Experts rank the raw food diet as the worst of 2023

The annual ranking looked at 24 diets, including best family-friendly diets and best diets for bone and joint health for the first time.
A cutting board with a variety of ingredients for cooking a healthy meal.
Fresh ingredients for cooking a healthy meal. Deposit Photos

It’s that time of year again, when millions make a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier. This decision can feel daunting, especially when you consider all of the popular diets that trend on social media. However, there is one that might be best to avoid—the raw-food diet.

That diet was the lowest-ranked of 24 food plans evaluated by a panel of 30 experts in US News & World Report’s annual diet ranking for 2023. The experts looked at multiple factors to make their decision, including how easy it is to follow a diet, the potential for disease prevention when on a plan, and the presence of all food groups. Each diet was given a score best on 11 sets of rankings, including best overall, best diabetes diet, best heart healthy diet, and best plant based diet. New to the 2023 list are the best family-friendly diets, ranked partially based on adaptability, and the best diets for joint and bone health.

[Related: An archeologist’s quest to find seafood’s place on the ancient Mediterranean menu.]

The raw-food diet scored the worst. True to its name, this diet calls for only eating foods that haven’t been cooked. This includes fruits, vegetables, beans, sprouted grains, and sometimes animal products such as raw fish or unprocessed dairy.

“The safest and healthiest way to enjoy raw foods is as part of a whole foods, plant-based diet that is rich in raw fruits and vegetables, and cooked lentils, beans, grains and vegetables,” says Vanita Rahman, an internal medicine physician and clinic director of the Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in the report.

There is no evidence that cutting out cooked foods offers health benefits, according to the report, and eating only raw-food is extremely limiting. This diet may also make users more hungry, since raw foods are often lower in protein and calories than prepared food. This makes the diet more difficult to maintain over time, even though there may be the temporary weight loss. Sticking to an easy-to-maintain diet over a longer period of time, studies have found, are usually the best strategies are at any age.

Other diets toward the bottom of the list include those that are too strict or too difficult for users to follow in the long term, or they cut out food groups that could potentially be nutritious. These include the low-carb Atkins and Keto diets, and SlimFast and Optavia, both of which use processed shakes, bars, and supplements to replace whole foods.

[Related: Do you need a daily multivitamin? Probably not, says national health task force.]

Coming out on top for the sixth year in a row is the Mediterranean diet. This diet includes primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to bean, nuts, whole grains, seafood, lean poultry and unsaturated fat from extra-virgin olive oil. The diet is effective and simple, the report says, and studies have shown that it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes while promoting higher quality of life and longer lifespans.

“What’s nice is Mediterranean is relatively user friendly. How it’s structured is similar to the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) healthy eating plan,” Camila Martin, a nutritionist at University of Wisconsin Health in Madison, who wasn’t involved in the rankings, tells “It’s very modifiable based off what people have access to even with limited resources.”

Other diets that that perform well, according to the report, are dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH), Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), and flexitarian, which features primarily plant-based foods with occasional meat. All three are intuitive, accessible, and encourage regular exercise.

But before you shake up what you eat, consult an expert: It is important to discuss any potential diet changes with a trusted healthcare provider.