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The Best-Rated DASH Diet: Why It Works


The DASH Diet has been named the No. 1 Best Diet Overall and the Best Diet for Healthy Eating by U.S. News & World Report. Why? The diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, isn’t overly limiting, is heart-healthy, and focuses on key nutrients eaten in whole foods such as fruits and veggies—not in pills. Making simple changes are the answer, says Thomas Moore, M.D., author of THE DASH DIET FOR WEIGHT LOSS.

To create a diet that would lower blood pressure, we knew we needed to study people who have healthy blood pressure and incorporate into our diet the characteristics of their eating patterns. For this we turned to two main sources.

Non-Westernized peoples: In stark contrast to the United States, where one in four adults has hypertension and over half of people who reach the age of 60 develop high blood pressure, many non-Westernized populations have low rates of hypertension, and their people do not experience an increase in hypertension as they age.

Among the characteristics of these societies is a diet based on foods obtained primarily from subsistence agriculture, fishing, and hunting. Most often the diet is high in fruits, vegetables, and fish. How we know that diet plays an important role in hypertension is that when populations with low rates of high blood pressure become urbanized and start eating more processed food and less fresh food, their rates of hypertension climb. This has been observed in South African Bantu natives, Bedouins in the Arabian desert, Aborigines in Australia, and Greenlanders.

Vegetarians in Westernized/urbanized societies: In modern America, where high blood pressure is prevalent, there is a group of people defined by what they eat who tend to have lower rates of high blood pressure: vegetarians. Although vegetarianism can take various forms, vegetarians can generally be said to eat a diet high in whole grains, beans, vegetables, and sometimes fish, dairy foods, eggs, and fruit.

In one study the rates of hypertension in Benedictine monks were compared to those of Trappist monks. The results showed that 30 percent of the Benedictine order had hypertension, while only 12 percent of the Trappists had the condition. Why is this significant? Because Benedictine monks eat meat, and Trappist monks are vegetarian.

Both non-Westernized peoples and vegetarians in Westernized/urbanized societies tend to have healthy blood pressure, and it seems certain that diet plays a central role in keeping their blood pressure that way. What the diets of both groups have in common is that they are high in plant foods (grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and sometimes fruit) and low in animal products (although sometimes high in fish consumption). Nutrient-wise, the diets are rich in the minerals potassium, magnesium, and calcium; high in fiber; and low in saturated fats.

Our goal was to create a diet with these same characteristics that would be acceptable to the average American and would not require that people become vegetarians. The DASH diet is such a diet. It does not prohibit any particular foods nor insist that you focus on any one food group. Yet the DASH diet has two-and-a-half times the amounts of potassium, magnesium, and calcium as the average American diet; three times as much dietary fiber; and less saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.

Discover more on the DASH diet in THE DASH DIET FOR WEIGHT LOSS by Thomas J. Moore. 

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For more on Tips on Life & Love: DASH Diet Recipe: Healthy Low-Fat Brownies

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Excerpted from The DASH Diet for Weight Loss by Thomas J. MooreCopyright © 2012 by author. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Photo by Kevin Iaminto on Unsplash.

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