Have you heard of the DASH diet? Earlier this year, health professionals at U.S. News & World Report ranked 29 of the “Best Overall Diets,” and the winner was the DASH diet. The diets were judged based on the following categories: short-term weight loss, long-term weight loss, easiness to follow, nutrition, safety, best for diabetes and best for heart health.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet was devised by the National Institutes of Health in the 1990s with the original purpose of developing a diet to help lower blood pressure.
By following the DASH diet, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure a few points in just a couple weeks. Because it is intended to be a lifelong approach to healthy eating, additional benefits of the diet include protection against osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The diet emphasizes portion size, which helps with weight loss. And, it is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and low-fat dairy, while limiting added sugar, red meat and added fats.
What exactly do you eat on a DASH diet?
A key goal of the DASH diet is to limit how much sodium you eat. The foods at the core of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium.
Plus, it is recommended that you limit foods that have more than 300 mg sodium per serving, season your food with spices rather than salt, and purchase no-salt-added products, when possible.
Choose whole grains, like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and whole-grain breads. Why? Whole-grains have more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.
Eat vegetables and lots of them — four to five servings a day. A serving would be 1 cup of leafy green vegetables, like lettuce, or ½ cup of raw or cooked vegetable. How can you possibly eat that many? Be creative: use more vegetables and less meat in your combination dishes; add cut up or pureed vegetables to spaghetti sauce or meatloaf; snack on raw veggies and salsa, instead of chips; or start your meal with a salad.
Eat four to five servings of fruits daily. Throw a few berries, raisins or a sliced banana in your morning cereal or yogurt, eat whole fruit for snacks, have fruit salad for dessert or add some fruit to your lettuce salad.
Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Dairy is an important source of calcium, vitamin D and protein, but full-fat dairy can be a major source of fat.
Aim for two to three servings a day. Go easy on the cheese, though, as even the lower-fat cheeses are typically high in sodium.
Lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs are all rich in protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
Page 2 of 2 - But because even lean meats contain fat and cholesterol, you should limit your intake to 6 ounces a day. Include fish at least twice a week, and limit eggs to one a day. Be sure to trim any skin or fat from the meat and cook with little, if any, additional fat.
Eat nuts, seeds or beans four to five times a week. Nuts and seeds do have a lot of calories, but they contain a healthy type of fat and are a good source of magnesium, potassium and protein. Beans are full of protein, fiber and phytochemicals that help protect against heart disease. Serving sizes are small — just a palmful of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds or ½ cup cooked beans.
Limit fats and oils. We need some fat in our diet to help our body absorb essential nutrients. But, we don’t need much — just two to three servings a day.
A serving is 1 teaspoon of oil or butter, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of a light salad dressing.
Limit your sweets to five or fewer servings a week. This includes sodas and other sweetened beverages, baked goods, candy, jelly and sugar added to foods or beverages. Sugar provides no nutrients other than calories, which can lead to weight gain.
For more information about the DASH diet, download a free booklet from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute online at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.