U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets 2014, released earlier this year, ranked 32 diet plans. But the No. 1 diet may surprise you. The “Best Diets Overall” winner: the DASH diet.
The DASH diet—or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—was developed to combat high blood pressure (hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure). So it certainly doesn’t fall into the realm of trendy diets like Paleo or the Alkaline Diet. To earn a spot on the “Best Diets” list, the diet plan has to help with weight loss and diabetes (research shows the DASH diet does)—as well as be easy to follow and nutritious (check and check). Their panel of experts, which included EatingWell advisors David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., and Brian Wansink, Ph.D., gave it top billing in part because it scored well in the heart health and nutrition completeness categories (likely because it has so much research to support it as a healthy diet that lowers blood pressure), but also because it actually does help people lose weight even though it wasn’t designed as a weight-loss plan.
So what is the DASH diet? It’s a balanced eating plan that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and several daily servings of low-fat dairy. It emphasizes whole grains (versus refined) and modest amounts of lean proteins, including poultry and fish, to minimize intake of unhealthy saturated fats. This so-called “diet” may be better known within medical circles than to the general American public, but it’s certainly worthy of its “Best Diet” title.
Here’s how to follow the basic tenets of the DASH eating plan:
1. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. (Get inspired with these 7 ways to eat more vegetables.)
2. Get plenty of whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice or whole-wheat couscous. (Put more whole grains into your meals with these easy recipes.)
3. Aim for several daily servings of low-fat dairy. (Try one of these yummy recipes with yogurt.)
4. Eat a modest amount of lean protein, including poultry and fish.
5. Get healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado and healthy oils, like olive oil. (Watch how to add healthy fats to your diet and cut back on saturated fat.)
6. Limit sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people limit sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day (that’s the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt). Anyone 51 years or older, of African-American descent or with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should cap their daily sodium at 1,500 milligrams.
7. Try to limit your intake of sugars. (Watch how to trim added sugars from your diet.)
The DASH diet pitfalls, according to U.S. News & World Report, are that the plan requires “lots of grunt work” (it requires meal planning and cooking at home) and is “somewhat pricey” (based on the notion that fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products generally cost more than unhealthy processed foods).
Ultimately, the DASH diet is simply an eating plan that encourages all the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and shuns those we love, but shouldn’t (salt, sugar, saturated fat, processed foods). And following it sets the foundation for a healthy diet for life.