It is the start of a new year and what better way to begin the year than with a pledge to eat what medical experts report as a great diet for your health and in particular your heart? There are two main factors that we control that are both related to healthy aging. One is the amount of exercise we get and the other is what we eat. At the season of New Year’s resolutions, it is time to revisit the role of diet and our health.
Not long ago, U.S. News and World Report reported a wide array of diets and, using experts in the field, analyzed most of the diets out there and ranked them (like they rank colleges and universities.) Among the many diets examined the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet was rated the best overall diet for one’s health and best diet for healthy eating as well as heart health. Since cardiovascular disease and overall health are the two things of most concern to us as we age, it seems appropriate to look closely at the DASH diet and its close relative, the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet.
DASH, as its name indicates, was designed by nutritionists and physician scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to reduce high blood pressure. Hypertension is a known risk factor for many medical problems not the least of which are heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure. The diet was first used to see if diet could reduce high blood pressure, which it did. Subsequent to the initial research on the diet done in the 1990’s, many investigations have since proven that DASH is a very healthy diet that confers more than simply a reduction in blood pressure. The slight modifications to the diet in the TLC were made to specifically target cholesterol, especially to lower LDH – the “bad” cholesterol.
What are the Key Elements in the DASH/TLC Diets?
Fundamental to these diets is a simple and easy to remember concept. Reduce fats, red meat, and sugar in your diet. If one does nothing more than this, then you are on your way to a healthy diet. Specifically, cut to a minimum fried food, fat-filled dairy products, sugar, desserts, and sugary drinks. More than restricting certain foods, the diet includes adding vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. A diet replete with fresh vegetables, low-fat products, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, and poultry should be on the menu. Salt is the other major factor that must be considered. Reduce or eliminate added salt to cooking and served meals. Gradually, we can get accustomed to low salt, but to help this adaption use other spices to make up for the loss of salt.
The Dietary Guidelines
The DASH and TLC diet information from the NIH provides the recommended daily amounts of various components of our diet — such as fats, sodium, and sugars — and can show you how to read a typical food label. You do not need to be a dietician or genius to follow these aids to healthy eating. Most foods have calories, and the older we are the fewer calories we need to stay normally healthy and to keep from gaining weight. The more calories we eat, unless we burn them off with exercise, the more weight we will gain.
Fats are very important in determining heart and some other organ health. Only about 20 percent of our diet should contain fats and we should keep saturated and trans fats to less than 10 percent. A food's fat content and its breakdown is available on the food labels. In choosing food for preparation, rely on lean meats, fish, and poultry and limit red meat to one or two meals a week. While you're cooking, remember that animal oils are rich in saturated fats whereas vegetable oils are low. As we age, we need to be adding fiber to our diet. Fruits, vegetables, and grains all add fiber to our diet and this is why they are recommended as we age. Salt is sodium chloride and the daily amount of sodium recommended in the DASH and TLC diets is around 2000 mg. (Remember that 1 teaspoon of table salt contains 6000 mg or three times the recommended daily amount!)
Where Can I get these Diets & Recipes?
There are a host of places to find DASH and TLC recipes. Amazon sells several paperback and hardcover recipe books. For those who like free, there are a number of free recipes that are DASH- and TLC-compliant found on the internet. There are also two shorter sources from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (PDF) and from the National Institutes of Health (PDF).
The Bottom Line
Now is the time to commit to a healthy diet. Diet and exercise are the two factors that we can control to keep us healthy as we age. Just do it!