We all know the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight, but what is the best way to do so? Carrying excess weight can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In fact, obesity is a leading risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, colon, kidney, pancreatic, uterine and esophageal.

But for those who struggle with their weight, dropping pounds can be emotionally, mentally and physically taxing. With the vast amount of trendy diets and cleanses out there, it’s hard to find the best eating plan for you — one that will help you achieve your weight loss goals while keeping you satisfied and fitting into your lifestyle.

So often, these fad diets promise drastic results quickly, and some of those programs may even deliver on those claims — but only in the short term. How many of us have gone on a crash diet and been successful, only to backpaddle and gain back the weight you lost and then some?

Whether you’re ready to jump right in start cleaning up your eating habits, or you’re just doing your research and dipping a toe into the healthy eating pond, this is the perfect time to get started. March is National Nutrition Month, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is encouraging people to make informed food choices.

While every person is different, and what works for one may not work for all, there are a few healthy eating guidelines that have proven positive results, supported by scientific research.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the DASH diet was rated the best overall diet, the best heart-healthy diet and the best diet for healthy eating. The strong evidence supporting this program’s effectiveness has made it popular in hospitals all over the country.

Originally created to lower blood pressure, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and low-fat dairy items, while red meat, sodium and foods with added sugar, saturated fat, cholesterol and trans fats are limited.

If you’re interested in implementing the DASH diet into your own life, you can do so gradually. Here are some easy changes you can make today:

  • Swap out full-fat milk or cream for low-fat or skim milk.
  • Use half the amount of butter or salad dressing you would normally use.
  • Add an additional serving of vegetables to your lunch and dinner.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit. Smoothies made with skim milk, fresh fruit and no added sugar are a tasty, healthy and satisfying treat.
Learn more about the DASH diet here, and if you’re ready to make your next meal DASH friendly, here are several sample menus to get you started