Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) has been announced the winner of the Best Diet Plan of 2012 by the U.S. News and World Report. The list this year also included the easiest diets to follow and other popular diets in various categories.

DASH, health experts say, is one of the better ways to control and minimize blood pressure or hypertension levels of the dieters and help them lose weight reasonably quickly and safely. The nutritional value of the diet has been scientifically validated.

Check out 5 crucial reasons why DASH is a top-ranked diet...

1. DASH - A Healthy Diet Plan, Not Weight Loss

DASH is a result of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded research and was developed primarily as a healthy diet plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy, lean meats, fish, beans and nuts. The principle of the plan is to minimize the risks of heart diseases, cancer and diabetes. The diet plan does not aim to reduce weight. Instead, it encourages dieters to adhere to a healthy living plan which will, in turn, help them to lose weight. The meal plan prescribed is satisfying yet low in carbs and calories and provides the right amount of protein.

A study published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine included 144 overweight or obese adults, with high blood pressure, who were divided in to three groups and asked to follow three different approaches for four months: DASH; DASH and exercise and classes on weight loss, and a third approach of controlled dieting. The study found participants in the DASH group lost, on average, 19 pounds, while the other two lost only a little weight; in some cases they even gained some.

2. Easy to Follow

The DASH diet plan is probably one of the easiest long-term diets to follow. This is because the plan never completely restricts fatty or sugary food and was developed keeping in mind the convenience and satisfaction of the dieters. Initial adjustment and tastes were other major factors considered when drawing up the menus. In addition, DASH also allows its followers to enjoy small servings of dark chocolate, as they not only to stop sugar cravings but also lower blood pressure levels.

3. Nutritionally Sound

An independent panel of 22 experts, including nutritionists, dietitians, cardiologists and diabetologists rewarded this approach with a Gold Standard and declared it a nutritionally sound plan... one that is recommended by the American Heart Association and is part of health guidelines across the world.

The diet follows the U.S. government's recommended fat, protein and carbohydrate intake levels and also includes nutrients of concern, such as fiber, potassium, calcium, Vitamin 12B and Vitamin D. this provides dieters a wholesome meal without compromising on the nutritional value. Unlike most other diet plans, DASH does not require its followers to take additional nutritional supplements.

DASH includes 7-8 servings of grains, 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy products and 2 or less servings of lean meats. Snacks and sweets are limited to 5 servings per week. Although the diet does not restrict salt intake, it limits the amount of sodium intake targeted at lowering blood pressure.

4. Great Plan for Diabetics and Heart Patients 

 It has been reported that DASH can effectively control and lower blood pressure levels and thereby control incidences of heart disease, failure and stroke. The plan can also curb the intake of bad cholesterol and other fatty substance that harm the heart.

DASH is widely accepted as a diet plan to prevent and control diabetics. The point here is that since the plan helps lose and control weight, risk factors associated with metabolic syndromes, diabetes and heart problems are also reduced.

Overall, DASH reflects the medical community's widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet - it's heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on saturated fat, sugar and salt.

5. DASH - A Safe Plan

Most experts agree that a low-sodium diet like DASH does not pose any serious health hazard. DASH is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.