What Is the Mayo Clinic Diet?

Mayo Clinic Diet

 Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Mayo Clinic Diet is a well-balanced eating pattern structured by a five-tier food pyramid that emphasizes nutrient-dense whole foods to promote health and weight loss. However, there are some versions of the Mayo Clinic Diet found online that are not recommended or approved by the actual Mayo Clinic and not considered nutritionally sound by experts. Some of these fake Mayo Clinic Diets have been around for more than 30 years.

If you are considering the Mayo Clinic Diet to lose weight, you'll want to watch out for these fake diets. Almost all versions suggest that you eat unlimited amounts of high-fat and high-cholesterol foods and limit the number of vegetables you consume. The most unusual rule is that you are required to eat a lot of grapefruit and eggs. The plan claims that eating grapefruit burns fat.

Another fake Mayo Clinic Diet promises you can lose up to 52 pounds in just a couple of months if you follow the plan perfectly. This statement alone should set off warning bells. Weight loss at this rate is generally not possible and is usually not safe. Real Mayo Clinic dietitians, nutritionists, and media personnel have tried to inform the public that these diets are not, and never have been affiliated with the medical organization.

The legitimate Mayo Clinic Diet is safe for almost all followers. Perhaps to counter the fake diets, in 2006, the Mayo Clinic developed "The Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid." It provides healthy eating recommendations and in no way resembles the diet plans that falsely use the clinic's name. The organization also provides an online program and a book to teach its healthy, sustainable approach to weight loss.

The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Mayo Clinic Diet number 5 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 3.8/5. Learn more about the real Mayo Clinic Diet to determine if it's a healthy choice for you.

What Experts Say

"The Mayo Clinic diet is based on eating balanced portions of healthy foods and limiting or avoiding less healthy foods, without too many additional rules. To succeed, preparing and planning what you’re going to eat goes a long way."
Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The real Mayo Clinic Diet is a slow, steady, and reasonable approach to weight loss. The program is based on the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, a five-tier food pyramid that emphasizes nutrient-dense whole foods. Here's a look at what's included in each tier.

  • Base tier: Unlimited consumption of fruits and vegetables is strongly encouraged.
  • Second tier: Whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and whole wheat bread, should be consumed in moderate amounts.
  • Third tier: Protein is OK to consume in moderation—fewer servings than carbs, but more than healthy fats. Protein should come from lean sources, such as legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Fourth tier: Healthy fats make up the second-to-smallest category on the pyramid. Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
  • Fifth tier: Sweets and treats are allowed on occasion, but should be substantially limited.

What You Need to Know

There are two phases to the Mayo Clinic Diet: "Lose It!" and "Live It!". You can reportedly lose six to 10 pounds during the first few weeks of the Lose It phase and then one to two pounds per week after that throughout the "Live It phase.

During the Lose It phase, followers "learn how to add five healthy habits, break five unhealthy habits, and adopt another five bonus healthy habits," according to the Mayo Clinic.

These habits include avoiding snacks (except for fruits and vegetables) and cutting back on meat and full-fat dairy products. The Live It phase is a transition and maintenance period, during which followers "learn more about food choices, portion sizes, menu planning, physical activity, exercise, and sticking to healthy habits."

"The Mayo Clinic Diet Book" is a handy reference, and you can also purchase an accompanying journal to help plan and track meals and progress. "The New Mayo Clinic Diet Cookbook" is a resource for compliant recipes. There's an online subscription program ($52 for 13 weeks), which provides recipes, meal plans, interactive apps and trackers, and personalized workouts. The eating plan can be modified for vegetarians, people who follow a gluten-free diet, and those who adhere to a kosher diet.

The Mayo Clinic also offers "The Mayo Clinic Diabetes Diet" book for people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. As with any weight-loss program, discuss the Mayo Clinic Diet with your doctor prior to starting, particularly if you have diabetes or another health condition, such as heart disease.

What to Eat
  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Whole-grain carbohydrates

  • Lean protein and low-fat dairy products

What Not to Eat
  • Sweets (in excess)

  • Fats (in excess)

  • Refined carbohydrates (in excess)

Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods

Nutrient-dense whole foods are high in nutrients and fiber and low in calories. You can eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want on the Mayo Clinic Diet. Other healthy food groups, such as whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy products, can be consumed in moderation.

If you have diabetes, you may need to limit fruit because of its natural sugars.

Sweets

Sweets are allowed on the Mayo Clinic Diet during the Live It phase only and should be limited to 75 calories a day—or about 500 a week. For instance, you could have a 150- to 200-calorie treat one day, then skip a day or two before having another one. Alcohol is considered a treat and is not permitted during the Lose it phase.

Refined Carbohydrates

No foods are off-limits on this diet, so it's OK to have refined carbohydrates on occasion, such as bread or pasta made from white flour.

In general, choose complex carbs like whole grains over refined carbs like white bread, as they are more nutrient-dense and will keep you fuller for longer.

Sample Shopping List

With few restrictions other than limiting unhealthy processed foods and sugary sweets, there are many foods you can eat while following the Mayo Clinic Diet. The following sample shopping list offers suggestions for getting started. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots)
  • Fresh and frozen fruits (grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas, apples)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, barley, amaranth, brown rice, sourdough, 12-grain bread)
  • Legumes (black beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu)
  • Meat and poultry (lean ground beef, chicken and turkey breast, pork tenderloin)
  • Fresh or frozen fish (halibut, cod, salmon, snapper, sea bass, shrimp)
  • Low-fat dairy products (feta cheese, parmesan, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese)
  • Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, olive oil)
  • Eggs

Sample Meal Plan

The Mayo Clinic Diet focuses on a balanced mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates from whole food sources. Daily meal plans on the Mayo Clinic Diet typically include three meals and a snack. The following three-day meal plan should give you a general sense of what a few days on a well-balanced Mayo Clinic Diet could look like. Note that this meal plan is not all-inclusive, and if you do choose to follow the diet, there may be other meals that you prefer.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

The Mayo Clinic Diet's guidelines advise nixing certain habits such as eating while watching TV, which can lead to overeating. The program aims to teach mindful and intuitive eating to cultivate a healthy relationship with food.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Emphasizes nutritious foods

  • Incorporates lifestyle advice

  • Teaches healthy habits

  • Emphasizes portion control

Cons
  • Restrictive in initial phase

  • Can be time-consuming

The Mayo Clinic Diet is likely to be safe and effective for most people, but it does have some drawbacks to be aware of. Review the pros and cons associated with the diet to inform your decision about trying this plan.

Pros

  • Nutritious foods: The Mayo Clinic Diet's food pyramid reflects solid nutrition standards and recommendations. And the diet also advises limiting processed foods, added sugar, and salt, which is a healthy habit for anyone, whether or not weight loss is the goal.
  • Lifestyle advice: Daily exercise is incorporated right into the base of the food pyramid, emphasizing the link between physical activity, weight loss, and wellness. The diet suggests 30–60 minutes of activity every day. It also points out unhealthy habits, such as eating while watching TV and reminds followers to curb those habits.
  • Portion control vs. calorie counting: The Live It phase of the diet is about sticking with these food choices and healthy habits for life. Instead of counting calories, followers learn how to use portion size to eat healthfully and promote long-term weight management.

Cons

  • Restrictive: This diet can be very limiting during the first phase (Lose It), as followers must completely cut out sugars (except in fruit), alcohol, and restaurant meals. And calorie counts are quite low. However, this is meant to be a short phase to boost motivation through successful weight loss.
  • Time-consuming: If you are not used to eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding refined or processed foods, you will need to learn new ways to shop, plan meals, and cook. It often takes more time to chop and sauté vegetables than it does to throw a burger on the grill or pop a frozen meal into the microwave.

Sometimes the support of a group or a weight loss buddy can make a big difference in the success of a weight loss program. There is no in-person support on the Mayo Clinic Diet, but you could recruit a friend to join you or join an online group to support you on your journey.

Is the Mayo Clinic Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

The real Mayo Clinic Diet is similar to other healthful eating patterns that emphasize lifelong strategies for nutritious eating. The Volumetrics Diet plan resembles the Mayo Clinic Healthy Food Pyramid to determine which foods to emphasize and which to limit. Both diets stress the importance of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and choosing whole grains over refined ones.

The DASH diet is a heart-healthy eating plan designed by medical professionals to help patients lower blood pressure. It also stresses the importance of eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, and is safe and relatively easy to follow. Since it's not designed for weight loss (but for improved health), calorie counting isn't necessary.

There's also the Mediterranean Diet, which mirrors the typical, traditional diet consumed in the Mediterranean region where residents tend to live long, healthy lives. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, and legumes, and is safe and often recommended by doctors. Like the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet is not meant to be a weight-loss diet, but a healthy lifestyle plan. Still, many people do lose weight eating this way.

The Mayo Clinic Diet also reflects federal dietary advice for a well-balanced diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods including protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, and healthy fats. This is comparable to the Mayo Clinic Diet, as are the proportions of recommended macronutrients. The USDA recommends 45–65% carbs, 20–35% fat, and 10–35% protein. In the Live It maintenance phase, the Mayo Clinic's proportions are roughly 57% carbs, 22% fats, and 21% protein.

For a healthy rate of weight loss, the Mayo Clinic Diet recommends 1,200–1,800 calories a day depending on a person's sex and current weight. Since calorie needs are different for everyone, the USDA recommends a general reduction of 500 calories a day to promote weight loss. On a 2,000 calorie diet, this equates to roughly 1,500 calories a day, but this number varies depending on age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. Use this calculator to determine the right daily calorie target to meet your goals.

The Mayo Clinic Diet is closely aligned with federal recommendations for a healthy, balanced diet. This eating plan, especially when combined with regular exercise and healthy eating habits, should be effective for weight loss and weight management for most followers.

Health Benefits

In addition to promoting weight loss and weight management, the Mayo Clinic Diet can also improve overall health. Research shows that similar diets that emphasize real, whole foods and limit processed foods and added sugar may prevent chronic health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and cognitive decline.

Health Risks

While there are no common risks associated with the Mayo Clinic Diet, some people may find it difficult to meet all of their nutritional needs during the restrictive weight loss phase of the plan. The Mayo Clinic Diet makes the following daily calorie recommendations for weight loss for individuals in three different weight categories:

  • 250 pounds or less: 1,200–1,400 calories
  • 251–300 pounds: 1,400 to 1,600 calories
  • 301 pounds or more: 1,600 to 1,800 calories

While research supports low-calorie diets for improved health and weight loss, it's important to make sure that you're still getting enough calories each day to support optimal body function. You'll also want to make sure you have enough energy to fuel your exercise.

It's generally recommended to consult with a doctor or registered dietician before beginning a low-calorie weight loss plan.

A Word From Verywell

The fake versions of the Mayo Clinic Diet are fad diets that promise quick results but are neither healthy nor nutritious. Still, it can be hard to distinguish the fakes from the real deal, especially when a fake version uses a recognizable name like the Mayo Clinic. Before you start any weight-loss plan, make sure you're getting expert advice that is both healthy and medically sound.

If you're not sure about the health or safety of a weight loss program, ask your doctor, a nutritionist or dietician, a certified health coach, or a personal trainer in order to spot a weight loss scam. You can count on the real Mayo Clinic Diet to be based on sound nutritional advice.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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