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DASH diet named healthiest diet plan -- and it's free online

The plan is available as as 64-page PDF booklet online
The plan is available as as 64-page PDF booklet online

U.S. News & World Report compiled its list of the best diets this month, the DASH diet came out on top -- for the fourth year in a row.

The magazine reported:

U.S. News evaluated and ranked the 32 diets below with input from a panel of health experts. To be top-rated, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe and effective for weight loss and against diabetes and heart disease. The government-endorsed Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) snagged the top spot.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, who developed the diet, describe it as:

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a flexible and balanced eating plan. DASH was one of three eating plans that were compared in research studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The goal of this research was to study the effects of diet on high blood pressure. The results showed that the DASH eating plan lowers blood pressure.

The plan:

  • Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
  • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Is rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts
  • Contains fewer sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, and red meats than the typical American diet

The Dash Diet Plan website says:

Why has the DASH diet been ranked as the best diet, the healthiest diet, and the best diet for diabetes, 4 years in a row? The expert panel of physicians assembled by US New & World Reports chose DASH because it is proven to improve health, has a balance of healthy food groups, and it actually works. It has been proven to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and is associated with lower risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney stones, reduced risk of developing diabetes, and can slow the progression of kidney disease.

The DASH diet plan is pretty standard mainstream medical advice. There is a focus on whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein sources. Sugar, salt and fat are restricted, as is alcohol.

U.S. News says it's easy to follow the DASH diet:

First, decide how much you want to read. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which helped develop DASH, publishes free guides on the plan. One (PDF here) is 64 pages while another (PDF here) is six. Both take you through the same process of determining how many calories you should eat for your age and activity level, tell you where those calories should come from, and remind you to go easy on salt. It’s as simple as that.

The report says it's likely that people who follow the diet will lose weight, especially if they plan the diet with a "calorie deficit."

The plan is considered a good diet for:

  • lowering blood pressure
  • increasing good HDL cholesterol
  • decreasing bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides
  • preventing or controlling diabetes
  • losing weight

The DASH diet can also easily accommodate vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, kosher, halal and low-sodium diets.

Huffington Post summarized what U.S. News had to say about all 32 diets that U.S. News reviewed (including the Mayo Clinic diet, the Mediterranean diet, Jenny Craig, vegan diets, the macrobiotic diet, Weight Watchers, the Flexitarian diet, the raw food diet and the lowest-rated Paleo diet) here.

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