Wait, the Mediterranean Diet didn't make the list?

Karla Walsh
June 11, 2020
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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) just released a survey jam-packed with the insider details about how 1,011 Americans eat, drink and shop during this unique, ever-changing year.

While the report is full of interesting details about how Americans are eating differently during the pandemic (cooking at home more often, washing produce more thoroughly) and how many feel well versed in the current dietary guidelines (less than one in four), what we found most fascinating was the data about diets. Of those surveyed, 43% say they have followed a specific diet or eating pattern within the past 12 months, which is up 5% from the same time last year and 7% since 2018.

Can you guess the most popular diets of 2020? Nope, it's not Mediterranean or WW. According to the research lead by Ali Webster, Ph.D., R.D., a registered dietitian and the director of research and nutrition communications at the IFIC, the most-followed eating plans are:

In 2019, clean eating topped the charts at 10%, with intermittent fasting close behind at 9%. Gluten-free, low-carb and ketogenic or high-fat tied for third most popular (6%). Paleo and Whole30 started to decrease in popularity that year.

"The two most popular are those that offer a level of customization. There is no exact definition of 'clean eating.' There is no one way to do intermittent fasting [here are a few methods], and there aren't any boundaries on what you can or can't eat," Webster says. "People are able to adapt these eating patterns to what works for them, rather than having to conform to a specific set of rules."

Those flexible formats are followed closely by a couple diets that are much more about the numbers: ketogenic/high-fat (80% fat, 15 to 20% protein and less than 5% carbs) and low-carb (often less than 60 grams of carbs per day).

"These diets are trends that have staying power, at least over the last few years," Webster says.

She, like us, was surprised to see proven longevity-boosting plans like the Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet absent from the list. (BTW, this is the #1 food to help you live longer, according to one longevity expert.)

"As a dietitian, I think it's important to make recommendations that are grounded in science and a large body of evidence to support their use. Eating patterns like the Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet have been extensively studied and have shown beneficial health effects in many populations. Ultimately, the best eating plan is one that is based on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats," she says.

Even more popular than any of these popular diets? Snacking.

"Nearly 4 in 10 replace meals with snacking at least occasionally, with lunch being the most common meal that is replaced," Webster says. (Try these quick, light lunches if you're crunched for time—you deserve real snacks and meals.)