Everything you need to know about the Mayo Clinic diet

The Mayo Clinic diet was developed by researchers at the well-known Mayo Clinic that couples smart food choices with regular physical activity.

Because of the diet’s association with a respected medical facility, it may inspire a higher trust level for those concerned about meeting nutritional needs when following the plan.

To their credit, the Mayo Clinic’s website also provides information about other diets, such as Mediterranean, DASH, TLC and others, including low carb plans like the Atkins diet. (1) Comparisons of how these diets stack up in regard to sustainability, restrictions, and effectiveness are offered.

Since everyone has unique health conditions and needs, browsing feedback on other diets from Mayo Clinic professionals can be helpful when making lifestyle decisions.

The Mayo Clinic diet uses the pyramid shape to visually demonstrate the percentage of each food group in the plan. (2) This approach is familiar from the long-standing method used by the US Department of Agriculture to convey government recommendations for nutritional composition of daily food intake.

Official government representations of a healthy diet have been changed to a plate-shaped illustration (3) with modifications that include more vegetables and fewer foods in the carbohydrate group. Some experts, including nutritionists at the Harvard School of Public Health, believe even the updated USDA version is flawed (4), perhaps due in part to the influence of lobbyists with financial interests in the guide.

The Mayo Clinic diet recommends that vegetables and fruits account for an even greater percentage of food intake than the USDA proposes. The base of the Mayo Clinic pyramid is shared half and half by fruits and vegetables, with carbohydrates next up, followed by protein and dairy, and the tip is sweets.

While there haven’t been any official studies of the Mayo Clinic diet, it’s similar to many popular diets in the emphasis on more fruits and vegetables. This configuration appears to show great promise for dieters looking to correct and prevent health issues like obesity, heart disease, and high cholesterol, as well as supporting ecological sustainability. (5, 6, 7)

Mayo Clinic Menu

The first two weeks of the Mayo Clinic diet require forgoing anything with sugar (except the natural sugar found in fruits) and not partaking of any alcoholic drinks.

The emphasis is on whole and natural foods; anything that’s highly processed won’t help you establish good eating habits or drop the weight you want to lose. Any foods containing trans fats are out, and you should avoid or restrict foods rich in saturated fats and cholesterol, so that means go light on red meat, cheese and eggs.

The first phase of the diet is called “lose It!” and dieters follow this protocol until goal weight is achieved. The claim is that most people lose between 6 and 10 pounds during the first two weeks. (8)

Here’s what you can eat daily:

  • 4 or more servings of vegetables
  • 4 or more servings of fruits
  • 5 servings of carbohydrate foods, like brown rice and whole grains
  • 4 servings of lean protein, like chicken or fish, and legumes
  • 3 servings of fat, focusing on unsaturated fats, such as almonds, avocados and olives

The serving sizes above are based on a 1,400 calorie daily allowance. One fruit serving is about the size of a tennis ball. A protein serving is no larger than a deck of playing cards. (9)

Studies show that the oversize servings common in American restaurants can be a contributing factor to over-eating (10), and the Mayo Clinic diet encourages portions in keeping with actual nutritional requirements.

You won’t be counting calories, but sticking with the guidelines for portion control is integral to succeeding on this plan. The allowable extra servings of fruits and vegetables can help if you feel unsatisfied or deprived.

Eating while watching television gets a firm thumbs-down. This is recommended ongoing, since the originators of the Mayo Clinic diet believe behavioral changes that discourage mindless eating are key to dropping weight and keeping it off over the long term.

Living It

When following the Mayo Clinic diet, you will likely lose a pound or two each week as long as you follow the guidelines. Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you’ll enter the next phase of the plan, which is called “Live It!”

Engaging in the new habits you establish in phase one of the Mayo Clinic diet is vital. Avoiding problem foods like trans fats, and keeping portion sizes appropriate for your needs are important for long term results.

Eating some pizza or enjoying a bowl of ice cream is something many people want to do now and then, and the Mayo Clinic diet recognizes it’s important to feel like that’s allowable. Try to postpone deviations until you reach your goal weight and enter the maintenance phase.

Occasional indulgence is definitely allowed. But remember, it’s not a treat if you do it every day, or even twice a week.

Get Moving

The other important part of the Mayo Clinic diet is exercise. Establishing daily exercise as a non-negotiable habit is part of the lifestyle changes recommended along with the eating plan. It’s also integral to improving and maintaining health. (11)

It’s not necessary to run a marathon, although you’ll find success stories on the Mayo Clinic’s website posted by happy dieters who decided to take on challenging physical goals after losing excess weight on the plan. You’re more likely to stick with activities you enjoy. (12)

Keeping an exercise journal over a period of a few weeks may be another helpful habit to develop, and is recommended as part of the lifestyle modifications for the Mayo Clinic diet. Whether or not you decide to keep track of your activity level, try to start with 30 to 60 minutes of moderate daily exercise, even if it’s only a brisk walk or working in the yard.

The best way to keep off excess weight lost on any program is to adopt the positive habits ongoing. (13) The Mayo Clinic diet is a potential avenue for anyone to reach weight goals and live a healthier life.


  1. http://www.mayoclinic.org/documents/diet-types-examples/doc-20137240
  2. http://www.leyden212.org/healthcare/east/food%20pyramid%20an%20option%20for%20better%20eating%20-%20mayoclinic_com.ht
  3. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/
  4. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid-full-story/
  5. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/10-chapter-5/d5-3.asp
  6. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/pdfs/scientific-report-of-the-2015-dietary-guidelines-advisory-committee.pdf
  7. http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=9246
  8. http://www.webmd.com/diet/mayo-clinic-diet
  9. http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mayo-clinic-diet
  10. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/portion_size_research.pdf,
  11. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/
  12. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/GettingActive/Getting-Started—Tips-for-Long-term-Exercise-Success_UCM_307979_Article.jsp
  13. http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/
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