It’s also the most beneficial for your health.
Following a healthful diet is undoubtedly one of the best things we can do to protect ourselves from chronic disease. So why is it such a struggle?
Unfortunately, many diets just aren’t practical over the long haul. Sure, you may be able to white-knuckle it for the first few days or weeks. But what happens when you can no longer withstand the unhealthful temptations at parties, restaurants and just about anywhere else? The solution…
A POWERHOUSE DIET
Many people are surprised to learn that one of the most widely studied diets is also perhaps the easiest to follow on a long-term basis because it provides enough food choices to be truly appealing—even enjoyable—to virtually anyone.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the DASH diet. It is commonly known as the “blood pressure diet.” Short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, the DASH plan has long been known to effectively lower blood pressure—sometimes in just 14 days, according to research.
Now: After years of scientific scrutiny, this “sleeper” of a diet, with its wide range of foods—vegetables, fruits, low-fat and nonfat dairy, whole grains, lean poultry and fish, and nuts, beans and seeds—is winning more proponents because of its other health benefits.
In addition to being linked to a lower risk for heart disease and stroke, this diet has also been shown to cut risk for kidney stones by 45% and risk for colon cancer by 20%. If that’s not enough, the DASH diet also prevents (and sometimes even reverses) diabetes by controlling blood sugar spikes. And it makes you feel younger and lighter, because the low-sodium component helps you to retain less fluid.
The “Best” Diet: Because of its many health benefits, nutritional completeness and the ease with which it can be followed, the DASH diet was named “Best Overall Diet” earlier this year by US News & World Report, based on analyses by experts in nutrition and various chronic diseases. The DASH eating plan beat other better-known diets, such as the Mediterranean Diet and Weight Watchers.
WHY DASH WORKS
The DASH diet might seem like nothing more than a commonsense eating plan, but very few Americans actually eat according to its basic principles. Not only are most of us sorely lacking in vegetables and fruits, but we take in an average of 3,500 mg of blood pressure–raising sodium per day—far more than the amount that’s recommended for healthy adults (up to 2,300 mg daily) or the amount for people with high blood pressure (up to 1,500 mg).
The magic behind DASH lies in its high amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium. Potassium, found in fruits and vegetables, naturally lowers blood pressure by ridding the body of excess sodium. Calcium from dairy and other sources, including broccoli and fish with bones, such as sardines, works in the same way—plus it relaxes your blood vessels, making it easier for blood to pass through. Magnesium, found in whole grains, nuts and seeds, also promotes healthy blood vessels.
MAKING IT EASY
When first considering the DASH daily eating plan, you may think that you’d never be able to eat such a seemingly large amount and wide variety of food, but that’s not true.
The standard 2,000-calorie plan includes…*
- Fruits—Four to five servings per day (one serving equals one medium-sized whole fruit or one cup diced raw fruit).
- Vegetables—Four to five servings per day (one serving equals one-half cup cooked vegetables or one cup leafy greens).
- Low-fat/nonfat dairy—Three daily servings (one serving equals one-half cup fat-free or low-fat cottage cheese or eight ounces skim or low-fat milk or low-fat or fat-free yogurt).
- Whole grains—Three daily servings (one serving equals one slice of bread, one-half cup cooked brown rice or one ounce dry cereal).
- Refined grains—A few servings a week (one serving equals one-half cup pasta or one cookie as a treat).
- Healthy fats (such as olive oil and avocado)—Two to three daily servings (one serving equals one teaspoon olive oil or one-eighth of a small avocado).
- Lean meat, poultry or fish—Seven ounces daily.
- Beans and nuts—Four to five servings per week (one serving equals one-quarter cup beans or nuts).
Why so much food and so many different choices? The diet delivers all the disease-fighting benefits that can be derived from good nutrition. Plus, the emphasis on low-calorie, high-volume produce and hunger-fighting protein means that you’ll feel satisfied and less likely to give in to cravings for unhealthful foods that cause weight gain.
If five daily servings of veggies sounds daunting, think of it this way: A dinner including one cup sautéed broccoli (two servings)…a small side salad (one serving)…and one cup roasted potatoes (two servings) equals five full servings of veggies.
Other ways to meet DASH goals…
Fruits: Try one small banana at breakfast, one plum at lunch, one cup berries as a midafternoon snack, one-half cup sliced Bartlett pears for dessert.
Low-fat/nonfat dairy: Try eight ounces nonfat milk on cereal (pour it on, then drink the rest), one ounce light Swiss cheese added to a sandwich for lunch, one cup light yogurt as an afternoon snack.
Whole grains: Try three-quarters cup whole-wheat cereal or oatmeal, two slices thin-sliced whole-wheat bread at lunch, one small whole-wheat dinner roll.
Healthy fats: Try one tablespoon salad dressing and a few avocado slices.
Lean meat, poultry or fish: Try three ounces of turkey slices at lunch and four ounces of salmon at dinner.
Beans and nuts: Try a small handful of nuts for a snack.
If you are eating out, try these DASH-friendly items…
- A Grande Starbucks Caffé Latte with nonfat milk, or any 16-ounce coffee drink with eight ounces milk.
- A slice of thin-crust veggie pizza plus a salad.
- A Subway double-meat six-inch roasted chicken sandwich topped with all of your favorite veggies, minus the top half of the bread.
For a tasty DASH snack at home, try celery dipped in hummus.
For a free copy of the complete DASH diet, go to NHLBI.NIH.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf.
“Pile It On” Chili
Didn’t think you could have chili when you’re following a healthful eating plan? You can! Here’s an easy-to-make and tasty chili recipe…
1 pound ground sirloin, 95% extra-lean
½ 16-oz. bag frozen onions and sliced peppers combo (or use fresh if you like, of course)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, no added salt
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce, no added salt
1 15.5-oz. can kidney beans
1 15.5-oz. can black beans
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 Tablespoons paprika
½ 16-oz. bag frozen mixed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots
1 cup frozen corn
Cook ground beef at medium-high heat for three minutes. Add peppers, onions and garlic. Cook on medium until onions are browned and soft. Add tomatoes, beans and seasonings. Mix well and simmer five minutes. Then add mixed vegetables and corn. Simmer 30 to 60 minutes. Add shredded light cheese and/or baked tortilla strips as a garnish (see recipe below).
Makes 12 1-cup servings. Per serving: 204 calories, 13 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 7 g fiber, 379 mg sodium.
Baked Tortilla Strips
For easy tortilla strips, cut two corn tortillas into ½-inch strips. Place on a tray in the oven, and bake at 400°F for five minutes—or until lightly browned.
*2,000 calories daily is appropriate for men age 51 and older. Women age 51 and older usually need 1,600 calories daily. Younger adults can have more calories. Weight loss requires less calories and fewer servings.