Maintaining healthy heart function is a crucial factor for aging adults. Diet is one of the most powerful factors we have in our control when it comes to protecting this vital organ.
There are a number of diets out there that promote heart health and you have more than likely heard of a few of them like the Mediterranean diet and the Ornish diet. However, there is one that is ranked highest when it comes to providing your heart with the type of nutrients needed to nurture and protect it and ensure longevity – and it may surprise you.
The DASH Diet
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is promoted by The American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic, and U.S. News and World Reports as the best way of eating to protect your heart over the long term. While the diet was originally developed to lower blood pressure, it promotes a healthy way of eating that falls, “in line with dietary recommendations to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
One of the main reasons that the DASH diet works so well is that it is not overly restrictive and quite simple to incorporate into your current lifestyle. Basically, it promotes an overall healthy eating pattern that can be maintained over the course of one’s life. It is also quite adaptable to specific calorie requirements and cultural food preferences.
Basics of the DASH Diet
There are no specific rules to follow but rather some choices that you may adapt into your meals over a period of time. Much of this is what we already know to be healthy and sound when it comes to nutrition. Per the American Heart Association:
- Focus on Fruits and Vegetables. Eat as wide of a variety as you can and aim for fresh and frozen foods over those that are processed with added sugars, sauces and toppings.
- Choose whole-grains for their filling fiber. Brown and wild rice, quinoa, oats, corn (including popcorn!) and whole grain breads are all good choices. Limit processed and floury products likes cakes, muffins and white breads.
- When it comes to protein, rely more on skinless fish and poultry than red meat. Make sure it is prepared in a healthy way like baked, broiled or steamed more often than barbecued or fried.
- Choose low-fat dairy over full-fat dairy
- Snack on nuts and legumes
- Cook with non-tropical vegetable oils like extra-virgin olive oil.
- Lighten up the use of salt and replace as much as you can with herbs and spices. There are many delicious salt-free spice blends at the supermarket.
What to Limit
There are no completely off-limit foods when you follow the DASH diet but there are a few categories of foods that you will want to limit.
- Red Meat
- Trans-fats and saturated fats
- Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
How to Incorporate into your Diet
The easiest way to start adapting the DASH plan into your life is to make simple swaps and changes at mealtime. The U.S. News and World Report offers some simple tips to get you started.
- Add an extra vegetable or fruit to your plate at every meal;
- Try to eat two or more meat free meals per week;
- Focus on seasoning with herbs and spices more than salt;
- Eat a handful of nuts for a snack when you are craving salty potato chips or pretzels;
- Incorporate whole-wheat flour into your baking where possible.
Lastly, although no less important, is to incorporate daily exercise. And it doesn’t need to be extreme! A simple 15-minute walk after lunch and dinner will confer so many benefits: cardiovascular, mental, and yes, weight loss. Another great option is to take the stairs when and wherever possible.
The DASH diet shows that with a few simple tweaks to your eating and exercise regimens you can stay on top of your health long-term and enjoy a healthy outlook on life.