Food & Culture

The Same Diet Has Been Named the Best One For 8 Years Straight

While your social media feed fills with distant friends touting their new paleo or Whole30 or keto diet kicks, there has been one diet quietly ranked as the best overall by dieticians and physicians every single year since 2011. The DASH diet may not sound familiar to you, but the rules definitely will.

Doctors Love DASH

Every year, U.S. News & World Report assembles a panel of physicians, registered dieticians, university professors, and other nutrition experts to assess the nation's most popular diets and rank them on a myriad of factors. Those factors range from things like how effective they are for weight loss and how easy they are to follow to how well they battle chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. In 2018, 40 different diets were on the docket, and for the eighth year in the row, the DASH diet landed in the top spot for best diet overall.

So what is it, exactly? DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. As you might expect from the acronym, it was originally devised as a way to help people reduce blood pressure and boost their cardiovascular health. In fact, it came out of a 1997 study of the same name published by the National Institutes of Health. There are no food groups to cut out and no strange recipes to follow. It's basically just the food pyramid turned into a diet plan: you eat a recommended number of servings of whole grains, fruits and veggies, low-fat dairy, and lean meats while limiting your fat, sugar, and salt intake.

The idea is to lower your intake of sodium, refined sugar, saturated fat, trans fats, and other things that physicians say are bad for your heart in order to control and lower your blood pressure. Looking to lose weight? No problem: just reduce the number of calories you eat on the diet and increase your activity level. There's a free eating plan on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website if you want to try it out.

Womp Womp

If this sounds like a letdown, that's just because the DASH diet follows the nutritional guidance that experts have been shouting from the rooftops for years. It's exciting when a diet tells you that everything you know about nutrition is wrong. It's not as fun to hear that you just need to do what the experts have been telling you this whole time.

However, there are some caveats to bear in mind. The DASH diet was designed in the '90s, and nutrition science has changed its tune on a few key points since then. One especially big one: salt. The DASH diet recommends starting with the USDA-recommended intake of no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, and eventually whittling that down to 1,500 milligrams. But recent research suggests that while there's certainly such a thing as too much sodium, there's also such a thing as too little. One study that followed more than 2,500 men and women for 16 years found that people who ate less than 2,500 milligrams of sodium per day actually had higher blood pressure than people who consumed more than that. Other health research is raising alarms on high carbohydrate intake, which is arguably what the DASH diet recommends.

In that case, there's another familiar adage that's worth mentioning: all things in moderation — even diets. "It's kind of like the Goldilocks thing," Dr. Rachel Herz told the Curiosity Podcast. "The middle is probably the best way to go, and just use common sense when you're thinking about what to buy, how much to eat, and what to eat."

The DASH diet has reigned supreme for the better part of a decade, but it may have seen its best days: it tied for first this year, after all.

If you want to lose weight on the DASH diet, try "The Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution: 2 Weeks to Drop Pounds, Boost Metabolism, and Get Healthy" by Marla Heller. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Ashley Hamer February 23, 2018

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