Newswise — With New Year’s resolutions in full swing, many Americans are resolving to eat healthier. BIDMC primary care physician Stephen Juraschek, MD, PhD, shares how the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can benefit folks who are following the “new year, new me” mantra.

“The DASH diet has really taken root in the scientific community because it’s backed by well-designed and well-executed clinical trials,” says Juraschek. “These studies show that over an 8-12 week period, adults who consumed a DASH-like diet exhibited significantly lower blood pressure. These dietary patterns have the most scientific evidence for targeting cardiovascular disease risk factors.”

Juraschek recommends following the DASH diet, proven to target cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, as well as cardiovascular disease itself – the #1 killer in the United States.

Designed as an approach to lower hypertension, the traditional DASH diet:

  • Emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and lean protein such as fish or poultry
  • Includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Encourages high fiber intake with nuts and beans
  • Limits foods that are high in saturated fat such as red meats, full-fat dairy products, coconut and palm oils
  • Limits sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

“Often times, people go on diets with the goal of weight loss in mind,” says Juraschek. “While it’s an important focus of dietary programs, there is less awareness around diets that focus on balance and healthy eating while also reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure or cholesterol.”

A simple change on your plate

It’s common for American adults to be unaware of new recommendations for healthy eating. “People tend to fall short of achieving a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables and high-fiber foods like nuts and beans, and instead, overconsume meat and carbohydrates,” Juraschek says.

However, according to Juraschek, a simple change in the way we assemble and balance our plates can make a big difference.

“The vast majority of people recognize that fruits and vegetables are good, but when they assemble their meal plans, they only have about 1-3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day,” says Juraschek. “The DASH diet included 7-9 servings of both fruits and vegetables per day. It takes some thought, but it can be done.”

Juraschek suggests asking yourself a few key questions:

  • What are the main food groups on my plate?
  • How am I assembling or balancing my meals?
  • What fruits and vegetables am I going to buy at the grocery store to eat throughout the week?
  • Can I substitute a serving of meat or carbohydrates (pasta, rice, bread) with another serving of a vegetable?

The key to reassembling and balancing our plates, he says, starts with what we buy at the grocery store.

Quality vs. quantity

Juraschek stresses how eating well doesn’t necessarily mean cutting back on the amount.

“There’s something to be said about quality versus quantity,” he says. “Healthy eating shouldn’t simply focus on restriction and what we shouldn’t eat, but instead what we can eat that will provide us with the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that will lead to overall wellness and health.”

Fruits, vegetables and healthier meat choices – which are all key components of the DASH diet – can help maintain this balanced diet.