DASH Diet

DASH Diet
DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure – not specifically as an all-purpose diet, but experts give it high marks all around.

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure – not specifically as an all-purpose diet, but experts give it high marks all around.

Overview

The aim: Preventing and lowering high blood pressure (hypertension).

The claim: A healthy eating pattern is key to deflating high blood pressure – and it may not hurt your waistline, either.

The theory: Nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fiber are crucial to fending off or fighting high blood pressure. You don’t have to track each one, though. Just emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods and tropical oils, and sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Top it all off by cutting back on salt, and voila!

Rankings

DASH Diet ranked #1 in Best Diets Overall. 40 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

DASH Diet is ranked:

-#1 (tie) in Best Diets Overall
-#6 (tie) in Best Weight-Loss Diets
-#2 in Best Diabetes Diets
-#1 (tie) in Best Diets for Healthy Eating
-#25 (tie)in Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
-#1 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets
-#4 in Easiest Diets to Follow

How does DASH Diet work?

First, decide how much you want to read. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which helped develop DASH, publishes free guides on the plan. One (PDF here) is 20 pages while another (PDF here) is six. Both take you through the same process of determining how many calories you should eat for your age and activity level, tell you where those calories should come from and remind you to go easy on salt. It’s as simple as that.

For a 2,000-calorie diet, you should shoot each day (unless otherwise noted) for six to eight servings of grains; four to five each of veggies and fruit; two to three of fat-free or low-fat dairy; six or fewer of lean meat, poultry and fish, with one serving being equivalent to an ounce; four to five (a week) of nuts, seeds and legumes; two to three of fats and oils; and five or fewer (a week) of sweets. DASH suggests capping sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day and eventually working to stay at about 1,500 milligrams.

It’s OK to ease into DASH. Try adding just one vegetable serving to a meal, and a fruit serving to another. Go (sort of) vegetarian by preparing two or more meat-free dishes each week. And start using the herbs and spices hiding in the back of the pantry – they’ll make you forget the salt’s not on the table. Meanwhile, you’ll be encouraged to stick to a regular physical activity program.

As for weight loss, you’re advised to ask your doctor about how to best tailor your plan. Because DASH emphasizes so many healthful foods, it can easily support weight loss. Just move more and eat slightly less, says the NHLBI.

WHAT CAN I EAT?

Easy omelet
Combine eggs, chives and reduced fat cheddar cheese into a quick breakfast that can provide you with a foundation for the day. You may also consider adding veggies, such as spinach or asparagus.

Bran flakes
Breakfast needn’t be complicated. Pour a bowl of bran flakes or shredded wheat, douse in low-fat milk and top with blueberries or sliced peaches to sweeten without added sugar.

Chicken salad sandwich
Between two slices of whole-wheat bread, and paired with lettuce and tomato, unsalted chicken salad topped with regular Dijon mustard can satisfy without leading to a post-lunch afternoon slump.

Minestrone soup
From tomatoes to diced carrots and chopped celery, plus red kidney beans or chickpeas – this hearty garden in a bowl, which also includes pasta, will satisfy any lunchtime craving.

Yogurt
For a quick snack on the run, grab a nonfat yogurt with no added sugar – for the healthiest option and more protein, choose plain Greek yogurt – and add fruit for sweetness.

Salad with chicken and berries
For a green and lean dinner, try a leafy salad topped with grilled chicken and strawberries. Dress lightly with oil and vinegar or your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

Asian pork tenderloin
Spice it up with this traditional dish featuring roasted pork that incorporates sesame seeds coriander, minced onion and other savory flavoring. Pair with steamed peas.

Spaghetti squash with meat sauce
Although DASH isn’t a low-carb diet, you might still like to enjoy a spaghetti dinner without all of the carbs and calories. For a lighter alternative, try spaghetti squash topped with meat sauce.

Apples with cottage cheese dip
You don’t have to wait until midnight for a snack. Slice up some apples and grab a small bowl of fat-free cream cheese, then add orange juice, peanuts, vanilla and brown sugar for a tasty treat whether it’s midmorning or late in the afternoon.

Tuna salad on a bed of lettuce
Tuna is a healthy lunch or dinner choice that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. A tuna salad on top a bed of lettuce is one option that is a delicious source of protein and vitamins.

Tuna salad on a bed of lettuce
Tuna is a healthy lunch or dinner choice that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. A tuna salad on top a bed of lettuce is one option that is a delicious source of protein and vitamins.

Vegetable kabobs
If you’re looking for a vegetarian-friendly dish, throw together some vegetable kabobs. Great for parties or a night at home, these can be made on a grill or in an oven.

Strawberry banana smoothie with soy milk
A strawberry banana soy smoothie is a great snack for any time of the day, whether you’re running out the door in the morning or just finishing your afternoon workout.

How much does it cost?

Fresh fruits, veggies and whole-grain products are generally pricier than the processed, fatty, sugary foods most Americans consume.

Will you lose weight?

Likely, provided you follow the rules, and especially if you design your plan with a calorie deficit.

Though not originally developed as a weight-loss diet, some studies have looked at DASH’s potential to help dieters shed pounds. Here’s a closer look at the data:

In one study, published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 144 overweight or obese adults with high blood pressure were assigned to one of three approaches: DASH, DASH plus exercise and classes on weight loss, and a control diet where participants maintained their usual eating habits. After four months, those in the beefed up DASH group lost on average 19 pounds – while the other groups either lost a little or gained weight.

In another study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2006, researchers randomly assigned 810 adults with borderline or mild high blood pressure to three groups. The first received general advice on lifestyle changes to control blood pressure. The second had goals of staying under 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, losing weight, exercising and limiting alcohol. The third mirrored the second, but participants were also told to follow DASH’s dietary guidelines. After 18 months, the second group lost an average of about 8 pounds, while the DASH group lost about 9 1/2 – both significantly more than the first group’s 3 pounds.

How easy is it to follow?

While it may be difficult to give up your favorite fatty, sugary and salty fare, DASH doesn’t restrict entire food groups, upping your chances of sticking with it long-term.

Convenience: Although recipe options are boundless, alcohol is not. The DASH guide PDFs are packed with tips to make it all easier.

Recipes: The NHLBI offers more than 180 heart-healthy recipes in its online database. Otherwise, lots of reputable organizations, like the Mayo Clinic, provide long lists of DASH-friendly recipes.

Eating out: Difficult, since restaurant meals are notoriously salty, oversized and fatty. If you do dine out, NHLBI suggests avoiding salt by shunning pickled, cured or smoked items; limiting condiments; choosing fruits or vegetables instead of soup; and requesting the chef find other ways to season your meal.

What Makes a Diet Easy to Follow?

U.S. News rankings rate how easy 38 diets are to follow. How much weight should you give this?

Alcohol: Too much can elevate blood pressure and damage the liver, brain and heart. If you drink, do so in moderation – that’s one drink a day for women, two a day for men. (A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.)

Timesavers: None, unless you hire somebody to plan your meals, shop for them and prepare them. And you can’t pay someone to exercise for you.

Extras: NHLBI’s PDF guide serves up a week of DASH meal plans, offers tips on reading nutrition labels, lists the sodium and potassium content of various foods and provides exercise ideas.

Fullness: Nutrition experts stress the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. DASH emphasizes lean protein and fiber-filled fruits and veggies, which should keep you feeling full, even if you’ve reduced your calorie level slightly to support weight loss.

Taste: Although you may miss salty popcorn and potato chips, your taste buds should eventually adjust. Avoid blandness by getting friendly with herbs and spices.

Health & Nutrition

The panelists applauded the DASH plan for its nutritional soundness and safety. Endorsed by the federal government’s Department of Health and Human Services, the diet is packed with produce and light on saturated fat and salt.

What is the role of exercise?

Recommended, especially if you want to lose weight.

To get started, try a 15-minute walk around the block each morning and night, and then slowly ratchet up intensity and duration if you can. Just find activities you like (jazzercise, swimming, gardening), set goals and stick to them. (Usnews)

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