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Monday, Aug. 10, 2020

Eating for a Healthier Life

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DASH diet is a winner for fighting hypertension

The U.S. News and World Report ranked the DASH diet as number two for best diets of 2020. It received this ranking for its heart-healthy qualities and nutritionally sound advice.

The DASH diet is an acronym that stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet, which is supported by the dietary guidelines and meets nutrient requirements by the Institute of Medicine, was created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in an effort to lower blood pressure levels. The DASH diet is based on research which shows that following an eating plan of this style can help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels for life. Improving both of these measures ultimately lowers our risk for heart disease. Studies show that the DASH diet may even help with weight loss for some people.

What’s unique about the DASH diet is that it’s not like your typical trendy diet, which focuses on special foods or certain food groups. Instead, the DASH diet is flexible, focuses on balance and uses foods that are commonly found in the grocery store. It includes daily servings from all of the food groups, so there is no need to completely cut out certain foods — all of them fit while incorporating balance, variety and moderation.

The DASH diet plan emphasizes eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It also recommends including lean protein sources, like fish, poultry, nuts and beans, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. The DASH diet recommends limiting sodium, sweets, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fats and foods that are high in saturated fats, like full-fat dairy, fatty meats and tropical oils like palm kernel, coconut oil and palm oils.

In addition to the diet component of the DASH eating plan, it is also recommended to make other lifestyle changes to help lower blood pressure levels. These lifestyle changes include limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking, getting adequate sleep, managing stress and staying physically active.

So, what does the DASH diet look like in real life? Since there’s an emphasis on fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, expect meals and snacks to be rich in these foods, with some lean protein sources and low-fat or fat-free dairy mix. It’s also recommended to lower your sodium intake, so using fresh herbs and spices to season foods in place of salt is ideal for this diet.

Reading nutrition labels for sodium content is also a helpful tool. A good rule of thumb when reading a nutrition label for sodium is to check out the Percent Daily Value. If a food is 5% or less of the Daily Value for sodium, this product is low in sodium. If the Percent Daily Value reads 20% or higher, this means that the food is high in sodium.

Following the DASH diet may look different for each person, especially since we all have different cultural food preferences and are all on a different health journey. The important part is to find what works for you.

If you’re new to nutrition and physical activity, the DASH diet may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to. Start small with changes that fit your lifestyle at first, then slowly build from there. These small changes may look like adding a 15-minute walk to your morning routine, incorporating a vegetable as a side dish at every dinner, or starting to read nutrition labels and choosing products that are lower in sodium.

The important part about making changes is choosing habits that are realistic for you. Once you’ve mastered a new habit, build momentum and add another new healthy habit. Over time, these new habits will become much more routine.

If you’re interested in learning more about the DASH diet, the LSU AgCenter will be offering a new virtual nutrition program series called “Break Up With Salt.” This program teaches participants about the DASH diet, healthy habit change, physical activity, supermarket shopping for the DASH diet, and cooking healthy to lower blood pressure. To learn more about this program, please contact Abigail McAlister at 318-226- 6805 or amcalister@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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