You’ve probably declared some lofty weight loss resolutions for the upcoming year. Besides the gym, one of your most valuable weapons will be an easy-to-follow, effective nutrition plan. But with the host of popular diets available, is one actually better than the next? U.S. News & World Report seems to think so.
They released rankings of 40 diets — including Mediterranean (tied for first place), vegetarian (#10), paleo (#32), and ketogenic (last place at #40) — this week. The leader of the pack: the DASH diet, for the eighth year in a row in the “best diet” category.
The DASH diet took the #1 spot in the “healthy eating” and “heart healthy” categories, too. And on top of that, it made the top 10 for “best weight loss diets,” “best diabetes diets,” and “easiest diets to follow” — but can one way of eating really rule them all? Read on to find out of if the DASH diet is right for you.
What Is The DASH Diet?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This plan was first developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in the 1990s as a way to fight high blood pressure, but secondary benefits have become apparent after 20 years.
“The DASH diet is so popular because it’s probably the most robustly researched diet out there, specifically when it comes to heart health,” says Mike Roussell, Ph.D., Men’s Health nutrition advisor.
Here’s the typical menu: five daily servings of fruit, five daily servings of vegetables, two to three daily servings of low-fat dairy, roughly eight daily servings of whole grains, and protein from two daily servings of lean meats, along with five servings of beans, nuts, and seeds a week. Your goal with DASH is to minimize your sodium intake to under 2,300 milligrams a day, and restrict added sugars and saturated fats — mostly from red meats.
What Are The Health Benefits Of The DASH Diet?
One study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a combination of the DASH Diet and regular exercise can help hypertensive patients lower systolic blood pressure by up to 16 points in four months. Research also shows that the diet can help lower your LDL cholesterol or the most harmful form of cholesterol.
While DASH doesn’t claim to provide rapid weight loss, research has shown you can, in fact, shed pounds. That same Archives of Internal Medicine study found that people lost on average 19 pounds when they added exercise to a DASH diet, while people following the diet without exercise lost less than a pound.
Another study found that a reduced-calorie DASH diet paired with resistance training can help you lose seven pounds in 10 weeks, gain muscle, and decrease body fat by 11 per cent. “The DASH diet can be effective, but if you’re trying to lose a ton of weight there might be better solutions,” says Roussell.
One downfall may be its preference for high carbs — about 55 per cent of your daily calories —and consuming that volume of fibre from a combination of the whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can be difficult, says Roussell. “If you have a lot of weight to lose—say 20-plus pounds—it might be better if you took a more carb-restricted approach,” he says.
Low-carb diets can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Research shows that a 12-week low-carb diet, such as the Atkins Diet, can significantly reduce triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood), blood sugar, insulin, and LDL cholesterol. A separate study found the same type of diet can also reduce inflammation, a deep immune response that precedes serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes.
How Does The DASH Diet Compare To The Mediterranean Diet?
The DASH diet tied for first place with the ever popular and Mediterranean diet, which is also founded on lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Mediterranean diet offers its own slew of benefits, like improving your brain health and heart disease risk.
However, this way of eating does place a heavier emphasis on fish, fat in the form of olive oil, and the occasional glass of wine.
It doesn’t really prescribe a serving count, either. Instead, the Mediterranean diet offers a pyramid-like approach: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil are at the base of every meal, fish comes in next at two servings per week, while poultry and dairy are consumed more moderately.
So, How Do You Choose The Right Diet For You?
Ranking diets is a little bit like ranking workouts. Someone who enjoys powerlifting may not like cycling, but in the big picture, both have health benefits. The real secret is finding a diet that allows you to enjoy your meals, consume a wide-variety of healthful nutrients, and feel good — all while not overeating.
That approach can be different for everyone, and it’s far more important than the actual composition of your diet. If a plate of chicken, brown rice, and roasted vegetables sounds great to you, then DASH might be your thing. If you have trouble digesting dairy or rather load up on a big green salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, and salmon drizzled with olive oil, then the Mediterranean might be worth a try.
One way you can’t go wrong: If you’re an active healthy person, stick to a whole-foods diet that’s rich in produce—whether it’s the ketogenic diet, Mediterranean diet, or DASH diet. The rest is just details.