Ask the dietitian – 2022 top diets


Ask the dietitian – 2022 top diets

An estimated 25 million Americans diet every year. The driving forces behind an individual’s commitment to dieting ranges but most are seeking to become a healthier version of themselves.

We sat down with registered dietitian Kerry Menn to discuss the trending diets of 2022.  

Q. 11% of consumers are following or plan to follow a Mediterranean diet in 2022, according to NielsenIQ Homescan Omnibus from December 2021.

What types of foods and ingredients are central to the Mediterranean diet? 

A. The foundation of the Mediterranean diet is plant-based foods like whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices. Meals should be built around these foods with fish and seafoods, dairy, and poultry added in moderation throughout the week. 

An important element of the Mediterranean diet is choosing healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds. These fat sources contain monounsaturated fats, which may help lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (also referred as “bad” cholesterol since it can lead to plaque build in blood vessels). 

 Additionally, this diet recommends selecting fatty fish like mackerel, albacore tuna, and salmon that provide omega-3s, which can help with inflammation, lower triglycerides, and may help reduce the risk of stroke and heart failure. While the Mediterranean diet doesn’t completely exclude any foods, red meat, wine, and sweets should only be consumed occasionally.  

Interestingly, NielsenIQ Omnibus Survey reveals there is a stronger intent of adaptation to the Mediterranean diet as incomes increased: 

  • Income under $20,000- 9.4% 
  • Income $20,000- $29,999- 9.8% 
  • Income $30,000- $39,999 – 9.7% 
  • Income $40,000- $49,999 – 9.9% 
  • Income $50,000- $69,999 – 10.0% 
  • Income $70,000- $99,999 – 11.7% 
  • Income $100,000 – 13.3% 

A critical part of Mediterranean diet that is not ingredient-based, rather, it is lifestyle-oriented. The diet also recommends regular physical activity like walking and enjoying meals with loved ones. 

Q. Overall, the diets that ranked in the top 5 spots are: Mediterranean, DASH, Flexitarian, MIND, TLC, Mayo Clinic, WW (formerly Weight Watchers), and Volumetrics.

Of these, the DASH diet also saw an increase in sales versus past year by 16.5% for products that qualify for the DASH attribute, corresponding to the increase in plant-based sales mentioned in the previous question.

What similarities do these diets share and where might they differentiate the most?

A. The top five diets center around consuming primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. They also allow for individualization without too much restriction.  

While they do recommend reducing things like sweets, red meats, and alcohol, they generally advocate for increased consumption of healthier foods like those plant-based items and lean proteins like fish, chicken, and meat substitutes. Generally, these diets encourage more lifestyle changes to help people make healthy choices rather than a structured diet.  

While the DASH Diet, Mediterranean Diet, MIND (a hybrid of DASH and Mediterranean), and the Flexitarian diet (a vegetarian diet that allows for occasional meat) don’t generally focus on quantifying food intake, the TLC, Mayo Clinic, WW, and Volumetrics do require some level of counting or measuring. 

The TLC diet has specific cholesterol and saturated fat limits. WW also uses nutrients like calories, saturated fat, protein, and sugar to calculate point values for foods while also including zero-point foods (includes things like fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins). WW does require payment and uses an app to provide a detailed and individualized plan which provides a specific number of points per day to consume.  

Volumetrics and Mayo Clinic are less prescriptive in the methods of measurement. Volumetrics places foods into four groups and emphasizes eating more of groups one and two (fruits and vegetables, nonfat milk, grains, low-fat meat, legumes) and less of categories three and four (snack foods, desserts/candies, nuts, butter/oils). Mayo Clinic requires a paid app to track the diet, which is a more updated pyramid type diet that recommends more nutritious foods for the same amount calories.  

Q. Online diet searches return a mix of restrictive diets. According to NielsenIQ Label Insight e-commerce consumer search data, year-over-year searches for low carbohydrate diets like ketogenic and Atkins increased modestly at 13% and 8%, while searches for WW and Whole30 went down by 42% and 24%, respectively.

Products with these diet claims are increasing in sales compared to last year like ketogenic, up 132%, and Whole30, up 59.5%, while Atkins, which fell slightly in sales when claimed (-10.5%), saw an increase in the sales of products that qualify for the diet by 16.9%.

What similarities do these diets share and where do they differ? Can they be harmful?

A. The biggest commonality between these diets is the amount of restriction. The specific restrictions differ—most of them have long lists of foods that are excluded (or in the case of the Dukan diet, have a short list of foods to consume) and some restrict entire food groups.

One of the most common restrictions is carbohydrates. The Dukan, Atkins, and Ketogenic diets all focus on reducing carbohydrates to a very low level with the intent to enter ketosis, a process where the body starts using fat to produce ketones for energy rather than glucose from carbohydrates. These low carbohydrate diets focus on higher fat and/or higher protein to make up for the decrease in carbohydrate intake.

The Atkins and ketogenic diets, which are very similar, focus more on moderate increases in both fat and protein, while the Dukan diet primarily focuses on increased protein with an entire day dedicated to only consuming protein foods.

The Whole30 diet however, is very different from the other three diets. Whole30 is only meant to be done for 30 days as an elimination diet while Atkins, keto, and the Dukan diet are meant to be long-term diets. Whole30 eliminates nearly all but “real foods” like whole, unprocessed (or minimally processed) versions of meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, natural fats, herbs, spices, and seasonings. Then it recommends dieters slowly add foods back in to “reset” the body.

While these diets may result in weight loss, they also have drawbacks. One of the main issues with these diets is because they exclude many foods that are generally nutrient-dense (like whole grains, some fruits and vegetables, and legumes) they can result in micronutrient deficiencies.

These restrictions also make these diets very difficult to sustain long term and can lead to yo-yo dieting as well. Low carbohydrates diets are not inherently dangerous; however, they can be for people on certain Type 2 diabetes medications, with uncontrolled diabetes or severe kidney disease.

There are also temporary side effects when switching to a low carbohydrate that include but are not limited to dizziness, headaches/brain fog, fatigue, and constipation. Finally, protein consumed in large amounts, as recommended with the Dukan diet, has been found to put strain on the kidneys and could lead to long-term kidney damage. It is always a good idea to talk to a doctor before switching to one of these diets as the results may differ person-to-person.

Q. What direction do we see consumer goods on-package diet claims going in?   

A. In general, the more commonly searched diets also tend to be claimed more than the more highly rated diets, as stated in your previous question. The other diets did not appear in as many searches, which may point to why these diets are not frequently claimed on package.  

This trend is also supported by a survey conducted by NielsenIQ in which 17.8% and 6.4% of households stated they follow a low carbohydrate and ketogenic diet, while only 11.2% and 5.8% of households follow lifestyle diets like the Mediterranean diet and flexitarian diets, respectively. 

While many popular diets are featured in more on-package claims, many products that qualify for one of NielsenIQ Label Insights’ derived attributes are not currently making on-package claims. Only 2.7% of products meeting the ketogenic definition make an on-package claim. Similarly, only 1.5% of Whole30, and less than 1% of Atkins products make any on-package claims. 

When compared against NielsenIQ sales data, products with on-package claims generally experience sales growth. In the NielsenIQ Product Insight database there are: 

  • ~1,946 products bought or sold within the last year claiming to be ketogenic (with a corresponding increase in sales over the last two years of 132%) 
  • 760 products claiming to be Whole30 
  • 115 products with Atkins diet claims 
  • 336 products claiming to be suitable for WW 
  • Few to no products claiming the DASH diet, Mediterranean diet, TLC, MIND, Mayo Clinic, or Volumetric 

Q. Which diet attributes does NielsenIQ Label Insight support through Nielsen Product Insight? 

A. The next generation Nielsen Product Insight, powered by NielsenIQ Label Insight, uses on-package claims and certifications to determine if the products states any of the following diets: DASH, Atkins, ketogenic diet, and Whole30.  

NielsenIQ Label Insight also uses information from the ingredient declaration and nutrition facts panel to determine if a product qualifies for the diets, even if it is not stated on-package. There are both “stated” and “qualified” versions of vegetarian and vegan diets that may be helpful in determining products that could fit within the flexitarian lifestyle.