The way we think about diets is undergoing an important shift.
The word “diet” is no longer synonymous with deprivation and rapid weight-loss. Rather, the best diets of today focus on balancing healthy eating and exercise as means toward a lean, strong body — for life.
Helping Americans move forward with this new, healthier concept to dieting are the editors and writers at US News & World Report.
On Tuesday, the company released their annual ranking of the best diets of 2016, and for the sixth time in a row, they named the DASH diet as their number one choice.
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” or high blood pressure. While the diet focuses on a meal plan that helps lower or prevent high blood pressure, it is a diet for everyone.
In fact, in 2010, the USDA ranked it as one of the most ideal eating plans for Americans.
“The DASH diet is really a safe plan for everyone,” Angela Haupt, who is the senior health and wellness editor at US News & World Report, told Business Insider. “There’s nothing exciting about it and that’s what makes it a good plan. It’s not some fad diet making outlandish claims that you can’t rely on.”
And for people with hypertension, the DASH diet may, over time, help drop systolic blood pressure by as many as seven to 12 points.
How to DASH your diet
The main way DASH helps to control, or prevent, hypertension is by limiting sodium intake.
Since many frozen and pre-packaged foods contain high doses of salt, DASH dieters stick to fresh produce and lean proteins, like fish and poultry.
It also includes a lot of whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and legumes.
The typical day on a 2,000 calorie DASH diet looks like this:
- No more than 2,300 milligrams of salt, eventually working down to no more than 1,500 mg
- 6-8 servings of grains
- 4-5 servings each of veggies and fruits
- 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy (plain dairy is much lower in sugar than flavored)
- 6 or fewer servings (equal to about one ounce) of lean meat, poultry and fish
- 4-5 (*per week) of servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes
- 2-3 servings of fats and oils
- No more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks (a serving is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor)
- 5 or fewer (*per week) of sweets
“Definitely not steaks, hamburgers, or pulled pork,” Haupt warned us. “It’s very sensible and emphasises eating exactly the same foods you’ve always been told to eat.”
Moreover, with all the fibre-packed fruits and veggies in the DASH diet, Haupt said you won’t go hungry on this diet.
Getting the facts straight
Haupt first launched the company’s diet ranking six years ago and has been leading the annual report ever since.
“There’s just so much misinformation out there so we really saw … this place where we could make a real impact by providing really in-depth, thorough, accurate information,” Haupt said.
For each annual report Haupt, along with other editors and reporters at US News & World Report, comb through the medical literature for the healthiest, most-effective diets, and then consult with dietitians, nutritionists, food psychologists, and other experts for which diet ranks the highest.
Benefits and downsides
Part of the reason experts file the DASH diet at the top of their lists each year is because it comes with a handful of added benefits beyond blood pressure, particularly, weight-loss.
But generally if you want to shed some excess pounds, you’ll likely need to incorporate exercise into your regular routine.
In one 2010 study, researchers assigned 144 overweight adults to one of three diets: the DASH diet, the DASH diet plus exercise, and a control diet where the participant maintained his or her typical eating habits. At the end of four months, those on the DASH plus exercise diet lost on average 19 pounds. The other two groups lost little-to-no weight.
Despite its many benefits — healthy eating, controlling hypertension, and weight-loss to name a few — DASH can be difficult to adopt at first, which is why the US News & World Report says it’s OK to ease into the diet.
“It does take will power to stick to that [diet] and cut out things you like,” Haupt told us. “Red meat, sugar, salt, these are big parts of most people’s diets, and if you’ve been accustomed to eat those things for so long then making the changes and sticking to them will definitely take will power.”
Another potential downside to the diet is the time it takes to prepare fresh food for meals.
“Maybe if you’re really crunched for time and you’re not into cooking, at all, then maybe this diet isn’t the right diet for you,” Haupt said.
She added that a couple of the other top 10 diets in this year’s report, like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, either have pre-made foods you can pick up at the store or have delivered to your door step, which might accommodate people who want a diet-on-the-go.
“We want people to think about what is the best diet for me,” Haupt said.
While the DASH diet is considered to be the best by the US News & World Report, there are plenty others for people looking to specifically eat healthier, lose weight, or lower cholesterol or blood pressure. You can check them all out here on US News & World Report.