Everyone is searching for that one diet which can help you lose weight without putting your health in danger and, most important, it is not difficult to turn it into a lifestyle in order to enjoy results for longer, instead of just starving yourself for a while for the sake of temporary results. Even if it seems hard to believe, there is such thing and it is known as the DASH Diet. For three years in a row, this eating plan was voted The Best Diet by the experts. Before deciding if it worths giving it a chance, one must understand what this diet is and how it works.
What Is the DASH Diet?
Originally, this diet plan was created in order to fight high blood pressure and its main purpose is stated in the name. DASH is the abbreviation for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This plan aims to become a lifestyle, a lifelong approach to healthy eating for people living with this medical condition. The research for finding the right eating plan which has a direct influence on lowering the blood pressure without the help of medication was sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health. The research results prove that even with a daily intake of 3300mg of sodium per day, the diet can reduce the blood pressure levels just like medications do. This conclusion is supported by many independent studies which show that the DASH Diet has a positive impact on the overall health by keeping one healthy while losing weight. And the best part is that it contains delicious and real foods rich in vitamins and minerals, which are recommended also for preventing osteoporosis, stroke, heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
Results can be noticed in a relatively short time. After just a couple of weeks, people noticed a reduction of the blood pressure with a few points and by turning this eating plan into a lifestyle many different health risks associated with bad eating habits also drop significantly.
DASH Diet – Different and Improved Versions
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension eating plan puts great emphasize on daily consumption of fruits, veggies and low-fat dairy products. Lean meat like fish or poultry, whole grains, and nuts should be eaten in moderation. The first version of the DASH Diet was not created to help with the weight loss and it contained quite a lot of refined foods and grains because this was considered to be the nutrition “wisdom” of the mid-90s. Unfortunately, this was not enough to gain popularity. For most people with high blood pressure, losing weight in a healthy manner is essential. So this is a good motivation to create a plan for weight loss which is easy to follow. And this is how high amounts of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, seeds, beans and nuts became the heart of the DASH Diet.
The interest for this diet plan increased in the medical community and new researches were conducted in order to improve it. By cutting out the carbs with no nutrition value and increasing the number of proteins and healthy fats, one can obtain a lower level of the blood pressure. Also, the results sustained the improvement of the overall health and weight loss.
According to each individual needs, one can choose the most appropriate of the two types of DASH Diet:
- The standard version, which allows one person to consume daily up to 2300 mg of sodium and meets the limits recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
- The low sodium version, which permits a maximum amount of 1500 mg of sodium per day is what The American Heart Association suggests as a maximum intake on a daily basis
If you have doubts which option is best for you, it is better to consult a doctor first. Regardless of the choice, the result will be the same. Both versions were created with the supreme purpose to develop a healthy eating habit with a low sodium level, compared to the typical daily American diet which can easily pass 3400 mg of sodium.
Starting the DASH Diet
The DASH Diet represents the healthy alternative to eating and it was designed to be flexible enough in order to meet different lifestyles and food preferences of people. This eating plan has clear principles and it is simple to follow. The basic rules are:
- Eat as many fruits and veggies as you can
- Don’t avoid low-fat dairy, nuts, whole grains, fish or poultry
- Limit the intake of sugar, sodium and red meat
- Completely cut off the list any source of saturated fats and cholesterol
With these rules in mind, the next change in the eating habit requires having certain numbers of servings from different food groups on a daily basis. There is not a number of servings general accepted for all individuals and it varies according to the number of calories each person needs per day. Some people consider DASH Diet an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet.
In order to give the body and mind time to adjust to a new eating style, one can start with small and gradual changes. For example, the amount of daily sodium intake can be limited at first to about 2400 mg, the equivalent of a tablespoon. In a relatively short time, the body will adjust to the diet so the sodium consumption can be reduced even more, at maximum 1500 milligrams or 2/3 of a tablespoon. Be careful to count the sodium from the processed food or the salt added to the homecooked food.
Here are some examples of foods and quantities recommended by the original version of the DASH Diet. Keep in mind the main purpose of this meal plan was to reduce blood pressure level, not the weight. The new version of the diet discourages the consumption of processed and refined foods.
If you are following the standard version of DASH Diet and try to stay between 1600 and 3100 calories you should have:
- 6 to 12 daily servings of products which contain whole grains
- 4 to 6 daily servings of fruits and vegetables
- 2 to 4 daily servings of low-fat dairy products and sweets
- 5 to2.5 daily servings of lean meat (fish or poultry)
- 3 to 6 weekly servings of nuts and different seeds
If you also care about the weight and try to keep the calories intake under 2000 calories daily you should have:
- 7 to 8 daily servings of products which contain whole grains
- 4 to 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables
- 2 to 3 daily servings of low-fat dairy products
- Less than 2 daily servings of lean meat (fish or poultry)
- 3 to 6 weekly servings of nuts and different seeds
- Limit, if possible completely avoid, eating sweets and fats
Who should follow the DASH Diet?
According to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the DASH Diet is suited for everyone. This is a healthy eating plan which can be followed by any person interested in staying healthy, not just by those who suffer from high blood pressure. Medical researchers found out that in addition to lowering the blood pressure levels, in both adults and children, this diet brings extra benefits like reducing cholesterol and inflammation.
How does DASH Diet work?
The secret behind this eating plan created by specialists is actually very simple. All the foods included in the list are rich in nutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium, which are key elements for keeping blood pressure under control. By adding more veggies, fruits, and low-fat dairy the effect of these nutrients is boosted. Reducing the amount of daily sodium intake is considered by some people good for the health.
The DASH Diet and Weight Loss
The most important benefit of this diet is a lower level of blood pressure, regardless the amount of weight lost during the process. Considering that there is a connection between weight and high blood pressure, most people suffering from this condition were already advised by the doctor to try to lose some weight anyway.
Certain studies proved that one person can lose some of the extra weight if following the DASH Diet, with the main condition to control the calories intake and keep it at a low level. This is not very difficult to achieve, because this eating plan cuts out sugary and high-fat foods, resulting in an instant reduction of the daily calories and finally the loss of weight. For some people, this kind of restriction comes easier than for others.
The bottom line for turning the DASH Diet into a weight loss diet is to make sure that you eat fewer calories than you consume on a daily basis.
Even if it seems like the only purpose for this diet is to reduce blood pressure, The DASH Diet is a very complex eating plan which brings more benefits for the overall health. Replacing the bad eating habits with this diet can ensure other benefits like:
- Lower risk for diabetes – there is medical evidence which supports the link between following this diet and lower chances of developing type 2 diabetes. It was also noticed that it can increase the insulin
- Lower risk for cancer – recent studies revealed that people who eat according to the DASH Diet have low risk of developing breast and colorectal cancer
- Lower risk of heart disease – by reducing the blood pressure level, different serious heart conditions can be prevented. Statistics show that there is an association between this diet and a 30% lower risk of stroke and 20% lower risk of heart disease in women
- Lower the risk of metabolic syndrome – it was noticed that this diet can reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome by 81%
These benefits are associated with the DASH Diet mainly because it contains high amounts of fruits and vegetables, which are directly linked to a reduction of different risk for medical conditions.
Following the DASH Diet
Changing eating habits never comes easily. In order to make the transition from your usual meals to those recommended by the DASH diet here are some super simple tips and tricks to follow:
- If it looks delicious, it must taste delicious, too. Make sure your plates have more than one color by adding a side salad to your meal which contains veggies of different colors like lettuce, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, tomatoes, olives and so on
- If you don’t have much time for shopping keep within reach frozen vegetables so it is easier to include the into your meal whenever you need them
- Most grocery stores offer convenient bagged ready to eat veggies. Baby carrots, cauliflower tops, broccoli springs, cabbage slaw, lettuce, baby spinach can be turned into a very appealing salad even for children.
- Make your breakfast more appealing by adding berries to your bowl of whole grain cereals
- Another tasty alternative for having a wonderful breakfast or snack is fat-free fruit yogurt
- Coffee is the fuel we need in order to get through the day and it can become delicious by turning it into a latte with skim milk
- Smoothies are a delicious meal if made out of fresh fruits and skim milk with no sugar. It tastes great and it boosts the potential of the diet
- Whenever you feel the need for a snack, replace the usual potato chips with any type of They are incredibly healthy and full of nutrients
In order to be successful, the DASH diet must become a lifestyle. This is not one of those diets you follow in order to lose a few pounds before a big event and the moment you stop starving yourself you gain double the weight you lost. This diet has the main purpose to keep you healthy and help you lose some weight in the process. There are some strategies to help you transform your life for the sake of your health, not just your looks:
- Make changes gradually – the DASH Diet is based on consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables, so if you eat them only once or twice a day it is not recommended to replace your meals suddenly. The changes must be made one at a time in order to give your body time to adjust and prevent side effects like diarrhea or bloating associated with this type of foods. At first change one or two of your grain serving with whole grain foods, not all at once. If you use to eat fruits once a day, try to add them in small portions, as dessert, after lunch or dinner.
- Include physical activity into the daily routine – any type of diet becomes more efficient if associated with some physical effort. Making some exercising helps reduce the blood pressure level as well, not just the weight. You could find an activity you enjoy, like riding the bike, skating, dancing, jogging in order to boost the potential of the DASH diet.
- Reward yourself for the efforts and allow some minor slip-ups – Give yourself a break and celebrate your accomplishments. Find a way to relax by reading a good book or watching a film and forgive your slips. Changing the lifestyle is a long and difficult process and instead of punishing yourself, try learning from your setbacks and continue your diet from where you left off.
- Learn to ask for help whenever you need it – If you have a hard time sticking to the DASH Diet don’t be afraid to talk about your problems with your doctor or dietitian. They will offer you some advice in order to motivate you and help you gain control over your troubles.
If you try to find a diet which can be followed through and turned into a way of life, the DASH Diet is one of the best options. It is more than a way of losing weight. Even if it seems like another diet trendy these days, this eating plan is very complex and has the main purpose of improving the overall health, including your weight. Losing extra weight is one of the ways to improve the health conditions, but not the only one. Although it was created in order to keep blood pressure under control the DASH Diet brings many other benefits for the body.
If committed to making real changes in your life you must be prepared for a long and sometimes difficult process. Healthy eating should not be turned into an all or nothing mission. It is important to eat healthy and diverse foods in order to get all the nutrients you need and not get bored of having constantly the same meals. The DASH Diet offers many options and it can become part of your life.