Health & Fitness

Pay attention to the DASH diet

I asked my husband if he knew what the DASH diet was and he replied, “Is that the one for diarrhea?”

I gently told him he was thinking of the BRAT diet. Although married to a nutritionist, my husband is like the majority of people who have never heard of the DASH diet even though U.S. News & World Report named it the best overall diet for five years in a row. DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. Although it was originally designed to lower blood pressure, it has expanded to include weight loss and cholesterol lowering.

DASH was the first diet intervention that studied the benefit of food synergy for lowering blood pressure. Food synergy suggests that foods interact to influence our health in complex ways. The DASH research demonstrated that a diet of whole foods rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber provided a significant reduction in blood pressure. More than just sodium reduction alone.

The basic food plan of the DASH diet is generous servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, as well as three to six servings a week of nuts, seeds and legumes. How many servings from each food group would depend on whether weight loss is a goal. The reason so few people know of this diet might be that there are no gimmicks, magic pills or celebrity endorsements. It is all about eating real food. The emphasis on high fiber, plant-based foods leads to feelings of fullness and less craving for salty snacks.

The original DASH plan and guide is available at nih.gov. The DASH Diet Younger You: Shed 20 years — and pounds —in just 10 weeks (Grand Central Life & Style 2014) by Marla Heller, RDN, updates the original plan with a plant-based focus while retaining the synergistic impact of nutrient-rich foods. The “Younger You” refers to the diet’s ability to reduce inflammation and oxidation. A few tweaks of your current eating style could have you dashing to better health.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow @sheahrarback on Twitter.

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