The healthiest diet

Want to protect your heart, eat more fruits and veggies, and cut unhealthy carbs?

One of the healthiest diets—it’s endorsed by the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and other health authorities—is DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).

That’s because a DASH-style diet is low in saturated fat, added sugar, and salt, and rich in fruits and vegetables. It’s also rich in nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber.

In 1997, a landmark study found that a DASH diet could lower blood pressure as well as some prescription drugs. That news was a bombshell, because high blood pressure (hypertension) is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

The OmniHeart study diets

Then, in 2005, came another news flash. The OmniHeart study reported that two variations of the DASH diet were even better for your heart than the original:

The higher-protein variation replaced some of DASH’s carbs with protein—half from plant sources (like beans, peas, and nuts) and half from animal foods (like fish, lean poultry, and low-fat dairy).

The higher-healthy-fat variation was a Mediterranean-style diet. It replaced some of DASH’s carbs with healthy fats like oils, salad dressing, mayonnaise, nuts, fatty fish, and avocado. The oils—like canola, olive, and soybean—were polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, not saturated like coconut or palm.

The two OmniHeart diets beat the original DASH diet because they were better at lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.

(Click here to read more details about the studies behind the DASH and Omniheart diets.)

Our take on the OmniHeart Diet

We’ve created a hybrid of the two OmniHeart diets, with a “wild card” that lets you eat one extra serving of carbs, protein, or healthy fat each day. Here are examples of a day’s worth of food for omnivores or vegetarians.

Here’s how many servings to aim for—and what a typical serving consists of—if you eat roughly 2,000 calories a day. (Click here for a chart with extra tips that you can download, save, and print.)

Wondering how anyone can eat 11 servings of vegetables & fruit a day? Relax. A serving is often just a half cup (see below).  Serving sizes for other foods—like fish & poultry, grains, and sweets—may also surprise you. A typical restaurant serving is huge in comparison.

Note: The Wild Card lets you add about 120 calories’ worth of fish & poultry, fats & oils, whole grains, desserts & sweets, or any other category above.

Daily goals (for roughly 2,000 calories a day):

  • Saturated fat: 14 g
  • Sodium: No more than 2,300 mg
  • Fiber: at least 30 g
  • Protein: 85 g (up to 105 g if fish or poultry is your “Wild Card”)
  • Potassium: 4,700 mg
  • Magnesium: 500 mg
  • Calcium: 1,200 mg

Don’t want to count servings?

Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, shrink the unhealthy carbs, replace fats (like butter) with oils, cut back on salt, and limit added sugar. That’ll get you most of the way there.

Make vegetables a main course

If you want 11 servings of vegetables or fruit a day, they’re going to fill up at least half of your plate at lunch and dinner. It’s easy to polish off 3 or 4 pieces of fruit as snacks or with breakfast or lunch. But when you’re shooting for 6 to 8 servings of vegetables a day, it makes sense to make them part of a main dish like stir-fried vegetables, vegetable curry, vegetable fajitas, or a main-dish salad, which could have chunks of chicken, fish, or tofu mixed in.

Used to having chicken or seafood as your main dish for dinner?

Surround a small portion—about the size of a deck of cards—with enough side-dish vegetables or salad to reach your veggie total.

It’s not just that you need to boost the vegetables, but that by eating more of them, you’re eating less of other foods…like grains.

Go easy on grains

Even whole grains are limited to four servings a day if you’re shooting for roughly 2,000 calories. And a serving is a thin (1 oz.) slice of bread, not a typical (4 oz.) bagel.

Eat a small bowl of cereal for breakfast and a sandwich at lunch, and you’re left with just a half cup of cereal, rice, or pasta for dinner.

A half cup isn’t much. It wouldn’t even fill up a tennis ball.

Solution: bulk up your serving of grains with vegetables

It’s easy. Add sautéed or roasted veggies to your cooked brown rice or quinoa. Or toss your whole wheat pasta with grilled or sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers, and/or zucchini, or with sautéed spinach or kale.

Photos: © Jennifer Urban/CSPI (plate), ©— EWA BROZEK (broccoli), chiyacat (greens), EWA BROZEK (green beans), JKM191 (tomato), arnowssr (carrots), dasuwan (lettuce), Aptyp_koK (peppers), Juan Jose Gutierrez Barrow (cabbage), Elena the wise (blueberries), Michelle Robek (strawberries), Volff (oranges), luismolinero (oats), Daniel Gilbey (rice), Stefanie Leuker (bread), egal (pasta), (yogurt), dip (milk), Natalia Merzlyakova (nuts), FPWing (beans), cultureworx (salmon), Paylessimages (oil), pockygallery11 (sugar), akulamatiau (honey).

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24 Replies to “The healthiest diet”

  1. With only two servings of low fat dairy, I’m wondering where are you finding the 1200 mg of calcium? Same goes for protein. It seems there aren’t enough sources of protein to get to 105 grams. Can you help me understand this.

      1. My husband and I both have been told to reduce to 1500 per day, along with increased exercise.. me for my LDL, my husband for pre diabetes. Do you have a chart of recommended foods for a 1500 day meals?

    1. Dark green vegetables and beans both have protein, beans at a meal take the place of meat and a starch.

    1. DASH or Omni may be modified for vegan diets. The fish & poultry servings can be met with vegan protein sources, such as tofu or additional beans. The dairy servings can be met with fortified non-dairy substitutes. For example, soy milk and pea protein milks provide amounts of protein that are similar to dairy milk. Here is an example of a day’s food that is modified to be vegetarian (not vegan):

    2. Stay with the Vegan Diet. It is the ideal diet to obtain Optimum Health. I am a 45-year Vegan and I have not been sick nor been to a doctor for illness in 45 years! I am 72 years old and upon reviewing my Blood work-up my doctor says I have the body of a 35-year old!!!

      1. Eddie Veggie: My father had never been to the doctor for 40 years. Loved his meat, potatoes, vegetables and a good dessert. He smoked heavily all his life. Played competitive sports into his 60’s and was very physical throughout the day. Did exercise before bed every night.
        My point is a well-balanced life and good genes make a lot of difference. I lean toward more vegetables but always fight the exercise.

  2. I think your daily goal for protein is way out. Nutritionists generally advise multiplying your body weight by .37 to get the number of grams of protein you need per day.

    1. The 105 grams of protein is not a minimum. (It reflects the typical amount the dietary pattern provides.) In general, some studies show that aiming for a slightly higher target than 0.37 grams per pound of body weight may help older adults preserve muscle mass as they age. That higher target is 0.5 multiplied by your body weight in pounds.

  3. For those worried about getting enough calcium because of eating or drinking less dairy than they think optimum, remember there are significant sources of calcium in vegetables, broccoli, dry apricots collards, for example, and fish, canned salmon, etc. Look up on the web food sources of calcium. You may be surprised!

  4. I think the Mediterranean diet which can be combined with the DASH diet is excellent. It is also known as the MIND diet.

  5. Evidenced based nutrition studies have shown a whole foods plant based nutrition regimen for prevention and reversal of many chronic health issues.

  6. I am wondering how to measure the grain servings. How much uncooked oatmeal makes a serving of porridge? What volume of popcorn kernels pops up to a serving?

  7. 3 cups of popcorn from a hot air popper is 15grams of carbohydrate or one serving,,, oatmeal 3/4 to 1 cup prepared is one serving. Cutting back the starch and fruit servings some will lower calorie counts to the necessary levels to get you at 1400 to 1600 calories per day

  8. Great chart. Yes – protein is in beans and nuts. Yes – calcium is in greens! The only thing this chart doesn’t take into account is beverages. This is a vital aspect to a daily intake that people overlook the impact of.

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