. Its only downfall may be asking its dieters to restrict calorie intakes for a prolonged period of time, even if dieters aren’t strictly asked to count each calorie they eat, per se. The diet’s sugar avoidance may be particularly challenging for some (as sugar can take hold on our daily routine!), but its emphasis on fiber-filled staples is the best takeaway here.
“Choosing more nutritious carbohydrate sources that are filled with fiber, such as fruits and whole grains, can provide nutrition and satiety for a fraction of the calories of those sugary foods,” Sassos adds. “Overall, I think the Mayo Clinic Diet is based on sound nutrition principles and encourages a balanced diet in whole foods.”