Is The DASH Diet For You?

May 7, 2014 7:06:55 AM

the dash diet

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is an eating plan promoted by the US-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to prevent and control hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure. In addition to its effect on blood pressure, it is designed to be a well-balanced approach to eating for the general public, and is now recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an ideal eating plan for all Americans. But can the DASH diet also help you lose weight? Here we take a look at the DASH Diet to help you decide if it’s a good choice for you while you’re on your weight loss journey with Phen Caps.

The DASH Diet Background

Prompted by the prevalence of hypertension in the US, the National Institute of Health funded research into dietary patterns on blood pressure, and the result was the DASH health plan, which was found to be the most successful experimental diet in reducing blood pressure. The diet encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, cut back on meat and fats, and incorporate blood pressure-fighters into their systems.

The clinical studies found many people were able to reduce their blood pressure by following the DASH diet, but that this change occurred often without any reduction in weight. By designing the diet to have a calorie deficit, however, DASH can also be used as a weight loss program. The diet requires you to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as a good amount of low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish or poultry, and nuts. In exchange, the diet advises steep cuts in foods high in fat and cholesterol, as well as red meat, sweets and salt. In addition to these food pyramid basics, however, DASH dieters must also add foods rich in what the program calls ‘nutrients of concern’, things like calcium, potassium and fiber, which are often lacking in an average American's diet.

The DASH Diet for Weight Loss

As explained in books by Marla Heller, the DASH Diet intended for weight loss involves a 2-week induction phase in which you learn how to satisfy your hunger and, as a result, feel fuller for longer.

Phase 1: Two Weeks to Shrink Your Waistline

During this phase you avoid fruit and whole grains with the intention of regulating blood sugar and helping to control cravings, but you should eat 2-3 daily servings of low-fat dairy, up to 6 ounces of lean meat, fish or poultry per day, 4 to 5 servings of lentils, nuts, seeds, or beans each week, and 2 to 3 servings of oils per day, aiming for those low in saturated fat and trans fats. This is a sample menu from the first phase:

Breakfast
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • 1 or 2 slices Canadian bacon
  • 6 ounces tomato juice, low-sodium
Mid-morning Snack
  • 1 stick light cheese
  • Baby carrots
Lunch
  • Acapulco Tuna Salad made with low sodium tuna, mixed leaves, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, jalapeño and lime juice
  • Strawberry Jell O cup, sugar-free
Mid-afternoon Snack
  • 4 ounces lemon light yogurt, fat-free, artificially sweetened
  • 18 cashews (1 ounce by weight, 1/4 cup by volume, or small handful)
Before-dinner Snack (Optional)
  • Pepper strips
  • 2 ounces guacamole, which is about 1/4 cup
Dinner
  • Crispy grilled chicken
  • 1 cup (or more) mixed carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower blend: steamed or microwaved
  • Romaine blend salad with Italian dressing
  • Raspberry Jell O cup, sugar-free

the dash diet

Phase 2: Kick It Up a Notch!

After the first 14 days, you will continue to eat the foods from Phase 1 but re-introduce some other healthy foods that will help you continue your weight loss. Phase 2 is your life plan, so you can keep your blood pressure low and keep the weight off. In this phase you should eat as in phase 1, plus 4 to 5 servings of fresh or frozen fruit per day. Sweet foods can be eaten up to 3 or 4 times per week, and an occasional glass of red wine is permitted. The premise of the original diet is to eat 6-8 portions of whole grains every day but the diet plans offered by the weight loss books tend not to include whole grains such as cereals, pasta, rice or bread.

As well as following these rules and meal plans, it is recommended that you add physical activity to your routine, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to work. While DASH doesn't offer a tailored exercise plan, it does offer advice for all levels and fitness goals, according to its web site DASH for Health, and encourages a steadily more active lifestyle.

The DASH Diet Review

Pros:

  • The plan also focuses on health goals, such as reducing blood pressure and building strong bones and muscles, so health does not have to be sacrificed in favor of losing weight as is the case with some other diets
  • Most foods are restricted but not eliminated from the diet, which allows more freedom for treats and eating out
  • It includes many small meals and snacks per day which is ideal for dieters to keep hunger at bay and to keep blood sugar levels in check
  • The book is reported to be easy to follow and often includes photos to demonstrate what is meant by a portion size

Cons:

  • There is a great deal of confusion due to the modification of the DASH diet for weight loss in specific books based on the DASH method but not actually endorsed by the NIH, leaving followers of the diet confused as to which approach to follow
  • The original DASH diet by comparison, was not designed primarily for weight loss, so those looking to shed a lot of weight should take a long-term view of the original program
  • The weight-loss version continues to restrict whole wheat which is not advisable as carbohydrates like these are the body’s preferred source of fuel
  • Reviews state that the weight-loss diet is restrictive and a little boring with not enough recipes to sustain the long-term plan for more than a few weeks
  • The diet is criticized for including a lot of processed foods, deli meats, Jell-O and artificial sweeteners
  • Instructions switch between measuring foods by cups, ounces and serving sizes, which was found to be confusing 

In conclusion, the main issue with the DASH diet is that there are essentially two different diets. One is the DASH health plan, intended to improve health by reducing blood pressure and boosting nutrients in the body, as recommended by the USDA and named as the best diet for several consecutive years. The other is the DASH diet for weight loss, as detailed in the books by Marla Heller, which takes the ideas of the DASH diet but modifies them for weight loss. The problem is, that Heller’s books often fail to live up to the ideals of the original diet and the result is essentially the same as many other diets. Even in Heller’s long-term plan there is an emphasis on fruit, vegetables and protein, restrictions on carbohydrates (despite whole grain being cited as an important part of the original diet), but also the addition of processed foods and artificial sweeteners.

While it is true that the original DASH diet promotes health and reduces the risk of many common diseases and health problems, the weight loss version does not uphold the same principles and therefore cannot be held in the same esteem. Essentially what is left is a diet much like many others, but with the addition of many artificial sweeteners and processed foods, seeming to go against the promotion of health. By contrast, although the original DASH diet is certainly a very good option for establishing a healthy way of eating and living, it may not necessarily be enough to lead directly to weight loss, especially if you have a great deal of weight to lose, as it was not originally intended for the purpose of weight loss.

Here at Phen.com, while we would support following the original DASH diet in order to maintain good health in the long term, when approaching your weight loss journey with Phen Caps, we believe that the DASH weight loss diet is not a good option due to its emphasis on processed foods and its near-elimination of healthy whole grains. Instead, we would recommend an approach similar to the original DASH diet, full of whole grains, important nutrients and fresh unprocessed foods, but with more restrictions on calories and amounts, and clearer guidelines about exercise and how to lose weight.

Have you or anyone you know tried the DASH diet? What did you think? We would love to hear, so please, comment below!

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Posted in Diet tips By

Laura

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