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Quinn on Nutrition: DASH into the new year

Jan. 16, 2017

We dashed through December. Now might be a good time to DASH through 2017. DASH is the acronym of the top-rated diet for healthy weight loss for the 7th year in a row, according to the US News and World Report (with input from a panel of health experts).

It’s interesting that DASH — which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — was originally studied as an effective strategy to reduce blood pressure. In the process of pulling down blood pressure, however, nutrition researchers discovered that this diet pattern also helped people lose weight and even improved their heart health.

DASH is one of several "plant-based eating plans" rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and other foods that grow from the ground. It’s not completely vegetarian, however. Key components include low-fat dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese as well as lean meats and fish.

How does it work? Like other healthful patterns of eating such as the Mediterranean diet (which by the way came in second as an effective diet for weight loss), DASH features modest portions, key nutrients for ongoing health and is relatively low in sugar and fat, especially saturated fat. Here are some of its attributes:

Calcium. Besides its important role in helping to regulate blood pressure, some intriguing studies have found higher calcium intakes associated with lower body fat and less weight gain as we age. Calcium, along with its partner vitamin D, has also been found in some studies to enhance the loss of body fat as part of a low calorie diet.

Protein. DASH emphasizes lean protein sources such as lean meats, beans, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy and soy products. Adequate protein throughout the day not only helps build and maintain muscle mass when we exercise but also helps control the urge to eat, say researchers.

Fiber: Found exclusively in plant-based foods, dietary fiber fills us up with no additional calories. (Our bodies cannot break down fiber for energy.) Another health plus: Fibers in plant foods feed good bacteria in our guts. Some of these beneficial microbes may play a role in keeping us lean, say scientists.

Potassium: Found in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables and legumes, this important mineral is known for its ability to help control blood pressure. Deficiency of potassium results in fatigue, muscle weakness and cramps.

Magnesium: Found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains, magnesium is a key player in energy production. And who doesn’t need energy when we’re trying to get up off the couch?

Find a complete guide to DASH at

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