DASH: Designed for Every Body

Diets are a lot like fashion. Depending on the season (and which celebrity is currently obsessed), there’s always one hot diet that’s catching all the buzz, even if it’s a nutritional nightmare. Looking back at all the fad diets that have come and gone over the years is like shopping in a vintage clothing store. It’s fun to browse, but those daisy-printed, polyester mini dresses and baby blue leisure suits can’t be good for one’s health.

Way back in the ’70s, when everyone wanted to look slim and sleek while wearing bell bottoms and doing the Hustle, the 700-calorie-a-day Scarsdale Medical Diet was all the rage. In 1980, when its creator, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was murdered by his long-time lover in a different kind of rage, the diet made headlines once again.

Later in the ’80s, when big shoulder pads, stirrup pants, and banana clips were in style, dieters could choose between Dr. Robert Atkins’ “revolutionary” low-carb diet; the Pritikin Program, with its focus on natural and minimally processed foods; and the Cabbage Soup diet (don’t ask and definitely don’t try this at home).

Fortunately for both fashion and dieting, good taste and common sense eventually win out. In the 1990s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) directed the DASH (short for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension”) study. Based on the results, the NIH and the U.S. Department of Agriculture now recommend DASH as an ideal eating plan for most Americans. For anyone who has ever tried (and failed) to lose weight on a fad diet, this is similar to the moment when clothing manufacturers started making denim jeans with Lycra. Finally! A diet we can live with, live on, and most importantly, love.

As the name indicates, the DASH plan was designed to lower high blood pressure (hypertension), but it also helps to reduce cholesterol and may also reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, kidney stones, and diabetes. Just as blue jeans are suitable for everyone, the DASH plan is recommended for most people, as it’s rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains; low in fats; and chock-full of potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Last June, U.S. News & World Report, the Vogue magazine of facts and figures, named DASH “Best Diet Overall” and “Best Diabetes Diet,” and ranked it third in the category of “Best Heart-Healthy Diet”. A panel of health experts gave it “high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health,” noting that “the DASH diet truly is the diet for everyone.”

Fashion magazines often feature “Runway to Reality” articles that show readers how to create the latest designer looks with affordable pieces from national boutiques and chain stores. In much the same way, the NIH’s DASH eating plan includes simple guidelines that you can use to make smart food choices. Here are easy and delicious ideas for eating healthy, DASH-style, on your next visit to the mall.

Breakfast on the Go
DASH guidelines include whole-grain foods for minerals and fiber, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. Many coffee shops and restaurants offer whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast. Say yes to the optional dried fruits and chopped nuts for even more fiber, and add a tall, low-fat latté for a satisfying boost of calcium and protein.

Quick Stop for Lunch
The DASH eating plan includes raw, leafy vegetables, lean meats, cooked beans and peas, and a small amount of cheese. Popular Mexican restaurant chains feature salads as an alternative to high-fat burritos, tacos and quesadillas. Order your salad with lean grilled chicken or beef, a small portion of beans, a sprinkling of cheese, and fat-free salsa instead of sour cream. Ask for salad dressing on the side and use it sparingly to add flavor.

Afternoon Pick-Me-Up
Daily DASH guidelines call for four to five servings of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or fruit juice. A refreshing smoothie from a juice bar makes a great afternoon treat. Ask for a brochure with nutritional information before you order, because large-size beverages can contain more calories than you might imagine. Customize your smoothie to your taste with low-fat milk, fat-free frozen yogurt, or lemonade, and a mix of bananas, mangoes, pineapples and strawberries, which are all important sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber.

A Relaxing Dinner
Going out to dinner on the DASH eating plan is easy, as the guidelines offer plenty of flexibility. Many top national restaurant chains feature menu items tailored to health-conscious diners. Instead of a burger and fries, order savory grilled salmon or tilapia, steamed broccoli, and a baked potato or brown rice. Ask for your meal to be prepared without additional butter, oil or salt, and request a side of fresh salsa or a wedge of fresh lemon or lime for extra flavor.

Ask your doctor or nutritionist for advice on using DASH guidelines to create your own healthy eating plan.

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