The keto diet is the weight loss trend getting all the buzz right now, but if you're looking to lose weight and get healthy with a plan that doctors actually recommend, then an eating style that can result in crazy side effects and flu-like symptoms isn't it. Instead, look to the DASH diet. In addition to weight loss, benefits of the DASH diet include lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of heart disease. Whether you want to lower your blood pressure and improve your cardiovascular health or follow a nutritious way of eating to lose weight, the DASH diet has been touted by experts for years for helping people improve their overall health. And there are really good reasons for it, but first, here's what the DASH diet is all about.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it was developed to help lower blood pressure without medication. The DASH Diet Action Plan: Proven to Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol without Medication was written by Marla Heller, MS, RD, and features 28 days of meal plans, recipes, and expert strategies for incorporating the diet into your lifestyle.
Much like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet emphasises eating lean protein, whole grains, fibre-rich veggies and fruits, low-fat or nonfat dairy, legumes, and nuts and seeds. What makes the DASH diet great for people with hypertension is that it caps sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day. (For reference, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams.)
Why experts recommend the DASH diet for hypertension and weight loss
The success of the DASH diet took off when the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute funded research on the benefits of the eating plan and found that it significantly lowered blood pressure and reduced the risk of heart disease in study participants. Because of this, U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked the DASH diet the number one diet in America. And, the latest research shows why this leading diet is the most recommended eating plan by doctors.
In a 2018 study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 412 participants were put on the DASH diet for four weeks to lower their blood pressure. The results showed that the DASH diet not only improved blood pressure levels but reduced sodium intake of the participants.
Moreover, another 2018 study from the American Heart Association showed that in addition to exercise, the DASH diet can aid in weight loss. In the study, 129 overweight or obese women and men who had high blood pressure were divided into three groups. The first group was randomly assigned the DASH diet with a weight management program and exercise plan; the second group followed the DASH diet with the guidance of a nutritionist; and the third group didn't change their eating or exercise habits.
By the end of the 16 weeks, researchers found that those following the DASH diet and participating in the weight management and exercise plan lost an average of 8.5kg and significantly reduced their blood pressure. Those who followed the DASH eating plan alone decreased their blood pressure levels, and the participants who didn't change their diet or exercise habits at all found minimal blood pressure decline.
Types of DASH diet plans and guidelines
Since the diet launched in 2011, there have been three different DASH diet plans:
- The original plan
- The weight loss plan
- The vegetarian plan
Most doctors and dietitians recommend the original plan to patients living with high blood pressure, but there's also a lower-sodium DASH diet plan, in which you consume up to 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day. If you're unsure which DASH diet plan you should follow, consult your doctor or a dietitian to find the best eating approach for your health and nutrition needs.
The original DASH diet plan includes food servings for a 1,600-calorie and a 2,000-calorie diet. If you need to lose weight, choose the 1,600-calorie version. To further cut calories, experts suggest you also limit foods with added sugar such as flavoured yoghurts, fruit drinks, and fruits canned in heavy syrup (rather than in their own juice.)
The DASH diet food list
There's a variety of nutritious and delicious foods you'll eat on the DASH diet. These antioxidant-rich foods will not only lower your blood pressure but also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce triglyceride levels. Here's a list of foods you can eat:
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, farro, and freekeh
- Fruits, including berries, apples, oranges, and pears
- Low-fat or non-fat dairy
- Lean meats, fish, and poultry
- Nuts, seeds, legumes
- Healthy fats, like extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds
- Sweets (These include artificial sweeteners and sugar-free lollies)
What to eat on the DASH diet: A sample eating plan
Wondering what an ideal day of eating looks like? Check out a sample of the 1,600-calorie and 2,000-calorie meal plans below.
Grains and Grain Products
- 2,000-calorie diet: 6 to 8 servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 6 servings per day
- Serving size: 1 slice of bread, 30g of whole grain cereal (serving sizes may vary depending on the type of cereal, so check the label before pouring!), 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, or another whole grain
- Good food examples: Whole-wheat bread, whole grain cereal, popcorn, steel-cut oatmeal
- 2,000-calorie diet: 4 to 5 servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 3 to 4 servings per day
- Serving size: 110g veggie juice, 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup cooked veggies
- Good food examples: Tomatoes, squash, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, green beans
Meats, Poultry, and Fish
- 2,000-calorie diet: 6 or fewer servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 3 to 6 servings per day
- Serving size: 30g cooked meats, poultry, or fish, or 1 egg (limit egg yolks to no more than 4 per week; 2 egg whites are equivalent to 30g ounce of meat in protein). Be sure to trim away skin and fat from poultry and meat. Opt to bake, broil, grill, or roast meat instead of frying.
- Good food examples: Lean meat (trim away visible fat and broil, roast, or poach), skinless chicken, salmon
- 2,000-calorie diet: 4 to 5 servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 4 servings per day
- Serving size: 4 ounces of fruit juice (without added sugar), 1 medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit
- Good food examples: Apricots, bananas, grapes, oranges, grapefruit juice, raisins, strawberries
Low-fat or fat-free dairy
- 2,000-calorie diet: 2 to 3 servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 2 to 3 servings per day
- Serving size: 1 cup skim milk or low-fat yoghurt, 1.5 cups part-skim cheese
- Good food examples: Fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, yoghurt
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
- 2,000-calorie diet: 4 to 5 servings per week
- 1,600-calorie diet: 3 servings per week
- Serving size: 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, 1/2 cup cooked legumes
- Good food examples: Almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, lentils
Fats and Oils
- 2,000-calorie diet: 2 to 3 servings per day
- 1,600-calorie diet: 2 servings per day
- Serving size: 1 teaspoon soft margarine or oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons salad dressing
- Good food examples: Soft margarine, vegetable oil (such as canola, olive, or safflower oil), low-fat mayonnaise, light salad dressing. Be sure to read salad dressing labels because some fat-free and low-fat dressings load up on sugar to make up for the missing fat.
Sweets and Added Sugars
- 2,000-calorie diet: 5 or fewer servings per week
- 1,600-calorie diet: None
- Serving size: 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet or gelatin, 1 cup lemonade
- Good food examples: Artificial sweeteners, fat-free or low-fat gelatin, fruit punch, jelly, maple syrup, sorbet, hard candy
How to get started on the DASH Diet
Before you start any diet or introduce a new eating plan into your routine, talk to your doctor. Your MD will assess your blood pressure levels, weight, and heart disease risk factors to determine the right DASH diet plan for you. Most doctors will recommend the original diet plan that caps your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day.
To get started, make a grocery list of the foods you'll need to prep your meals. Check out the food list above or follow the meal plans outlined in the DASH diet book and begin planning a week's worth of meals. Go for whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, farro, or whole-wheat pasta. There are also bean-based pastas, which pack in more fibre and protein than the whole-grain varieties.
Choose lean cuts of meats such as sirloin and top loin and use kitchen shears to trim excess fat. When purchasing poultry, remove the skin and choose white meat. And, don't forget to load up on plenty of vegetables—the plan calls for four to five servings daily. The fibre will fill you up and keep cravings at a minimum. Be sure to also stock up on healthy fats and low-fat dairy. Fat will keep you satisfied, so you don't break into a bag of chips soon after eating your meal. The best sources of good fats are extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, and nuts or nut butter. To satisfy your sweet tooth, consider these low-sugar fruits, but you can also use artificial sweeteners to make your favourite baked goods healthier.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.