By Rosanne Rust
Every year, U.S. News & World Report provides an annual rating of popular diets. The overall winner was the DASH diet (the Paleo Diet came in last place). “DASH” stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is based on research that identified the most effective diet profile for lowering blood pressure (hypertension). The bonus: the DASH diet also is very effective for both short and long-term weight loss. It’s easy and safe, and evidence-based.
In a nutshell the DASH diet encourages:
- Lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat dairy
- Off limits are frequent portions of fat-laden sweets, red meat, and salty, high fat snacks
- Also limited is salt and sodium
If you have a “salt-tooth,” you can gradually reduce your taste for salty foods. The key to successful dietary change for many is to gradually implement goals. The DASH diet goal for sodium is a daily intake of 1,500 to 2,400 milligrams. For most people, this is low. If you are consuming 5,000 milligrams, I can’t expect you to cut that in half overnight — or even in a month. Your goal should be to use the saltshaker less often — add less salt to food in cooking and at the table — read food labels and look for “low sodium” varieties, and gradually cut back on salty junk food.
In the meantime, also find simple ways to add fruits and vegetables. You can’t get any simpler than peeling an orange to go with your lunch or grabbing a banana to eat in the car as you head out the door. Buy sweet bell peppers and wash and cut them when you get home, placing them in airtight bags. Use them on sandwiches (try a gourmet grilled cheese with red peppers on whole grain bread) or pack into your lunch to munch on during the day. If veggies are clean, and cut and read-to-eat, you will be more likely to eat more of them.
The dairy group is also an important component of the DASH diet. The research compared diets high in fruits and vegetables that both included and did not include dairy. The diets that included dairy clearly lowered blood pressure more than the diets without dairy. Use milk or yogurt to cook with, add a glass of low-fat or nonfat milk to a meal, and a yogurt to your snack time. Consuming three to four servings daily of low-fat or nonfat dairy foods can both lower blood pressure and promote weight loss.
During the winter months, when farmers markets are closed down and it’s sometimes harder to get to the grocery store, keep canned vegetables in the pantry. Choose low sodium varieties or rinse (rinsing reduces sodium content). Including a canned vegetable is still more beneficial than not having a vegetable, and for the most part, any cooked meal you prepare at home is going to be lower in sodium than a restaurant meal.
Rosanne Rust, a local registered dietitian and author, can be contacted via her website, or by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.