23 January 2018The DASH Diet

What is the diet?

The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is an eating plan that reduces sodium intake, is rich in vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, and includes whole grains, lean meats and beans. It was originally designed to prevent or treat hypertension.

Researchers found that the high amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium in the diet have a favorable impact on blood pressure. Additional research has also shown that it is an effective diet for losing weight. It has also been shown to reduce risk for osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes and may even be useful in reducing gout and improving kidney disease.

On this eating plan you will be encouraged to eat a vegetable and or fruit at every meal, striving for 8 servings of produce a day on a 1600 calorie plan. The DASH diet allows you to indulge in an occasional glass of wine, have up to 5 small servings of desserts a week and still eat pasta!

It has been heavily researched and US News and World Report rated it the #1 best overall diet for the 7th consecutive year.

Here is an outline of what you'll be eating on a sample 1,600 calorie meal plan:

  • Vegetables: 4 servings/day
  • Fruits: 4 servings/day
  • Grains and grain products: 6 servings/day (at least half of these should be whole grains)
  • Low fat or non-fat dairy: 2 servings/day
  • Lean Meats: 1.5 servings/day
  • Nuts and Legumes: 3 servings per week
  • Fats: 1-2 servings/day
  • Sweets: less than 1 serving/day
  • Limit sodium to no more than 2,300 mg/day

Foods to avoid on the diet:

  • Large quantities of meat
  • High amounts of fatty meats and red meats
  • Fried foods
  • Excess sweets and simple sugars
  • High amounts of alcohol
  • Full fat dairy products
  • High amounts of butter, oils and other added fats
  • High amounts of processed foods as they are often high in sodium
  • Adding a lot of salt to your food

Sample 1600 meal plan:

  • Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with natural peanut butter + fat free plain yogurt topped with fresh melon
  • Snack: Carrots/celery dipped in hummus
  • Lunch: Large garden salad topped with low fat cheese, walnuts and low fat salad dressing with a side of whole grain crackers
  • Snack: Fresh fruit
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken fajitas using corn tortillas topped with avocado + side of black beans
  • Dessert: Chocolate pudding topped with fresh berries

Pros:

The DASH diet is less restrictive than other popular weight loss diets. Thus, when eating out or attending social events, you'll likely find your choices aren't as restricted. This may reduce stress and eliminate bringing your own food and drinks with you. Many individuals feel this diet is relatively easy to follow because it allows for eating a wide variety of foods, many of which are fairly easy to prepare. The diet is well balanced meaning risk of developing a nutritional deficiency is low. The diet has been studied by the National Institute of Health, the National Heart, Lung and Blood institute and Johns Hopkins University, etc. Thus there is ample evidence to support its' efficacy around hypertension treatment and prevention of disease and some evidence to support it for weight loss.

Cons:

If you enjoy eating large amounts of meat, this plan will feel restrictive. For a 1,600 calorie meal plan you are allotted 1.5 servings of meat (1.5 oz) of meat a day. Instead of red meat, the diet promotes choosing lean chicken, turkey, fish, soy, eggs, beans and low-fat dairy. While this diet plan does not require as much meal preparation as some other eating plans, it will likely be difficult to follow if you rely on fast food and restaurant meals.

Cost:

Consuming at least 8 servings of produce a day can be expensive. Yet, the plan saves money by reducing the amount of meat consumed each day. There are several books available that include meal plans and grocery lists for the DASH diet. These tend to be fairly affordable between $12.00-148.00 USD.

Social Support:

There is a Facebook support group run by Maria Heller, RD for the DASH Plan. MyNetDiary does not endorse any particular group. In addition, several private online companies have started to promote the plan and include counseling to complement the food recommendations.

Summary:

The DASH diet is an eating plan originally proven to lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension and or prehypertension. It has been adapted over time as a weight loss plan, focusing on eating whole foods, small amounts of meat and significant servings of vegetables and fruits each day. It likely produces weight loss due to the high consumption of water containing and low calorie, high fiber foods such as vegetables and fruits. These foods have been shown to promote satiety, thus allowing a feeling of fullness while helping to create a negative energy balance. Food choices are less restrictive than other weight loss plans which allow for easier adoption.

Does it work?

Most of the research around the DASH diet has focused on its impact on blood pressure lowering. Though overall, when energy density is reduced in the diet (by following a plan such as DASH), weight loss can result. Here is an example of one study that shows how a lower energy density plan can support weight loss.

Who would benefit most from the diet?

This eating plan is best for someone who has high blood pressure or is at risk of developing high blood pressure and also wants to lose a modest amount of weight. It is best for someone who is not looking for a quick fix to weight loss, yet wants to improve the overall quality of their diet.

Does it work long term?

The DASH diet is reasonable for the long term because it allows for flexibility in food choices. Thus individuals following the plan will likely not feel deprived, making it easier to follow. Additional research is needed to look at weight loss and maintenance results over the long term.

Do I like the diet?

While there isn't one perfect diet or eating plan that works for everyone, I feel the DASH diet is a good choice for individuals desiring a reduction in blood pressure and weight loss. I appreciate that the plan is nutrient dense and nutritionally balanced. I also appreciate that it promotes the consumption of real food over supplements. Finally, evidence supports this eating plan for those with high blood pressure, the prevention of high blood pressure, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes as well as some evidence to support it works for weight loss.

More Resources

NIH DASH Eating Plan
The Complete DASH diet for beginners by J. Kosolo, RD
The DASH diet weight loss solution by M. Heller, RD
List of research articles relating to DASH Diet and weight loss

Joanna Kriehn is a Registered Dietitian with a decade of experience working in the area of weight loss surgery. You can learn more about Joanna by visiting her LinkedIn page.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Healthy Eating Other Health Issues/Cardiovascular Disease Weight Loss/Diets

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