February 20, 2024

Some diets can be difficult to stick to, causing people to lose motivation.

Unlike many short-term options, the Mayo Clinic Diet aims to be a sustainable plan that you can follow for life.

Rather than banning certain foods, it focuses on replacing unhealthy behaviors with ones that are more likely to support weight loss.

This article reviews whether the Mayo Clinic Diet can help you lose weight.

DIET REVIEW SCORECARD

  • Overall score: 4.46
  • Weight loss: 4.5
  • Healthy eating: 5
  • Sustainability: 4
  • Whole body health: 4.25
  • Nutrition quality: 5
  • Evidence based: 4

BOTTOM LINE: The Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced meal plan that focuses on healthy foods and regular exercise. Because it significantly cuts calories, it’s probably helpful for weight loss. That said, it may be restrictive and hard to follow.

The Mayo Clinic Diet was developed by weight loss experts at the Mayo Clinic, one of the top hospital systems in the United States. It’s based on the original Mayo Clinic Diet book, which was first published in 1949 and was most recently updated in 2017.

The Mayo Clinic Diet is a membership-based program that uses a pyramid illustration to guide people on the diet through diet and exercise.

The program includes preapproved meals and recipes, with a range of diet plans to choose from, such as Mediterranean, keto, vegetarian, and high protein.

It also provides access to educational content, virtual group sessions with Mayo Clinic doctors, a digital platform with a food tracker and other tools to help reinforce health-promoting habits, and practical at-home, equipment-free workouts.

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid is divided into three sections that provide guidance on food and lifestyle choices. Fruits, vegetables, and physical activity make up the base of the pyramid, meaning these are the fundamentals of your diet and lifestyle.

Each layer upward gets smaller, representing less of what you’re eating. Carbs comprise the next layer, followed by protein, fats, and finally, sweets.

While the pyramid defines carbs as breads and grains, note that certain starchy vegetables — like corn and potatoes — also count as carbs in this diet.

The diet encourages you to eat moderate portion sizes and teaches you how to plan your meals around its food pyramid, which has some resemblance to MyPlate guidelines — current nutrition guidelines, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — which replaced the MyPyramid guide in 2011.

Both promote the intake of whole grains, a variety of vegetables, whole fruits, and low fat protein and dairy. They also encourage you to fill half your plate with fruits and veggies and limit your fat and sugar intake (1).

However, the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid also emphasizes exercise as an essential component of a healthier life — something MyPlate doesn’t mention. In addition, since the Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on weight loss and maintenance, it recommends smaller portions than you may see in MyPlate and other food proportion tools.

There are two phases in the Mayo Clinic Diet:

  • “Lose it!”: The first two weeks are designed to jumpstart your weight loss.
  • “Live it!”: The second phase is meant to be followed for life.

The first phase of the diet focuses on 15 habits — 5 you should break, 5 new habits you should form, and 5 “bonus” habits to optimize your results.

You’re encouraged to do the following to break certain habits:

  1. Avoid eating added sugar.
  2. Refrain from snacking, except for fruits and vegetables.
  3. Don’t eat too much meat and full fat dairy.
  4. Never eat while watching TV.
  5. Avoid eating out — unless the food you order follows the diet’s rules.

You’re advised to develop these habits:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast.
  2. Consume at least four servings of vegetables and fruits per day.
  3. Eat whole grains like brown rice and barley.
  4. Focus on healthy fats like olive oil, while limiting saturated fats and avoid trans fats.
  5. Walk or exercise for 30 minutes or more every day.

Bonus habits to adopt include keeping food and activity journals, exercising for 60 minutes or more per day, and avoiding processed foods.

How does it work?

The first phase, which lasts for 2 weeks, is designed to result in weight loss of 6–10 pounds (2.7–4.5 kg).

Afterward, you transition to the “Live it!” phase, during which you follow the same rules — but you’re allowed occasional breaks.

While the diet’s advocates claim that you do not have to count calories, the Mayo Clinic Diet still restricts calories. Your calorie needs are determined based on your starting weight and range from 1,200–1,600 calories per day for women and 1,400–1,800 for men.

The diet then suggests how many servings of vegetables, fruits, carbs, protein, dairy, and fats you should eat based on your calorie goals.

For example, on a 1,400-calorie plan, you’re allowed 4 or more servings each of vegetables and fruits, 5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of protein or dairy, and 3 servings of fats.

The Mayo Clinic Diet defines a serving of fruit as the size of a tennis ball and a serving of protein as the size of a deck of cards, or approximately 3 ounces (85 grams).

The diet is designed to reduce intake by 500–1,000 calories per day during the second phase so that you lose 1–2 pounds (0.5–1 kg) per week. If you are losing weight too quickly, you can add more calories.

As you reach your desired weight, you should eat the number of calories that allows you to maintain your weight.

The Mayo Clinic Diet may help you lose weight for several reasons.

It encourages exercise alongside a nutritious diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — all of which may aid weight loss.

Eating foods high in fiber may boost weight loss by decreasing hunger and making you feel full for a longer period of time.

In one study involving over 3,000 people at risk for diabetes, a diet high in fiber from fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fat was linked to a lower weight after 1 year compared to people who did not increase their fiber intake (2).

Additionally, studies show that exercising while on a lower calorie diet is more effective at promoting weight loss than dieting alone.

For example, a review of 66 studies found that combining low calorie diets with exercise — especially resistance training — is more effective at promoting weight and fat loss than dieting alone.

Plus, simultaneous dieting and exercise helps retain more muscle mass, which could further promote weight loss by boosting metabolism (3).

The only research on the Mayo Clinic Diet comes from the Mayo Clinic itself and has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Thus, no independent studies exist on the effectiveness of the Mayo Clinic Diet.

More research is necessary to determine whether it’s effective for weight loss.

The Mayo Clinic Diet is based on several habits that may benefit your health.

Firstly, it encourages the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Studies show that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality (4).

Second, the Mayo Clinic Diet recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, which can reduce your risk of certain chronic conditions, including diabetes and heart disease.

Exercise may help prevent diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity, resulting in lower blood sugar levels (5).

Regular exercise is also associated with improved heart health, as it decreases inflammation and reduces risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol (6).

Finally, the Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on behavior-based changes, such as exercise and adding fruits and vegetables to your routine. Behavioral-based weight loss interventions may result in greater weight loss compared with other diets.

In a large review of 124 studies involving over 62,000 people, participants in behavior-based weight loss programs lost more weight, regained less weight, and had a lower risk of diabetes than those in control groups (7).

The biggest downside of the diet is that it can be demanding and labor-intensive.

You are responsible for planning your meals, grocery shopping, and preparing your food in accordance with the guidelines, so you can expect to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Furthermore, the diet discourages some foods that may provide health benefits and important nutrients, such as egg yolks.

Following the Mayo Clinic Diet may not be convenient. Eating out can be difficult, and snacks are restricted to fruits and vegetables.

Despite not being a supplement-based diet, following the Mayo Clinic Diet can still become quite pricey when you combine the associated membership prices, which range from 20–$50 per month, with the higher cost of whole grain products.

Also, while cutting out all processed foods and exercising daily are great habits to incorporate into your daily life, doing it within a 2-week time frame can be challenging, which could make it difficult for some to stick to the plan.

Finally, the Mayo Clinic Diet is high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you switch from eating a low fiber diet to the Mayo Clinic Diet, you may experience temporary bloating and gas. This is because dietary fiber gets partially fermented in your intestines, promoting gas production and retention (8).

The Mayo Clinic Diet’s food pyramid allows you a certain number of servings from various food groups.

For example, a 1,400-calorie plan includes 4 or more servings each of vegetables and fruits, 5 servings of carbs, 4 servings of protein or dairy, and 3 servings of fats.

While no foods are strictly off-limits, some foods are recommended over others.

The diet recommends:

  • fruits: fresh, frozen, or canned in juice or water — including up to 4 ounces (120 mL) a day of 100% fruit juice
  • vegetables: fresh or frozen
  • whole grains: cereal, oatmeal, whole grain bread, pasta, and brown or wild rice
  • protein: canned beans, low sodium tuna, other fish, skinless white meat poultry, egg whites, tofu
  • dairy: low fat or fat free yogurt, cheese, and milk
  • fats: unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts

The Mayo Clinic Diet also discourages overconsumption of sweets — including cookies, pastries, table sugar, and so on — for as long as you’re following the plan. In fact, during the first phase, you should avoid sweets entirely.

It’s only in the second phase that the restriction loosens slightly. In that phase, you’re allowed up to 75 calories per day of sweets.

Alcohol falls into the same boat as sweets and sugar under the Mayo Clinic Diet’s treatment and counts towards the 75 calories allotted to sweets during the second phase.

No foods are completely banned on the Mayo Clinic Diet plan.

During the “Lose it!” phase, alcohol and added sugars are prohibited, but after the first 2 weeks, you can have up to 75 calories of sweets or alcoholic beverages per day.

Foods you should limit or avoid on the Mayo Clinic Diet include:

  • fruits: fruits canned in syrup, more than 4 ounces (120 mL) a day of 100% fruit juice, and juice products that are not 100% fruit
  • vegetables: starchy vegetables, such as corn and potatoes — which count as carb choices
  • carbohydrates: white flour — such as in white breads and pastas — and refined sugars, such as table sugar
  • protein: meats high in saturated fats, such as ground beef and sausages
  • dairy: full fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • fats: saturated fats, such as those in egg yolks, butter, coconut oil, and red meats, as well as trans fats found in processed foods
  • sweets: more than 75 calories per day of candies, pastries, cookies, cake, or alcoholic beverages (during the first phase you should completely avoid this category)

Here is a 3-day sample menu for a 1,200-calorie plan. Higher calorie plans will include more servings of carbs, protein, dairy, and fats.

Day one

  • Breakfast: 3/4 cup (68 grams) of oatmeal, 1 apple, and black coffee or tea
  • Lunch: 2 cups (472 grams) of mixed greens with 3 ounces (85 grams) of tuna, 1/2 cup (43 grams) of low fat shredded cheese, 1 whole wheat toast slice with 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of margarine, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of blueberries
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of tilapia cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) of olive oil, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of roasted potatoes, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of cauliflower
  • Snacks: 1 orange and 1 cup (125 grams) of baby carrots with 8 whole grain crackers

Day two

  • Breakfast: 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of margarine, 3 egg whites, 1 pear, and black coffee or tea
  • Lunch: 3 ounces (85 grams) of grilled chicken, 1 cup (180 grams) of steamed asparagus, 6 ounces (170 grams) of low fat yogurt, and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of raspberries
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of shrimp cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of olive oil, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of brown rice, and 1 cup (150 grams) of broccoli
  • Snacks: half a banana and 1 cup (100 grams) of sliced cucumbers with 2 rice cakes

Day three

  • Breakfast: 3/4 cup (30 grams) of oat bran flakes, 1 cup (240 mL) of skim milk, half a banana, and black coffee or tea
  • Lunch: 1 slice of whole wheat toast with 3 ounces (85 grams) of sliced turkey, 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) of margarine, and 1 1/2 cups of grapes
  • Dinner: 1 cup (100 grams) of cooked whole wheat pasta, 1/2 cup (120 grams) of low fat tomato sauce, 3 ounces (85 grams) of grilled chicken breast, and 1/2 cup (58 grams) of green beans cooked in 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) of olive oil
  • Snacks: 1 pear and 10 cherry tomatoes

The Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced meal plan focused on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Cooking your own meals from scratch and exercising daily are key complements to the meal plan.

The diet possibly aids weight loss, but no comprehensive studies exist.

While the meal plan does not require you to count calories, it recommends servings of various food groups based on a target calorie level.

If you’re looking for a diet that you can maintain for life, the Mayo Clinic Diet is a balanced option.

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