Nutrition for a Healthy Heart and Body
The DASH and Mediterranean Diets Rank Highest
By Sarah Martin
February is American Heart Month! And good news — the top diets for heart health are also highly ranked for good general health.
In both of these categories, the DASH and Mediterranean diets reign supreme. The DASH diet (DASH), an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed in the 1990s to address the rising prevalence of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. It focuses on fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and mixed proteins low in saturated fat and cholesterol. These choices are also low in sodium, but high in nutrients, such as fiber. DASH has been shown to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, though critics point out that it can also decrease good HDL cholesterol and may not improve high triglycerides.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh foods and reduced saturated fat, and is slightly more plant-based than DASH, including generous amounts of nuts, seeds, oils, and fish. While DASH provides specific recommendations from each food group, the Mediterranean diet is more of a guideline for a healthy overall eating pattern. The Mediterranean diet also encourages swapping some meats and poultry for fish and moderate intake of yogurt or cheese rather than a specific serving of dairy. It allows moderate levels of alcohol in the form of red wine, whereas DASH does not recommend alcohol at all.
Both diets are excellent choices for overall health. In fact, they frequently flip-flop or even tie for first place in the categories of general and heart health, according to US News and Report rankings. Since 2011, the Mediterranean diet has topped the list three times, and the DASH diet seven times. So it’s difficult to go wrong with either one. They both limit processed foods, refined grains and sweets, and foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat. Both also emphasize low-glycemic carbohydrates like fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
These diets encourage intake of foods high in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the proper functioning of our body systems. Examples are how vitamin C boosts immune function or vitamin K helps our blood to clot properly. Phytochemicals are nutrients that do not fit into the categories of vitamin or mineral, but are beneficial to our health. For example, polyphenols are a large class of antioxidant phytonutrients. They help to neutralize free radicals in the body, which are linked to premature aging, inflammation, and chronic disease. Polyphenols are found in many foods, including green tea, coffee, blueberries, dark chocolate, and herbs.
So if you’re looking to adopt some healthier eating habits for general or heart health this year, you might try applying some of the principles in these two nutritious diets. Unlike some fad diets, they are not overly restrictive or expensive. Either one would be a nourishing choice, so check out some great recipe choices in this issue!
Sarah Martin is a registered dietitian who resides in Buffalo and enjoys writing about nutrition, health, and wellness. Visit bodyandspiritnutrition.com for recipes, nutrition tips, and more. Email Sarah at firstname.lastname@example.org.