Kathryn McMurry, NHLBI’s nutrition coordinator
Substitute brown rice for white rice, skim milk for whole milk and vegetable oils for butter. Gradually, eat more fruits and vegetables.
These are just a few of the suggestions that Kathryn McMurry, NHLBI’s nutrition coordinator, gave to those who are thinking about following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. She spoke on “Make the DASH to Heart Health,” recently in Bldg. 1’s Wilson Hall. DASH just happens to be the top-rated dietary plan in U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey of healthy diets and has topped its rating for years.
“The diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains,” she said. “It includes fat-free and low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils. And it limits sweets, sugary beverages and red meats.”
Based on studies supported by NHLBI, the DASH diet is moderate in overall fat, low in saturated and trans fats and high in vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods. The diet has been shown to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, which, in turn, can lower the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Although the diet wasn’t developed specifically for weight loss, “it can certainly be used as a weight loss diet because it’s rich in naturally low-calorie fruits and vegetables. These foods help you feel full longer,” McMurry said.
Compared to the typical American diet, she noted, the DASH diet is moderate in total fat and carbohydrates and lower in saturated and trans fats (manufactured fats linked to heart disease and cancers). It’s also rich in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium and calcium.
“It doesn’t require any special foods and it doesn’t require that you avoid any specific foods,” she said. “It can be adapted to what you like to eat.”
McMurry recommended adopting the diet over a couple of weeks because it takes time to get used to eating more fiber.
“You can start by adding vegetables or fruit to a meal or snack,” she advised. “So, if you’re currently eating half a cup of vegetables for dinner, try increasing the vegetables to a cup.”
She also suggested cooking with vegetable oils instead of butter or margarine, substituting whole wheat bread for white bread and gradually shifting to fat-free dairy products. Meat should be considered a side dish, not a main dish, she said.
McMurry emphasized “you don’t need to give up snacks or desserts, but we recommend that you make healthier choices.” For snacks, that means eating raw fruits and vegetables, popcorn or low-fat string cheese. For dessert, options include low-fat yogurt, berries and granola.
For those trying to lose weight, decreasing portion size and exercising at least 60 minutes per day are “really important.”
NHLBI’s web site includes resources on the diet. The publication In Brief: Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH provides information about serving sizes based on calorie levels and includes an activity tracker. The web site also features more than 180 heart healthy recipes.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s choosemyplate.gov also has a wealth of information and tools,” McMurry said. “There’s a very detailed diet tracker where you can log in and keep track of what you’re eating each day. It doesn’t directly line up with the DASH diet, but it generally lines up with the dietary guidelines.”
It’s getting easier to eat healthily on campus, she noted, “thanks to the efforts of our dining services staff, chefs and dietitians.” They’ve developed entrees and side dishes called “Sensible Selections” that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sodium.
For those who have trouble sticking to a diet, McMurry recommended meeting with a registered dietitian. Dietitians advise people on what to eat, based on their food preferences and lifestyle.
“Even if you have just one or two sessions, it could get you started on a diet plan,” she added.
The lecture was sponsored by the Office of Research Services, Division of Amenities and Transportation Services, in partnership with the NIH Health and Wellness Council and NHLBI, as part of the “Focus on You” lecture series.