For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the National Institutes of Health-developed DASH Diet “best overall” diet among nearly 40 it reviewed. The announcement came just as new research suggests that combining DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, with a low-sodium diet has the potential to lower blood pressure as well as or better than many anti-hypertension medications.
With its focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins, DASH, tied this year for “best overall” diet and was ranked No. 1 in the “healthy eating” and “heart disease prevention” categories.
According to the World Health Organization, hypertension, more commonly referred to as high blood pressure, is the most common chronic condition worldwide. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, affects 1 billion people, and accounts for 1 in 8 deaths each year.
Researchers funded by NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) developed DASH to prevent and treat high blood pressure, but the diet also has proven highly effective in lowering blood cholesterol.
“The consistent high rankings of DASH over the years bode well for the way the diet is received and adopted, not just by health professionals, but by the public at large,” said Janet de Jesus, M.S., registered dietitian and program officer at NHLBI’s Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science. “This is especially gratifying now that new research underscores the significant blood-pressure lowering effects of a reduced intake of sodium in combination with the DASH diet.”
Previous research has shown that people who follow the DASH diet may be able to reduce their blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) could drop by eight to 14 points, which significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The positive health effects could be even greater if DASH is combined with a low sodium diet. An NHLBI-funded study (link is external) of more than 400 adults with prehypertension, or stage 1 high blood pressure, found that the combination of a low-salt diet with DASH substantially lowers systolic blood pressure. The results were impressive, according to de Jesus. Overall, participants who started out with the highest blood pressure achieved the greatest reductions.
“An interesting aspect of the DASH diet is that the effects are greater in people with hypertension or higher blood pressure at baseline, which is comparable to anti-hypertensive medications,” said Stephen Juraschek, M.D., an adjunct assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and an instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and the study’s first author. “Our results add to the evidence that dietary interventions can be as effective as – or more effective than – antihypertensive drugs in those at highest risk for high blood pressure, and should be a routine first-line treatment option for such individuals.”
DASH is not a fad diet, but a healthy eating plan that supports long-term lifestyle changes. It is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods, and includes whole grains, poultry, fish, lean meats, beans, and nuts. It is rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and fiber. However, it calls for a reduction in high fat red meat, sweets, and sugary beverages.
The DASH diet was one of 38 diets reviewed and scored by the U.S. News and World Report’s panel of health experts. To receive top ratings a diet must be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease.