There’s a reason researchers and nutrition experts wholeheartedly recommended the DASH Diet for the number 1 place (along with the Mediterranean Diet) in this year’s study by World News And Health Reports. When you follow the DASH diet choosing the right foods is easy.
And we all know that the easier the diet, the more likely you’ll stick with it.
This is not a “do it for several weeks” diet. In fact, it’s a new approach to health and the role it plays in your life. So, let’s talk about food!
Your specific needs come first, of course, but here are some ballpark figures to aim for, if you want a little structure.
For a 2,000-calorie diet (ballpark figure, it doesn’t mean you want/need that many calories!), you should plan to eat like this every day (unless otherwise noted):
➡ 6-8 servings of grains
➡ 4-5 servings each of vegetables and fruit
➡ 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy
➡ 6 servings or less of lean meat, poultry, and fish, (**NOTE: One serving equals one ounce).
➡ 4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes
➡ 2-3 servings per week of fats and oils
➡ 5 or fewer servings of sweets per week
DASH and the American Heart Association recommend capping sodium at no more than 2,300 milligrams a day and eventually working to stay at about 1,500 milligrams a day.
It’s perfectly OK to ease into DASH.
➡ Try adding just one vegetable serving to a meal, and a fruit serving to another.
➡ Go (sort of) vegetarian by preparing two or more meat-free dishes each week. And start using the herbs and spices hiding in the back of the pantry – they’ll make you forget the salt’s not on the table.
For Our Diabetic Friends:
Several studies have shown favorable results, and the approach is generally viewed as an ideal eating pattern for both diabetics ( DASH echoes the dietary advice given by the American Diabetes Association) and people with heart disease, but it’s good for anyone who wants a healthy lifestyle.
➡ Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for Type 2 diabetes and heart patients (extra weight stresses the heart, causing it to have to work harder).
Although DASH is not specifically designed for weight loss, it will likely help you lose weight and keep it off – almost certainly tilting the diabetes odds in your favor.
➡ Combining DASH with calorie restriction has also been found to reduce risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, which increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart problems.
➡ A study published in Diabetes Care found Type 2 diabetics on DASH reduced their levels of A1C – a measure of blood sugar over time – and reduced their fasting blood sugar after eight weeks.
Because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged foods, you can make sure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.
What About Weight Loss?
Though not originally developed as a weight-loss diet, some studies have looked at DASH’s potential to help dieters lose weight. Here’s a closer look at the data:
In one study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 144 overweight or obese adults with high blood pressure were assigned to one of three approaches:
- DASH plus exercise and classes on weight loss
- And a control diet where participants maintained their usual eating habits.
After four months, those in the beefed-up DASH group lost on average 19 pounds – while the other groups either lost a little or gained weight.
➡ In another study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers randomly assigned 810 adults with borderline or mild high blood pressure to three groups.
- The first received general advice on lifestyle changes to control blood pressure.
- The second had goals of staying under 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, losing weight, exercising and limiting alcohol.
- The third mirrored the second, but participants were also told to follow DASH’s dietary guidelines.
After 18 months, the first group lost an average of 3 lbs. The second group lost an average of about 8 pounds, while the DASH group lost about 9 1/2 pounds – significantly more than the first group’s 3 pounds.
**Please Note: For weight loss, you’re advised to ask your doctor about how to best tailor your plan. Because DASH emphasizes so many healthful foods, it can easily support weight loss. Just move more and eat slightly less.
What Can You Eat?
While it may be difficult to give up your favorite fatty, sugary and salty fare, DASH doesn’t restrict entire food groups, increasing your chances of sticking with it long-term.
➡ Convenience: Although recipe options are boundless, alcohol is not. The DASH guide PDFs are packed with tips to make it all easier.
➡ Recipes: The NHLBI offers more than 180 heart-healthy recipes in its (click the link) online database.
Otherwise, lots of reputable organizations, like the Mayo Clinic, provide long lists of DASH-friendly recipes.
Eating out: Difficult, since restaurant meals are notoriously salty, oversized and fatty. If you do dine out, NHLBI suggests avoiding salt by:
- Avoiding pickled, cured or smoked items
- Limiting condiments
- Choosing fruits or vegetables instead of soup
Too much can elevate blood pressure and damage the liver, brain, and heart.
➡ If you drink, do so in moderation – that’s one drink a day for women, two a day for men. (A drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor).
Nutrition experts stress the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. DASH emphasizes lean protein and fiber-filled fruits and veggies, which should keep you feeling full, even if you’ve reduced your calorie level slightly to support weight loss.
LEARN MORE: In case You Missed Part One: