There are a lot of different ways of eating that promise results — but when it comes to health and nutrition, the DASH diet is one of the best. In fact, it was ranked second (just behind the Mediterranean Diet) by a panel of health experts for U.S. News & World Report in their 2019 rankings of “Best Diets Overall."
The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was created as a heart-healthy way of eating that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. The diet is known for being low in sodium but it also calls for less sugar, fat and red meat than is typical in the American diet.
“For people who are trying to improve their health, the DASH diet is a good place to start because the foods and recipes will be familiar,” said Mica Ward, RD, a dietitian at Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital. “For the most part, people can make small changes to what they are already cooking in order to have a DASH-approved meal.”
That’s good news in families where one healthy-minded individual can often feel overruled by others who aren’t ready to make big changes to their diet. It also makes the diet a good fit when there are specific dietary restrictions like with diabetes or hypertension.
Developed Through Research
According to Ward, researchers looked at what contributed to healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy heart. They found that it wasn’t just one nutrient, it was many — specifically calcium, magnesium and potassium. These nutrients are best obtained from a varied diet.
“Instead of focusing on just one detail, like salt or fat, protein or carbs, DASH creates a way of eating that is rich in all the nutrients needed for good health and especially good heart health,” said Ward. “Weight loss isn’t the goal, but combined with a reduction in salt, fat and sweets, and by adding the 30 minutes of exercise five times a day that the diet encourages, weight loss often follows.”
Daily Serving Suggestions
Calorie needs vary based on your gender, age and activity level, from 1,600 to 3,000 a day. For a 2,000-calorie diet, here are the suggested daily servings.
- Whole grains: 6-8
- Vegetables: 4-5
- Fruits: 4-5
- Low-fat dairy: 2-3
- Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs: 6 or less
- Nuts, seeds, legumes: 4-5/week
- Fats, oils: 2-3
- Sweets, added sugars: 5 or less per week
- Sodium: 2,300 mg
Getting Started with DASH
To start incorporating DASH into your diet, Ward shares these tips from the Department of Health and Human Services:
- Add a serving of vegetables at lunch one day and dinner the next, and add fruit at one meal or as a snack.
- Increase your use of fat-free and low-fat milk products to three servings a day.
- Limit lean meats to 6 ounces a day — 3 ounces a meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards.
- If you usually eat large portions of meats, cut them back over a couple of days — by half or a third at each meal. Fill up on extra vegetables.
- Include two or more vegetarian-style, or meatless, meals each week.
- Increase servings of vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat pasta and cooked dry beans. Try casseroles and stir-fry dishes, which have less meat and more vegetables, grains and dry beans.
- For snacks and desserts, use fruits or other foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar and calories — for example, unsalted rice cakes; unsalted nuts or seeds; raisins; graham crackers; fat-free, low-fat or frozen yogurt; popcorn with no salt or butter added; or raw vegetables.
- Use fresh, frozen, or low-sodium canned vegetables and fruits.
No matter how you approach it, Ward encourages people to make sustainable changes.
“You want to make modifications that you can stick with long term,” said Ward. “But people are often pleasantly surprised by how satisfied they are with a healthy diet and how they don’t crave the foods they used to. Sometimes it just helps to know where to start.”
Attend the Depoe Bay Healthy Hearts class and learn more about healthy eating, exercise, stress management and community resources.
Interested in learning about other diets? Join the Diabetes Education team in Lebanon for their Plant-Based Kitchen class.