If you are determined to make healthy lifestyle changes and need a little structure and guidance, look no further than DASH!
DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is much more than just a diet, and has benefits beyond stopping high blood pressure. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the DASH Diet the number one choice in four categories of Best Diets for 2017: Best Overall Diet, Best Diet for Healthy Eating, Best Diabetes Diet and Best Healthy Heart Diet. These honors are well-deserved, as the eating and activity recommendations are top-notch and easy to follow.
The original DASH study was conducted in the 1990s, with extensive publications since then in peer-reviewed journals testifying to its success in reducing blood pressure, bad cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar and weight. It is highly recommended by nutrition and health experts around the world because it includes whole foods that provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, not to mention color and variety.
What to include in the DASH lifestyle:
- Physical activity: Daily exercise is recommended, even if you just start with 15 minutes at a time. Studies show the DASH diet alone does not improve heart health, blood glucose or weight – but it does when combined with exercise.
- Fruits and vegetables: 9 servings per day. Yes, that’s a lot of produce, but a serving is only about ½ cup so by eating a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal and snack, you will be on your way.
- Lowfat or fat-free dairy: 2-3 servings per day. The calcium and potassium are significant reasons for the health benefits; when substituting a nondairy choice such as soy or almond milk, be sure it has similar nutritional content to milk.
- Lean meats, skinless poultry and fish: 2 servings per day. Ideally, these should replace red meat and processed meats (such as sausage and hot dogs) most days.
- Nuts, beans and other legumes: 4-5 servings per week.
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings per day.
- Whole grains: 4-8 servings per day, depending on your calorie needs.
What to minimize in the DASH lifestyle:
- Sodium: 2,400 milligrams, or 1 teaspoon, per day. Use onions, garlic, herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt, and really limit boxed or canned foods with added sodium.
- Limit high-calorie alcoholic beverages to 1/day for women and 2/day for men.
- Simple sugars. These are those hidden additives in soda, coffee, energy drinks, yogurts, cereals and desserts as well as the more obvious table sugar and candy. Limit to a few times per week.
- Fried foods. While you do not have to eliminate your favorite French fries, chips or doughnuts, more than one fried food per week will greatly undermine your attempt to improve your health and weight.
For additional information, eating plans, recipes, serving sizes and great tips, visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov and type DASH in the search box. I hope you will use some of these recommendations!
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, FAND, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and director of the Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center.