Diets to Lower the BMI

If you're contemplating starting a diet to lower your BMI, you're looking for a weight loss diet. BMI, or body mass index, is a measure of your weight related to your height, so if your weight deceases, so does your BMI. A higher BMI increases your risk for chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, so it makes sense to find a diet to lower it. Many popular diets promise quick weight loss, but a few have stood the test of time for losing the weight and keeping it off.

A low carb meal of grilled salmon over spring mix salad can help you to lower your BMI. (Image: Sarah K. Lee/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images)

The DASH Diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet was originally designed to be a heart-healthy diet that lowers blood pressure, not a weight-loss diet. But because of the focus on whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the diet is high in fiber, which helps you feel full so you may eat less overall. You'll also include lean proteins, low-fat dairy and healthy oils to limit saturated fat, but you can still enjoy sweets in moderation, several times a week. Choosing lower-sodium foods is a key component of the plan, and it's what makes it helpful for controlling blood pressure. Following DASH gives you the flexibility to cook with regular foods from the grocery store and still enjoy dinner out at sit-down restaurants -- as opposed to fast food joints -- as long as you're careful to order lower-sodium options.

Ranked as the number 1 diet of 2016 by U.S. News and World Report, based on its safety, nutrition, effectiveness and how easy it is to follow, DASH also gets high marks from professional health organizations. Both the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agree that it's effective for weight loss.

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers has helped men and women lower their BMIs and lose weight. It's ranked as the number one weight loss diet and number four diet overall, according to U.S. News and World Report. The WW program is popular for its meetings, which provide support and weigh-ins for dieters. In late 2015, WW introduced its new SmartPoints system, in which foods are assigned point values based on their calorie, protein, sugar and saturated fat content. Dieters are assigned a certain number of points they can eat each day, and while Weight Watchers doesn't exclude any food on its program, they do encourage you to eat healthy every day. A fee is required to join, and to be eligible for the program you must weigh at least five pounds over the minimum weight for your height, according to the Weight Watchers website.

Plant-Based Diets

Both the Mediterranean and vegetarian diets fit the description of plant-based eating, which you may have already tried, or at least contemplated. Following a plant-based diet doesn't mean you're limited to bean sprouts and tofu at every meal, because there's a lot of variation in vegetarian diet plans. While people who eat a "vegan" diet abstain from all animal products, other vegetarian plans include non-flesh animal foods such as eggs, dairy products and honey. All vegetarian diets include fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, so they're high in fiber and antioxidants. As an added bonus, people who follow a vegetarian diet have lower BMIs overall, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.

If totally giving up meat isn't your style, a plant-based diet can still be in your future. The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, heart healthy oils -- such as olive and canola -- beans, and occasional proteins such as lean beef, poultry, and fish. Eating fiber and whole grains -- which you'd do on a plant-based diet -- has been associated with lower BMI, according to a 2009 article published in Public Health Nutrition.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins, promote weight loss by using fat for fuel instead of the body's preferred fuel source, carbs. Atkins has several plans to choose from, including Atkins 20 and 40, with the number referring to the number of grams of carbohydrate you're allowed to eat on each program. The Atkins plans focus on protein, vegetables, nuts and seeds, cheese, and healthy fats with an initial strict limitation of dairy, fruits, legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grains. As the diet progresses, though, you can add slowly carb-containing foods each week, up to a certain limit.

The Paleo diet, which works much in the same way as Atkins, focuses on animal proteins, nonstarchy vegetables and some fruits. Foods restricted on the paleo diet include grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, salt, potatoes and processed food. By eliminating processed food and sugar and continuing to eat normal servings of the allowed foods, you'll lose weight and reduce your BMI.

Very-low-carbohydrate diets are effective for short-term weight loss and for lowering your BMI, but their effects on long-term health are not so convincing. Most of the protein comes from animal sources, and research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2012 concluded that a diet based primarily on animal proteins, instead of vegetable protein sources, may put you at a higher risk of death in the long term. Research from a 2007 article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition came to the same conclusion.

Add Physical Activity to your Diet

With any diet plan, you will find an emphasis on physical activity, because of its importance on cardiovascular health. Exercise helps accelerate weight loss and may help lower your BMI faster than dieting alone. Cardiovascular exercise, especially when it's performed at moderate to high intensity and for more than 30 minutes, can help your body burn fat. Strength training is equally important in helping you build and maintain lean muscle mass.

Speak with your medical provider before starting any type of new diet or exercise program. She may have suggestions based on your current health or be able to refer you to a specialist or a registered dietitian to aid in your efforts to lower your BMI.

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