Is the DASH Diet Right for me?
Some diets are designed to help you achieve rapid weight loss. Others take a longer-term perspective, focusing on the prevention or management of chronic diseases. The DASH diet definitely falls into the latter category. Developed by researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the DASH diet isn't a fad diet, but a nutritionally-sound, science-based nutritional approach that is intended to lower high blood pressure. (In fact, the name itself stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.)
What Are the Benefits of the DASH Diet?
Experts say that the DASH diet can help lower your blood pressure by several points within a few weeks. In the long run, you may be able to lower your systolic blood pressure by seven to 12 points. That's enough to significantly lower your risk of stroke, heart attack, chronic kidney disease, and other diseases for which hypertension is a risk factor.
However, the DASH diet is not just for people who have high blood pressure. The diet also incorporates dietary recommendations intended to reduce your risk of many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Although the DASH diet was not designed for weight loss, it is rich in low-calorie whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. Therefore, it may help you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. The standard DASH diet is based on 2,000 calories per day, which might be too many for you to achieve your weight loss goals. (Then again, if you are very physically active, 2,000 calories may be too few.) If this is the case for you, you can work with a dietician or other health care professional to customize the DASH diet based on your weight loss goals.
What Can I Eat on the DASH Diet?
The DASH diet encourages the consumption of healthy carbohydrates, including six to eight servings per day of whole grains, four to five servings of vegetables, and four to five servings of fruit. In contrast, you will need to avoid refined grains, such as white bread. You will also want to reduce your consumption of sugary foods, such as cake, ice cream, and regular soft drinks.
Artificial sweeteners such as NutraSweet and Splenda are allowable on the DASH diet. However, choosing sugar-free junk foods doesn't absolve you of the need to include fruits, vegetables, skim milk, and other nutrient-rich whole foods in your diet.
On the DASH diet, you may eat up to six ounces of lean meat, skinless poulty, or fish per day. In general, this diet downplays red meat. Instead, you will get your protein from fish, skinless poultry, and beans and legumes.
The DASH diet aims to reduce your consumption of total and saturated fat and cholesterol. Therefore, you will want to avoid high-fat dairy products such as whole milk, cream, cheese, and butter. Instead, choose low-fat dairy products such as skim milk and non-fat yogurt. Although nuts and seeds are high in fat, you can include them on the DASH diet because they are generally low in saturated fat, but rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 oils.
Why Are There Two Versions of the DASH Diet?
When you follow the DASH diet, you will be cutting your sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day--low enough to meet the government's dietary guidelines. That's a lot less than the diet of the average American, who consumes over 3,400 mg of sodium per day.
However, there's another version of the DASH diet that cuts sodium consumption further, to just 1,500 mg per day. The 1,500-per-day limit is recommended for African Americans, those aged 51 or older, and anyone who has been diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
But even if you don't fall into one of these categories, you may still want to follow the reduced-sodium version of the DASH diet. After all, the American Heart Association suggests that all adults keep their sodium intake below 1,500 mg per day.
Author: Joshua Beidler, United States
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )