Chatting with Marla Heller: Author of the DASH Diet Books

Thinking of trying the DASH Diet? Read more about it in our chat with its creator Marla Heller.

Each year, U.S. News evaluates and ranks 35 diets with input from a panel of health experts. This year, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet snagged the top spot yet again. In order to be top-ranked, the diet must be easy to follow, nutritious, safe and effective for weight loss and help protect against heart disease and diabetes. To get the real deal on the DASH Diet, I spoke to Marla Heller, MS, RDN, a New York Times best-selling author of The DASH Diet Action Plan, The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution, The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook and The DASH Diet Younger You.

The DASH Diet has been around for many years. Why haven’t we really heard about it until recently?

DASH has been thought of as, perhaps, something only for the research setting. When I first encountered the DASH Diet right after the research was first published, and worked to teach it to my patients. However, I struggled with the existing educational materials, and watched my patients' eyes glaze over, fearing that they could never incorporate all those fruits and vegetables in their diets. Because I recognized how important the DASH Diet was, I felt a calling to make it practical for people to follow in their real lives.

Even today, almost 20 years after the first DASH research was published and U.S. News has ranked it as the best diet and the healthiest diet for five years in a row, the diet is still considered relatively obscure. So I am still trying to spread the word about this plan that makes people healthier while helping them reach and maintain a healthy weight.

What makes the DASH Diet different from all other diets?

The DASH Diet is grounded in science. It was originally developed to help lower blood pressure without medication. And that it does, in as little as 14 days. Since the release of the first study, multiple follow-up research studies have continued to prove the benefits for blood pressure [and] cholesterol, as well as for weight loss. And long-term studies have shown that people who follow a DASH eating pattern have significantly lower risk for heart attacks, strokes, heart failure [and] certain types of cancer, and for developing type 2 diabetes.

The DASH Diet was originally created to help lower blood pressure. How is it also able to help people lose weight?

In the original research they didn't even allow people to lose weight, because they just wanted to evaluate the effect of the food pattern on blood pressure. But because it was a healthy diet, it was something that was ideally appropriate for helping people lose weight. Since the original research, there have been many more studies, some of which have included weight loss. And there have been additional studies that have shown that by cutting back on refined carbs and added sugars and replacing them with a little higher level of protein and heart-healthy fats, that they actually got better blood pressure results. Fortunately, this corresponds exactly with the newest weight-loss research. So now we know that we can have a better weight-loss plan with the DASH Diet and get even better results for health. And this up-to-date research is what has been used to provide the foundation for The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution and my new book, The DASH Diet Younger You.

What are your three top tips to follow on the DASH Diet?

1. Fill your plate with lots of colorful vegetables.

2. Include protein-rich foods and heart-healthy fats to quench hunger.

3. Choose fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth the healthy way.

What are the most-common three questions you get asked about the DASH Diet?

"Does DASH mean that it is a quick diet?" The name is just a coincidence; DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which was the name of the research.

"Is the DASH diet related to the Mrs. Dash seasoning mixes?" These seasonings can be used as part of the DASH diet, as a way of reducing added sodium, which may be beneficial for many people with high blood pressure.

"Can you follow the DASH diet and still be a vegetarian?" And the answer, of course, is that you can. And in fact, I have created 14 days of vegetarian meal plans in my new book The DASH Diet Younger You.

Can you share a favorite recipe from your cookbook The DASH Diet Everyday Cookbook?

These thick and juicy burgers, with a nutritional profile that has been improved with the addition of fiber-rich black beans, can be grilled outdoors, if you prefer. The beans heat up in the burger and cook it from the inside out, so you won’t get a rare patty. Nevertheless, it will be delicious.

DASH Diet Black Bean and Beef Burgers with Salsa
For the Salsa

2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice, or 1 cup coarsely chopped grape or cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons minced white or yellow onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 small jalapeno or serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of kosher salt
For the Burgers:
1 pound extra-lean ground sirloin
1 (15-ounce) can reduced-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion or onion powder
Olive oil in a pump sprayer
4 whole-wheat buns, toasted (optional)
2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and sliced

Make the salsa: In a medium serving bowl, mix together the tomatoes, onion, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic and salt. Set aside while making the burgers.

Make the burgers: In a medium bowl, mix together the ground sirloin, beans, chili powder, salt, pepper, granulated garlic and granulated onion. Using hands rinsed under cold water, shape the meat mixture into four 3 1/2-inch burgers. If the beans poke through the ground sirloin, press them back into place.

Spray a large nonstick skillet with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the burgers and cook, turning after 2 minutes, until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes for medium burgers. Transfer to a platter.

For each serving, place a burger in a bun and top with a spoonful of the salsa and a few avocado slices. Serve at once, with the remaining salsa on the side.

Nutritional Analysis

(1 burger, without bun) 334 calories, 30 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 10 g fiber, 70 mg cholesterol, 588 mg sodium, 1,078 mg potassium. Food groups: 3 ounces meat, 1 1/2 beans, 1/2 vegetable.

(1 burger, with bun) 494 calories, 37 g protein, 53 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 17 g fiber, 70 mg cholesterol, 928 mg sodium, 1,232 mg potassium. Food groups: 3 ounces meat, 2 whole grains, 1 1/2 beans, 1/2 vegetable.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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