What the Heck Is the DASH Diet?

Awarded the Best Overall Diet by U.S. News, the DASH Diet could be the healthiest eating plan you've never heard of. Here's everything you need to know about this heart-healthy lifestyle choice.

Dash diet on tablet.Photo: Shutterstock / designer491

It hardly takes a genius to figure out that eating and, indeed, living well is the best way to get into shape. However, with so many diets out there, how can you possibly know which one is right for you?

We might just have the answer. The DASH diet has been rated the best overall diet by U.S. News, tying for first place along with the Mediterranean diet. While most people are familiar with the latter, the former has something of an air of mystery surrounding it. Here’s what you need to know about the DASH diet and how to follow it.

What is the DASH diet?

Unlike many modern-day eating plans, the DASH diet doesn’t mean eating special foods or even cutting out entire food groups. Instead, like all good things in life, it’s about balance. It’s a flexible plan that recommends eating heart-healthy foods and reaching daily nutritional goals and hitting your goal calorie mark.

Following this particular dietary plan means eating a whole load of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, poultry, fish and nuts. The diet also encourages people to eat low-fat or fat-free dairy products. On the other hand, you should avoid or limit yourself from eating foods that are high in saturated fat, cut back on sugar-sweetened drinks and salty foods.

What are the benefits of the diet?

It’s not just about weight loss. Research has shown that there are actually many health benefits associated with this type of eating plan. In fact, one study found that following the DASH diet can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol in adults. The takeaway is that, when compared to the average American diet, the DASH alternative is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein–nutrients that are good for your heart and overall health.

Typical DASH diet meals

If you’re ready to give the DASH diet a go for yourself, what meals should you be eating? The great thing about this eating plan is that it’s not restrictive. Reach for whole grains, lean meats and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Think about ways to incorporate more fruits and veggies at every meal, whether you’re adding them as a side dish or incorporating them into the main dish. To get started, try Grilled Basil Chicken and Tomatoes with Great Grain Salad for dinner tonight.

While the diet isn’t a strict one, it’s all about ensuring that you are mindful of the types of food that you eat. Understanding which foods are heart-healthy is the first step. From there, it will be important to fine-tune what you eat to limit salt, sugar and saturated fat.

Looking for more great ways to enjoy the DASH diet?

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Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a creative feature writer, with a flair for food, health and lifestyle pieces. Her work has been seen in a number of national publications including Beyond Words Magazine, Reader's Digest and Psychologies. When she’s not typing away, you can find her trying out new recipes or binging Netflix shows— sometimes simultaneously.