The DASH Diet: Speedy Trip to Weight Loss?

The DASH Diet: Speedy Trip to Weight Loss?

Another digest of diets

Whether you're working on a New Year's resolution, under orders from your doc to eat better or just want to explore some dietary options, we're moving beyond the fads and searching out the facts for these other programs.

The DASH diet focuses on lowering blood pressure by moving from a typical American diet to one rich in fruits and vegetables but low in saturated fats. DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is also known as the DASH eating plan. There's evidence it can lower blood pressure and help you lose weight. So, how does it work?

A brief overview

This diet got its start in the early 1990s when the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute studied what type of eating plan had the greatest effect on high blood pressure, or hypertension. The study focused on less salt and refined sugar and more fruits, grains and vegetables.

Two options

These are the two basic DASH choices:

  • Standard DASH, which meets government guidelines for 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day.
  • Lower sodium DASH, which limits sodium to 1,500 mg a day. This is particularly good for those who are African-American or 51 and older, plus for those with diabetes, hypertension or chronic kidney disease.

Each version is within government recommendations for daily calories from carbohydrates, fat and protein while offering more calcium, fiber and potassium. These nutrients, combined with less salt, are critical to fighting high blood pressure.

DASHing to the table to eat

So, what can you eat on the DASH diet? Here are recommended amounts, according to the Mayo Clinic.

  • Alcohol: Two or fewer alcoholic drinks each day.
  • Dairy: Two to three daily servings. Go for low-fat or nonfat milk and cheese. 
  • Fats and oils: Two to three servings a day. Aim for healthier, monounsaturated fats to help your body absorb nutrients. Examples are safflower, sunflower and vegetable oils; hazelnuts and macadamia nuts.
  • Fish, lean meat, poultry: Six or fewer daily servings. When possible, remove the skin and bake, don’t fry.
  • Fruits: Four to five servings every day. Avoid avocadoes and coconuts, due to their fat content. Leave edible peels on to get their nutrients and fiber.
  • Grains: Six to eight servings a day. This includes bread, cereal and pasta, ideally whole-grain and minimally processed. Grains stay naturally low fat if you don't add butter, cheese or cream sauce.
  • Legumes, nuts and seeds: Four to five servings each week. Nuts are a great source of potassium and magnesium but have high amounts of calories and "good fat."
  • Sweets: Five or fewer weekly.
  • Vegetables: Four to five daily servings. Think broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes, all of which contain fiber, minerals and vitamins. Fresh and frozen vegetables are fine; canned veggies work as long as they aren’t loaded with salt.
  • Caffeine: DASH doesn’t address this, but caffeine can cause temporary spikes in blood pressure. It’s best to steer clear as much as possible.

Long-term benefits

The most important benefit of the DASH diet is lower blood pressure. U.S. News & World Report ranked DASH the best overall diet out of 32 rated for 2014, noting it reduces "bad" cholesterol, increases "good" cholesterol and cuts your risk of heart disease.

The eating plan can be customized depending on your health, weight loss goals and how much sodium you're willing to cut out daily.

If you adopt the diet’s major tenants of less fat and sodium and more nutrients, chances are you'll see steady weight loss.

Consult a professional

If you need help creating a usable meal plan, consider consulting an expert nutritionist who can evaluate your readiness for a program like DASH and give you the tools you need to succeed. And you may want to check with your doctor before starting a diet.

Despite the name, speed isn't the goal with DASH. Instead, it aims for better long-term health.