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The Number One Diet of 2014

Is the DASH Diet Right for You?

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Created January 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

At the beginning of the year, another influx of diet books hit the shelves with hopes of being the next best seller. I always wondered how many diet books actually exist and, to my astonishment, I discovered there may be over 36,000 diet books on the market. With so many to choose from, how can the average American even begin to determine which diet is best? The good news is that you don’t have to; The U.S News and World Report recently released the best diets to follow in 2014. Of the 32 diets that were evaluated by an expert panel of health professionals, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet came out on top of the list – this is its fourth year as number one. The diet received the highest rating on a five-point scale measuring short- and long-term weight loss, ease of compliance, safety and nutrition. It also received high rating for being one of the top diets to follow if you have diabetes or heart disease. The great thing about the DASH diet is it is a fool proof way to achieve your health goals without compromising your nutrition. Because the diet has been heavily researched, it receives accolades from physicians and is also recognized by:

  •  The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (one of the National Institutes of Health, of the      US Department of Health and Human Services)
  •  The American Heart Association
  •  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans
  •  US guidelines for treatment of high blood pressure

How Did the DASH Diet Originate?

The DASH diet was created with the intent to lower blood pressure. A diet high in sodium can contribute to elevated blood pressure in some people because sodium holds excess fluid in the body, which creates an added burden on the heart. Research from the DASH diet showed that an eating plan that limited sodium (2,300mg/day) helped to lower blood pressure. The diet also concluded that high risk persons such as African Americans or Middle-age and older adults, as well as those who already have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease would benefit from eating a diet even lower in sodium (1,500mg/day).

What Does the Diet Consist of?

The DASH diet is a low-sodium, low-fat, high-fiber, balanced eating plan. The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein like white meat chicken, fish, turkey and beans and whole grains. The diet is also rich in potassium; studies have shown that a diet rich in potassium, an essential mineral and electrolyte, can help to prevent stroke, high blood pressure and increase bone mineral density. The focus is on whole foods and limited processed and packaged foods.

How Can I Prepare Foods without Adding Salt?

Following a low-sodium diet may sound like a very difficult task if you are accustomed to adding salt to your food. At first a low sodium diet may taste bland, but our taste buds are adaptable and over time your sense of taste can become more sensitive – and even increase your appreciation for foods natural flavors. The key to success in halting salt is to flavor your food with herbs and spices. Herbs and spices yield great flavor without adding excess calories and fat. Better yet, some herbs and spices can boost metabolism and provide other health benefits.

How Do I Know if This Diet is Right for Me?

Before choosing a diet, you should discuss your intent with your health care provider – your medical doctor, registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator. Diet plans should be individualized pending on health, age, activity level and preferences. The DASH Diet is a healthy diet that can be tweaked to fit your calorie needs. Research has proven that the primary outcome of the DASH diet is to lower blood pressure, however, when used in combination with exercise - the end result is a calorie deficit which aids in weight loss. If you are someone with diabetes and are following a consistent carbohydrate diet you’ll want to continue to count carbohydrates on this diet. If you are taking blood pressure medicine you must continue to do so unless your physician has told you otherwise.

Below you will find the breakdown of food groups based on calorie needs. The charts were taken from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

DASH Eating Plan—Number of Food Servings by Calorie Level

Food Group

1,200
Cal.

1,400
Cal.

1,600
Cal.

1,800
Cal.

2,000
Cal.

2,600
Cal.

3,100
Cal.

Grainsa

4–5

5–6

6

6

6–8

10–11

12–13

Vegetables

3–4

3–4

3–4

4–5

4–5

5–6

6

Fruits

3–4

4

4

4–5

4–5

5–6

6

Fat-free or low-fat dairy productsb

2–3

2–3

2–3

2–3

2–3

3

3–4

Lean meats, poultry, and fish

3 or less

3–4 or less

3–4 or less

6 or less

6 or less

6 or less

6–9

Nuts, seeds, and legumes

3 per week

3 per week

3–4 per week

4 per week

4–5 per week

1

1

Fats and oilsc

1

1

2

2–3

2–3

3

4

Sweets and added sugars

3 or less per week

3 or less per week

3 or less per week

5 or less per week

5 or less per week

≤2

≤2

Maximum sodium limitd

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

2,300 mg/day

a Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings as a good source of fiber and nutrients.

b For lactose intolerance, try either lactase enzyme pills with dairy products or lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk.

c Fat content changes the serving amount for fats and oils. For example, 1 Tbsp regular salad dressing = one serving; 1 Tbsp low-fat dressing = one-half serving; 1 Tbsp fat-free dressing = zero servings.

d The DASH eating plan has a sodium limit of either 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg per day.

This chart provides examples of serving sizes per group. This chart was also taken from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

DASH Eating Plan—Serving Sizes, Examples, and Significance

Food Group Serving Sizes Examples and Notes Significance of Each Food Group to the DASH Eating Plan

Grainsa

 

1 slice bread

1oz of dry cerealb

1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cerealb

Whole-wheat bread and rolls, whole-wheat pasta, English muffin, pita bread, bagel, cereals, grits, oatmeal, brown rice, unsalted pretzels and popcorn Major sources of energy and fiber
Vegetables

1 cup raw leafy vegetable

1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetable

1/2 cup vegetable juice

Broccoli, carrots, green beans, green peas, kale, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes Rich source of potassium, magnesium, and fiber 
Fruits

1 medium fruit

1/4 cup dried fruit 

1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit 

1/2 fruit juice 

Apples, apricots, bananas, dates, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, grapefruit juice, mangoes, melons, peaches, pineapple, raisins, strawberries, tangerines Important source or potassium, magnesium and fiber 
Fat-free or low-fat dairy productsc

1 cup milk or yogurt

1½ oz cheese

Fat-free milk or buttermilk; fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese; fat-free/low-fat regular or frozen yogurt Major sources of calcium and protein
Lean meats, poultry, and fish

1 oz cooked meats, poultry, or fish

1 eggd

Select only lean; trim away visible fats; broil, roast, or poach; remove skin from poultry Rich sources of protein and magnesium
Nuts, seeds, and legumes

⅓ cup or 1½ oz nuts

2 Tbsp peanut butter

2 Tbsp or ½ oz seeds

½ cup cooked legumes (dried beans, peas)

Almonds, filberts, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, kidney beans, lentils, split peas Rich sources of energy, magnesium, protein, and fiber
Fats and oilse

1 tsp soft margarine

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp mayonnaise

2 Tbsp salad dressing

Soft margarine, vegetable oil (canola, corn, olive, safflower), low-fat mayonnaise, light salad dressing The DASH study had 27% of calories as fat, including fat in or added to foods
Sweets and added sugars

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp jelly or jam

½ cup sorbet, gelatin dessert

1 cup lemonade

Fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit punch, hard candy, jelly, maple syrup, sorbet and ices, sugar Sweets should be low in fat

a Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings as a good source of fiber and nutrients.

b Serving sizes vary between ½ cup and 1¼ cups, depending on cereal type. Check the product's Nutrition Facts label.a Whole grains are recommended for most grain servings as a good source of fiber and nutrients.

c For lactose intolerance, try either lactase enzyme pills with dairy products or lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk.

d Because eggs are high in cholesterol, limit egg yolk intake to no more than four per week; two egg whites have the same protein content as 1 oz of meat.

e Fat content changes the serving amount for fats and oils. For example, 1 Tbsp regular salad dressing = one serving; 1 Tbsp low-fat dressing = one-half serving; 1 Tbsp fat-free dressing = zero servings.

How Can I Learn More About the DASH Eating Plan?

For more information visit: http://dashdiet.org/default.asp or http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/printall-index.html

Sources:

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.  What is the DASH Eating Plan. Accessed January 14, 2014:  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/printall-index.html

The Washington Post. The Best Diets According to the U.S. World Report. Accessed on line January 14, 2014: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-best-diets-according-to-us-news-and-world-report/2014/01/06/4dc78d12-7262-11e3-9389-09ef9944065e_story.html

Linus Pauling Institute. Potassium. Accessed on-line: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/potassium/

 

 

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