The DASH diet is one of the most healthful diets ever created. But it’s not that easy to stick to.
One reason that it’s so tough is that it’s low in fat, especially the saturated fat found in “real” dairy foods that we love so much. In particular, you’re supposed to give up full-fat cheese and yogurt and whole milk in favor of low-fat and fat-free versions.
Not very tasty.
And, according to the latest study, not at all necessary.
MORE SATURATED FAT, LESS SUGAR
The DASH diet started out as a way to lower blood pressure—hence the name, an acronym for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” That it does well. People who follow the diet have also been found to have less risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney stones, colon cancer and dementia. Oh, yes, it’s also great for weight loss.
The diet emphasizes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, along with lean poultry and fish, nuts, beans and seeds.
But it’s also a low-fat diet, with a particular emphasis on keeping saturated fat low.
Here’s the problem: Saturated fat, especially the kind found in dairy foods, doesn’t appear to be bad for the heart. Meanwhile, sugar is—and the diet allowed sugar-laden fruit juices to be counted toward the fruit servings.
So the researchers wondered: What if we allowed DASH dieters to eat full-fat cheeses, high-fat yogurt and whole milk—while asking them to cut back on fruit juices and other sugar sources?
A TASTIER, HEALTHIER DIET
To test out the idea that full-fat dairy could make DASH both more palatable and just as healthy, researchers put 36 men and women on different diets over about two-and-a-half years—a control diet, similar to the standard American diet…a traditional low-fat DASH diet…or a high-fat DASH diet. By letting dieters have whole-fat dairy, the total fat went up from 27% in the traditional DASH to 40%…and saturated fat nearly doubled, from 8% to 14%. By cutting back on sugar, mainly from fruit juice, daily consumption went down from 158 grams a day on the traditional DASH to 93 grams.
No doubt, the high-fat DASH was tastier. But it was also just as effective at lowering blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic, as the low-fat DASH. Plus, it had extra benefits: Compared with the low-fat, higher-sugar traditional DASH diet, it lowered triglycerides—blood fats that raise the risk for heart disease and diabetes. The high-fat DASH also was better at reducing very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), which is particularly associated with heart disease risk.
That makes this already heart-healthy diet even heart-healthier.
And more enjoyable.