Starting last year, U.S. News and World Report added diets to its suite of rankings, along with colleges and cars. This year, the panel has named the DASH diet the best overall diet of 2012. DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for people who suffer from high blood pressure. “I think the DASH diet is really more than a diet,” says Dr. Sarah Khan. “It’s a complete lifestyle change that focuses on lean meats and proteins, low fat, low sodium, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It’s just an all-encompassing bag of good choices.”
The DASH diet aims to lower blood pressure by increasing your intake of certain nutrients while decreasing your sodium. “Because it increases the potassium and calcium in your diet, that in and of itself lowers blood pressure,” says registered dietitian Mary Hartley. “Those minerals have a role in maintaining the correct water and electrolyte balance.” She adds that many fruits and vegetables are loaded with potassium, which is why they are emphasized in the DASH Diet.
Being overweight will increase your risk of high blood pressure, but the DASH diet will only lead to weight loss if you have the proper caloric intake. “It is a diet for good health,” says Hartley. “Now, if you want to lose weight, you’re going to follow the DASH Diet but eat less of it, because you have to make a calorie deficit.” Mary recommends eating the number of calories that are necessary to maintain your ideal weight rather than drastically reducing your calories for a short period of time. “They’ll lose if they eat the calories needed for their ideal weight, they’ll just lose more slowly.”
The DASH diet offers unquestionably solid nutritional advice, so it’s no surprise that health panel at U.S. News would choose it. “If you look at all the other diets out there, a lot of them are fad diets,” says Dr. Kahn. “They’re not teaching the skills of making good choices. It’s not about doing something for a little while and getting the results you want, but something that’s going to be with you for the rest of your life.”