The DASH diet's focus on fruits and vegetables helps lower blood pressure.

Would you be interested in an effective weight-loss plan that’s also an effective health-gain plan?

According to a panel of 22 experts selected by US News & World Report, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet plan is the best choice for people who are concerned about both losing weight and staying healthy. The expert panel ranked 20 popular diets according to an extensive set of criteria, including: short-term weight loss (losing significant weight during the first year), long-term weight loss (maintaining significant weight loss for two years or more), easiness to follow, nutritional completeness, and its ability to manage certain chronic ailments, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Although DASH is highly touted, it’s not highly recognized. That’s because the DASH diet was designed to be a freely available diet plan, not a commercial weight-loss plan. Thus, you won’t see any television ads with chiseled celebrities hawking DASH frozen meals, DVDs, or books.

DASH was developed by a team of nutrition experts, including researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and its merits were studied in the landmark DASH clinical trial. The primary goal was to develop a diet that would lower blood pressure, and the study’s results show that it does that indeed. But its benefits may be much more expansive. Follow-up studies are now suggesting significant links between the DASH plan and weight loss, cholesterol reduction, and a reduced risk for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, kidney stones, and colon cancer.

Followers of the DASH diet eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for nutrients and fiber; whole grains instead of refined grains; vegetable oils for healthy fats; and nuts, seeds, and beans, instead of meat, for protein. Dairy is allowed, as long as it is low fat or no fat, but sweets should be avoided.

Together, these dietary choices help create a healthy body by providing plenty of calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber, while minimizing intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The diet’s abundance of potassium – found amply in dried apricots, banana, honeydew melon, sweet potato, tomatoes, peanuts, and orange juice – and limited amount of sodium are particularly critical for lowering blood pressure.

Are these reported benefits and the collective advice of 22 experts enough to motivate you to try the DASH diet?

– Chris P


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