By Jason Knapfel for DietsInReview.com
If you haven't already heard of the DASH diet, chances are you will in the future. Promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet has just topped the U.S. News and World Report "Best Diet" list, a category that was just created last year. Other diets holding top positions include Weight Watchers, Biggest Loser, and Jenny Craig.
The DASH diet was based on the results of three studies examined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
While its memorable acronym may refer to helping people with hypertension, a condition where blood pressure in the arteries is elevated, the diet is a perfectly sound choice for anyone wanting to be healthy.
"I think the DASH diet is really more than a diet," says Dr. Sarah G. Khan, DietsInReview.com's resident pharmacist who specializes in diabetes management. "It's a complete lifestyle change that focuses on lean meats and proteins, low fat, low sodium, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It's just an all-encompassing bag of good choices."
The main focus of the DASH diet is to lower blood pressure for those who need it. That's done by decreasing sodium intake to below 2,400 mg a day and increasing your intake of specific nutrients, such as potassium and calcium.
"Those minerals have a role in maintaining the correct water and electrolyte balance [in your body]," says DietsInReview.com's registered dietitian, Mary Hartley.
When it comes right down to it, there's a good reason that U.S. News and World Report thinks so highly of the DASH diet: it's pretty much the current standard and commonly cited healthy eating choices made by mainstream experts. You are expected to concentrated on fresh fruits and vegetables and get most of your carbohydrate sources from whole grains. Your proteins can come from lean meats, fish and chicken, and moderate amounts of fats from olive oil and nuts.
According to the Mayo Clinic, who has also publicly endorsed the DASH diet, you are expected to consume at least four servings of fruit and vegetables, six servings of whole grains, two servings of dairy, two servings of fat and oil, and under six servings of lean animal-based proteins. You also have up to five weekly servings of nuts, seeds and legumes.
This is all based on a very comfortable 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. It goes without saying that you need to also exercise to ensure a calorie deficit, and hence, weight loss.
Maybe the best part of the DASH diet is that it's not really a diet at all, but a suggested lifestyle change. While losing weight and lowering your blood pressure is the ultimate goal, it's not meant to be a quick fix or a temporary means to an end like so many fad diets. This is healthy eating and it's something you should be committed to for life.
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