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Weight Loss Wednesday | DASH Diet making a comeback in the COVID era

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

NEW ORLEANS — It's a diet that's been around for a long time. For a decade, and again this year, it was ranked one of the best by U.S. News and World Report.

But you might not know that the DASH Diet has its roots in Louisiana.

It's known for preventing chronic illness, and now it is especially important since those same conditions are making the coronavirus more deadly.

One follower has been a believer of its health benefit for years.

“Think about what can we buy in the grocery store to go in our smoothie,” Addie Hester of Baton Rouge tells her grandchildren while shopping in the grocery.

Addie Hester has spent a lifetime teaching children. With a masters in early childhood development, she is devoted to special education children. But what she is teaching her grandchildren Brooklyn and Sean on this trip to the grocery is more than a career. It's deeply personal.

“When I graduated from high school and went to college, I embraced the life philosophy that I wanted to die as young as possible or as late in life as possible,” remembers Hester.

She grew up in rural North Carolina with the typical southern diet.

“My mother, and all of her aunts as well as her siblings, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes ran rampant in our family,” she said. “So, there were genetic things, hereditary things that I knew that if I didn't do something in life to avoid those “bullets,” they would catch up with me.”

Addie, her late husband and sons have lived in Baton Rouge since the early 70s. And one day, she decided to take what she calls a brave step and enter the doors of LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

When asked what started happening when she started changing those behaviors, Hester replied, “My mind set about foods, you know, I looked at how I made choices, just that unconsciously eating, driving through to pick up my kids’ burgers. I was guilty of all that,” she said.

Pennington has an international reputation as one of the world premiere nutrition, and obesity research centers. It's mission is to cure chronic illness through diet.

“Addie has been the rock star because she is so interested in any kind of intervention that helps to improve her health,” said Dr. Catherine Champagne, a researcher at Pennington.

Over the decades, Addie signed up for 30 free nutrition clinical trials. She qualified for more than a dozen. Pennington and Dr. Champagne were on the cutting edge in the mid-90s when the DASH diet was created.

“For people who were hypertensive, that combination diet lowered blood pressure, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, to a level equivalent to medications on the market. That was just astounding,” Dr. Champagne said.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension is high blood pressure, the silent killer. It causes strokes and heart attacks. So, what's in this 25-year-old diet? And why was it just rated one of the best for health?

“Primarily it reduces sodium. We know that but it also limits a lot of processed foods because it limits sodium,” explained Dr. Melinda Sothern, a public health, diet and exercise expert, and now Professor Emerita at LSU Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Sothern worked at Pennington years ago. She says DASH not only limits sodium, but promotes lots of grains, fruits and vegetables. It includes, in a lower amount, low fat dairy, lean meats and fish, nuts and legumes. Then fats, oils and especially sweets and sugars are very limited.

“Increased fiber, especially natural fiber like you find in fruits and vegetables, is associated with reduction of all diseases. So fiber reduces heart disease. It reduces diabetes. It reduces cancer. It reduces all of the gut diseases and problems with digestion, so and it improves mood,” Dr. Sothern said.

Along with heart health, Dr. Sothern says the dairy in DASH with calcium and vitamin D, are anti-inflammatory and promote weight loss. But she says if you are prone to diabetes, you may want to add the healthful fats, like in the similar Mediterranean Diet, since they help metabolism. Both doctors say DASH and Mediterranean are superior for health, and to add weight loss, but it's always about one thing.

“Calories count. Calories are the, are the most important thing,” Dr. Champagne said.

At The Louisiana Children's Museum in City Park, Addie tells her grandchildren “Tomatoes are yummy, yummy.”

At 71, diabetes has finally caught up with Addie, but she knows her health would be much worse had it not been for DASH and years of support.

“Had it not been for Pennington, I would dare to say that I would have had my diagnosis of diabetes much earlier in life. The high blood pressure and all of those, they would have caught up with me early in life,” Hester said.

“Someone who consistently gets in a program and has that support team, the science is very clear that support is very, very important for long-term weight maintenance,” Dr. Sothern said.

For now, Addie tries to always shop the outer aisles of the grocery, avoiding processed foods. And the next generation is getting the message.

“So that we can have a healthier mind set while we're young and then carry those ways of eating into when I get older, and older and I can teach my kids to eat healthier as well,” said Sean Hester, Addie's grandson.

“I rather have fruits and vegetables, because that's the healthier food,” said Brooklyn Hester, Addie's granddaughter, who said fruits and vegetables are better than eating potato chips.

Addie is teaching them exercise can be fun. Hers favorite is line dancing.

“I have my 50th college graduation coming up and I want to go back home with my A game,” laughs Hester. “I'm going to be line dancing and any other study that will help me go back with my A-game.”

For more on the DASH Diet and meal plans. Click here.

Editor’s Note: This story was shot before the pandemic that is why no one is wearing masks. The story had to be held until now because of all the health news with the pandemic. 

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