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Breaking Down 2015’s Top-Ranked Diet

February 15, 2016

And what Drexel nutritionists say the ever-popular paleo diet is missing.

Each year brings a new commitment to healthy eating, and a slew of popular diets for us to choose from. U.S. News and World Report ranked the best diets of 2015 based on whether they are easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against heart disease. The results were, well . . . surprising. The ever-popular paleo diet nearly took the bottom spot, while the DASH Diet topped the list.


Nyree Dardarian, MS, assistant clinical professor in the Nutrition Sciences Department and director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance, breaks down the DASH Diet’s benefits, shortcomings and the alternatives for living a healthy lifestyle with some help from her team.


Q: In your opinion, why is the DASH Diet earning top honors on this list? What does it achieve in terms of overall health and weight loss?

The DASH eating plan, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” was not designed to promote weight loss; it’s designed for the prevention of Hypertension (High Blood Pressure). It just so happens that the “tips” suggested to reduce blood pressure overlap with the nutrition “tips” we recommend to help lower cholesterol, blood glucose and weight. Check out the resemblances between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPlate Guidelines, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the DASH diet. Coincidence?

All three eating plans, advocate eating more nutrient-dense foods (more fruits and vegetables), limit saturated and total fat (replace high fat meats with lean meats and nuts), limit sugar (less sweets and sugary drinks), limit sodium (cut down on processed foods). Get the picture?

Q: How does low blood pressure = weight loss?

Answered by Victoria Smith, intern, Drexel University, and Stephanie Sudjian, intern, University of Delaware

The relationship is actually the opposite; weight loss = low blood pressure.  Weight loss is the biggest contributor to decreasing high blood pressure. Even with a weight loss as minimal as 5-10 pounds, a person can begin to notice a significant decrease in his or her overall resting blood pressure measurements.  The reasoning for this is because, the more weight we carry on our bodies, the more pressure we put on our blood vessels and the harder the heart has to work to pump blood to all of the vital organs and tissues in the body that need a constant blood supply to function properly.  According to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care, as a person loses weight, the amount of work on the heart decreases resulting in a lower blood pressure.


Q: Explain impact of salt, red meat and sugar on blood pressure?

Answered by Victoria Smith, intern, Drexel University and Stephanie Sudjian, intern, University of Delaware

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it’s called high blood pressure or hypertension (NHLBI) In the United States; hypertension affects nearly 1 in 4 Americans. Hypertension is considered the “silent killer” and can be controlled through sodium regulation.  Too much sodium in the diet causes sodium in the blood stream to rise too.  This upswing of blood sodium impairs the body’s ability to excrete excess water, thus, holding onto it.  Holding onto excess fluid strains blood vessels and attributes to rising blood pressure.

The food we eat, especially those foods higher in fat and sodium can cause increases in blood pressure, blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol) therefore increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.


Q: What amount of sodium is okay to maintain a healthy blood pressure, and what are some tricks to avoid overconsuming it?

Answered by Victoria Smith, intern, Drexel University, and Stephanie Sudjian, intern, University of Delaware

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day, which is equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt (USDA).  When buying foods read labels.  Processed and convenience foods are the biggest contributors to sodium in the diet, not table salt.  Select foods with the following claims, no salt added, low-sodium, or reduced-sodium. When reading the nutrition facts label look for foods with less than 300 mg of sodium per serving. Keep in mind; if you are going to eat two servings of the food, this doubles the sodium. Lastly, prepare foods at home without adding salt.


Q: On the DASH Diet, if you’re sticking to 2,000 calories a day, you can still have up to five sweets or added sugars (like a serving of strawberry jelly, for instance) each week. What are your thoughts about having five sweets per week? What advice do you have in regards to craving sweets and trying to get healthy?

Go for it! Do not deny cravings. Limit portions, and eat healthy about 80% of the time.


Q: The paleo diet ranked surprisingly low on the list. What are the risks of eliminating whole food groups, like dairy or carbohydrates if you’re following the paleo diet?

Eliminating entire food groups can be detrimental to health and will not result in long-term weight loss (a common misconception).  Our bodies require all of the macronutrients, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Carbohydrates to sustain energy, fat to help absorb fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E & K) and keep us warm, and protein for immunity; just a short list of benefits. Deleting food groups can result in micronutrient deficiencies, for example, meat is not a good source of calcium, therefore a diet that eliminates all the other food groups could lead to a calcium deficiency, leading to bone loss and ultimately osteoporosis. Conversely, a diet that eliminates red meat can lead to iron deficiency, the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States. My point is variety is crucial to overall good health.


Q: In your expert opinion, do you think it is okay to eliminate any food groups?

Absolutely not.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests eating a varied diet incorporating functional foods to support your overall well-being. Functional foods are defined as whole foods that are also fortified, enriched or enhanced and have many health benefits when consumed regularly in the diet.

All foods DO fit. The total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of healthy eating. Focus on variety, moderation and proportionality in the context of a healthy lifestyle.