U.S. News and World Report recently announced their winner for the best overall diet for 2015: the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Their panel of experts evaluated 35 diets, and the DASH diet has maintained the number one spot for five straight years. It beat out better-known and well-respected diets for its nutritional completeness, safety, prevention and control of diabetes, and promotion of heart health. Note that the DASH diet had stiff competition from the excellent Weight Watchers diet, which won for the best weight loss diet, the easiest to follow, and the best commercial diet. I have long been a big proponent of Weight Watchers; it requires no special foods, provides support systems, and when followed has a great success rate. In the end, however, DASH won first place overall. Why?
The DASH diet is based on National Institute of Health studies, and was originally developed to help prevent and treat hypertension. Eating properly is critical, but exercising 30 minutes each day, not smoking, and drinking alcohol in moderation is included in the overall plan for blood pressure control. The plan has no tricks - just an emphasis on low salt, high fiber food, and plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables in a 2,000-3,100 calorie per day plan. It recommends either 2,300 mg of sodium in the standard diet, or 1,500 mg for those who are more susceptible to salt or who already have high blood pressure.
It is simple, sensible, and cheap. There is a limit on high calorie saturated fat meats and sweets. The daily plan includes whole grains; fruit; vegetables; nuts, seeds or legumes; dairy; lean meats, fish and poultry. Fats make up about a quarter of daily calories, spread over two or three servings.
What is the best way to convert from your current diet to the DASH diet? The Mayo Clinic recommends that the transition be gradual, adding healthy food choices and replacing poor food choices while slowly cutting back on sodium. Increase your physical activity steadily as well; this will have a positive impact on both weight and blood pressure.
What do I find most interesting about the DASH diet? It follows the precepts that I’ve been recommending for years for weight loss, heart health, diabetes control and prevention, and general health. It’s sensible, not based on a fad, and not extreme. It will improve your health, yet avoid exorbitant fees, special packaged foods, etc.
Here are some specific recommendations for getting started on the DASH diet. Make small changes over days and weeks, with the goal of incorporating them into your daily routine:
Add an extra serving of fruit and vegetables at one meal a day or as a snack.
Choose whole-grain foods for most of your grain servings to get added nutrients, including minerals and fiber. Be sure that your bread, pasta or cereal specifies 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain.
Include two-three servings of fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products a day. If you are lactose intolerant, use lactase products or switch to alternatives like almond milk.
Limit lean meats to six ounces a day, with just three ounces of lean meat (about the size of a deck of cards) at a meal.
Include more meatless meals.
Incorporate nuts into your diet. If you have nut allergies, use seeds and legumes.
Always read the nutrition facts labels. Understand what you are consuming. Look for foods with 5-10% or less of your daily requirement for sodium. If the daily goal is around 2,000 mg, a can of soup with 1,150 mg in a single serving will get you there very quickly.
Keep a diary of your food consumption and exercise. Be sure to celebrate your successes!
For more information on the DASH diet, I encourage you to explore dashdiet.org.
Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
Published: Feb. 12, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 44