Submitted By: Amy Sercel
Edited By: Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD
If you Google healthy diets, it’s likely that you’ll be swamped with a huge variety of eating plans that all claim to provide the best results. While some of them might be effective, the DASH Diet has been consistently rated the best diet for healthy eating. This meal plan advises you to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein; eat less packaged, processed foods; and leave out salt wherever possible. As a result, you will end up eating less sodium and more calcium, potassium, and fiber.
The DASH Diet was originally designed to help people reduce their blood pressure; in fact, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. People who eat according to the DASH diet have seen a reduction in systolic blood pressure (the top number) by up to 12.7 points, and up to a 10 point reduction in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). High adherence to the DASH diet has also been found to reduce overall risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease among women. Other health benefits of the DASH diet are still being researched. One study found that people who followed it lost 19 pounds more than those who used other diets. Additionally, post-menopausal women using the DASH diet report better moods.
So, how should you go about following the DASH diet? The foundation of the recommendations will stay the same from one person to another, but the number of servings you’ll need is going to vary if you need more or less than 2000 calories per day. A registered dietitian can help you adapt the meal plan to your calorie needs. You can start by adding one fruit or vegetable to each meal, or choosing a fruit or vegetable for a snack. From there, increase your intake until you are eating 4-5 servings of fruits and 4-5 servings of vegetables per day. Choosing fruits and vegetables instead of snacks like cookies or potato chips will help your reduce your calorie intake, which is important for weight loss. Switching to whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, or other whole grain products is another simple step. Look for low-fat dairy products like 1% milk or reduced fat yogurt and aim for 3 servings each day. Try using nuts, seeds, and dried beans as a protein source with the goal of eating 4-5 servings from this food group each week. Finally, flavor your foods with herbs and spices rather than salt.
If these recommendations seem overwhelming, don’t worry! You can start slowly, modifying one meal or ingredient at a time. You can find inspiration in one of the many DASH-friendly recipes available both online and in cookbooks. The Mayo Clinic has a great list of recipes here. Following this meal plan just one day per week is a great first step on the dash towards becoming a healthier you!