The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was just voted “Best Diet” by a panel of nutrition experts hired by the U.S. News and World Report.
The panel carefully reviewed 20 diets and eating regimens, using 7 categories to separate the good from the so-so; among these criteria were the amounts of short- and long-term weight loss people had on the various diets, the nutritional adequacy of the eating plans, how easy it was to stick with a program, and how safe the plans were.
This project, the magazine’s first-ever rankings of Best Diets, is meant to provide high-quality guidance to all people searching for an eating plan that is not only healthful but will also work over the long term.
DASH diet judged the best
The winner, the DASH diet, is endorsed by the U.S. government and has been found in past research trials to make a significant clinical difference in reducing high blood pressure. Hypertension, known as the “silent killer,” has long claimed a high place in the mortality charts as a leading cause of death, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world as well.
As it turns out, blood pressure is not the only thing the DASH diet helps people get rid of–some extra pounds might also come off in the process.
What makes the DASH diet so healthy?
The DASH’s overall dietary goals are
Low amounts of fat (less than 30 percent of total calories)
Low amounts of saturated fats (those like butter, lard, and fatty meats, which turn hard at room temperature)
Moderate amounts of protein (around 20 percent of total calories)
A healthy amount of carbohydrates (about 55 percent of total calories)
High fiber (about 30 grams per day)
And, naturally, low sodium
At the heart of the DASH diet is the recommendation of consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. The diet also contains high amounts of potassium and magnesium, 2 minerals that support healthy blood pressure.
What can you eat on the DASH?
The DASH eating plan suggests that every day we eat the following:
6 to 8 servings of grains
4 to 5 servings of vegetables
4 or 5 fruits
2 to 3 servings of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
6 ounces or less of lean meat, poultry, or fish
2 or 3 servings of fats and oils
The DASH program recommends that every week we eat
4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes
no more than 5 servings of sweets and added sugars
Who else made the U.S. News list of top diets? Three other diet plans tied for second place–the Mediterranean Diet, the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet, and the Weight Watchers diet.
The TLC diet lowers cholesterol
The TLC diet, an eating plan that’s low in cholesterol and saturated fats, helps to lower your blood cholesterol level, which in turn can help you decrease your risk of heart attack, heart disease, and related complications. The TLC is low in fat (25 to 35 percent of total calories), low in saturated fat (less than 7 percent of total calories), in sodium (no more than 2,400 mgs per day), and in cholesterol (less than 200 mg per day). The TLC diet advocates eating just enough calories to maintain or achieve a healthy weight and blood-cholesterol level.
The Mediterranean diet uses meat as a garnish–not as a main course
Many people are by now familiar with the Weight Watcher’s program, so I’ll skip its particulars and will briefly describe another second-place winner, the Mediterranean diet. Since close to 20 countries border on the Mediterranean Sea, this meal plan will vary greatly depending on which of the many cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds, financial conditions, and agricultural crops your plan reflects. But although the Mediterranean diet isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” strategy, some common themes emerge:
Healthy portions of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds
Olive oil a key source of healthy monounsaturated fats.
Not many eggs (from 0 to 4 per week)
Little or no red meat
Low-to-moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy products
Low-to-moderate quantities of wine
An alcohol caveat
Yes, the Mediterranean diet includes a nod to wine. But if you don’t currently consume alcohol, or if you can’t drink because of doctor’s orders, or if you’re not yet old enough to drink, please (of course) don’t start tippling now, just because the Mediterranean diet allows its fans a little. And if you do drink alcohol, remember that–for the purposes of decreasing cancer risk and preventing excessive calories–women on average are advised to have no more than 1 glass of wine a day, while men can have 2 glasses of wine per day. And–of course, again–never drink while driving or operating heavy machinery.
So there you have it: the top 4 contenders among the healthiest diets, as reviewed by the judges at U.S. News and World Report. If you don’t know exactly what all the eating guidelines above entail, or if you’re uncertain how to arrive at an appropriate calorie level for yourself or put together an individualized meal plan, I’d recommend you consult with a registered dietitian (RD).
It’s important to remember that no single diet is right for everyone, and that the key dieting principle is moderation. Just keeping to a set of healthy dietary guidelines most of the time, along with getting regular physical exercise, can help you manage or achieve a healthy weight. And, having said that, I’m not going to advocate for or endorse just 1 of these 4 good plans over the others.
For more information
For more specific information about DASH, please refer to the DASH page on the website of the National Institutes of Health. There you’ll find sample DASH meal plans for a week, heart-healthy recipes, and lots of tips about healthy eating, including how to read food labels and how to increase amounts of potassium and lower amounts of sodium in your diet.