What Is the DASH Diet? The American Heart Association Named It the Best for Heart Health

Diets can be hard to follow. It’s one reason many diets fail and people regain the weight they initially lost. But as you age, what you eat can have a real impact on your health, especially as your risk increases for conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

The American Heart Association recently reviewed medical data to figure out the most heart-healthy food plan. And despite some top contenders like the Mediterranean and vegan diets, their vote went to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

The DASH diet is a flexible eating plan created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Unlike other meal plans, there are no dietary restrictions on what you can or can’t eat. Instead, the plan provides recommendations to shape your daily and weekly nutritional goals.

“The DASH diet is one of the few heart healthy diets studied throughout the years,” says Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in California. “It does a great job at lowering blood pressure and that’s an important risk factor of heart disease we want to take care of and improve.”

While everyone’s eating plan will look a little bit different, the diet focuses on a few key general themes. The DASH eating plan involves eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains such as whole-wheat bread. All of the above are high in fiber, which can make you feel fuller faster. Moreover, the plan also encourages people to choose fat-free or low-fat dairy options such as beans, fish, nuts, and lean meats like chicken breast. 

The DASH diet also encourages you to limit your consumption of foods high in alcohol, salt, and saturated fats. These include coconut oil, red meat, whole milk, and cheese. Additionally, people on the DASH diet should reduce the amount of soda and other sweets they consume.

Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, the daily servings for the DASH eating plan includes:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains
  • 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
  • 4 to 5 servings of fruits
  • 2 to 3 servings of fat free dairy
  • 4 to 5 servings of nuts and seeds
  • 6 or less servings of lean meats, chicken, and fish
  • 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils
  • 5 servings or less of sweets per week
  • Less than 2,300 mg of salt

While it’s possible to shed pounds because of healthier eating habits, keep in mind that the DASH diet is not a weight loss meal plan. It was designed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol by removing empty carbs and replacing them with protein and “good” fats.

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