More than 1 million people on the planet have hypertension—high blood pressure. Arguably the best diet to control high blood pressure is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet plan. You will likely lose weight on it as well, though weight loss isn’t the intention; it’s the bonus.
DASH Diet Claims and the Science Behind It—One and the Same
The National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded research developed the DASH plan as an efficient and perhaps even life-saving way of controlling blood pressure and high cholesterol, the two major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The first DASH nutrition plan was presented in 1998.
Renowned expert nutritionist and dietician Marla Heller turned the research into a series of books:
- the first DASH Diet Action Plan book was published in 2011.
- She soon modified the plan for the follow-up, DASH Weight Loss Solution book and subsequent cookbook,
- and updated as of late 2014, the DASH Diet Younger You
Heller says the DASH plan is especially helpful for people with diabetes (or prediabetes) because it helps to improve insulin sensitivity, but the diet also speeds up weight loss and, hopefully, helps establish new healthy eating habits.
Now, can you lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks on this diet? Maybe.
Actually, there is no argument that the DASH diet helps lower blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol, and can help lower all kinds of health and disease risks like heart disease, stroke, and even some cancers, according to the NIH. The plan is lauded by the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the Mayo Clinic, among others, and fits federal dietary and high blood pressure treatment guidelines.
The DASH Diet Plan
DASH is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating lifestyle.
The DASH eating plan requires no special foods and instead provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. This plan recommends:
- Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.
The NIH says it plainly: you can lose weight on the DASH diet. No bones about it.
The key to losing weight on the DASH plan seems to me to be you cut or adjust the 2,000-calorie-a-day average suggestion by NIH to meet your own caloric intake required to lose weight. Very generally speaking, an average woman needs about 2,000 calories a day to maintain her current weight and at least 500 calories less per day to lose weight. You could also figure it this way: a pound of fat is around 3500 calories, so to lose a pound a week, you’d cut around 500 calories from your current diet every day.
The official DASH diet calls for—based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet:
- 6-8 servings of whole grains
- 6 or less servings of lean meat, fish or poultry
- 4 to 5 servings each of fruits and vegetables
- 2 to 3 servings of low or no-fat dairy
- 2 to 3 servings of good fats (think avocado, extra virgin olive oil, salmon, or nuts)
- 4 to 5 times weekly you can eat seeds, beans and peas.
Even some “sweets” are allowed to sneak in a couple of times a week. But a serving, no more. And importantly, especially for those with high blood pressure, ,pre-diabetic tendencies, or just anyone interested in heart health, limit sodium to max 2300 milligrams a day, but preferably 1500. Again this is all based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Adjust accordingly. The NIH says it plainly: you can lose weight on the DASH diet. No bones about it.
Knowing that the DASH diet is just really good for you and backed with extensive research should make anyone jump at the chance. But what about the books themselves?
But according to Heller, the NIH info is more than a decade old, so to catch up with the science, she published the DASH Diet Younger You which promises you will “Shed 20 Years – And Pounds – in Just 10 Weeks.”
This we can put to the test. It’s a big claim, especially about the anti-aging—20 years is a lot of living. What do users say?
Word on the Street About the DASH Diet
Knowing that the DASH diet is just really good for you and backed with extensive research should make anyone jump at the chance. But what about the books themselves? Does DASH present in print as well as it does in theory?
“LauraGee” on Amazon.com, reviewing DASH Diet Younger You that promises you’ll lose 20 pounds and “shed 20 years,” in 10 weeks, says the title is misleading. “This gets us off to a bad start. If you are 40- or 50-something, that’s an appealing, but unrealistic, expectation. (But I have to admit it got my attention.)”
But we’re interested in the weight loss part, so what does “LauraGee” say about that?
Now, can you lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks on this diet? Maybe. The diet in this book is based on the DASH diet developed by the National Institute of Health with a little Dr. Perricone tossed in. If you follow these menu plans, you’ll probably lose some weight and you’ll do it in a way that should be safe for most people. The big question is can you/will you stick with it?
That said, if you do like the more structured style of a Weight Watchers, DASH recipes will certainly be fantastic low-point choices.
The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution book has 4 stars averaged from over a thousand reviews. Just one, from “Aunt Sam” (2012, 5-star):
Most important thing to know: it works! … Marla does a great job of explaining why the things I learned about nutrition in my 20s aren’t working for me in my 40s, and then lays out, clearly, concisely, and with menus and recipes, what *will* work…and it did. I was nervous about cutting down on grains—I attempted the Atkins plan a few times and it just made me sick—but I felt fine. The menu plans are satisfying and tasty, and Marla has really helped me to re-frame the way I think about food.
The Everyday DASH Diet Cookbook has 4 stars from 392 reviews. From an anonymous “Amazon Customer:”
Love, love the Dash Diet. I followed it for 10 days using only the in the original book, and lost weight without feeling hungry or deprived. Therefore decided to order the actual cookbook. I love the and how they are separated by meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc). Wonderful diet plan, simple to use, are great, not difficult to prepare and are not time consuming.
It’s the most doctor-recommended diet, but looking for a more straightforward critique of the diet in general from an everyday person, the best place turned out to be comments on popular news articles about the DASH Diet.
The top comment on “The DASH Diet Is The Best Diet In America — So Why Haven’t You Heard Of It?” may have hit the nail on the head: “The reason most people have never heard of it is because there isn’t a company that directly profits from it.”
Is the DASH Diet Worth a Try?
There’s no downside with the DASH diet unless 1) you simply cannot imagine living without junk and processed foods and 2) you’re not a veggie fan. Sugar and saturated fats are the enemy in the DASH diet so if you can’t picture life without fries, hot dogs, bacon cheeseburgers, cupcakes, cookies, or candy, this is not the diet for you—because unlike say, Weight Watchers, where nothing is forbidden and you’re simply counting calories (or “points”), you must bid farewell to that bad fat, sugar, and salt.
A DASH diet dinner might include a small lean turkey burger with a slice of low-fat, no-sugar-added cheese on a whole grain bun with lots of sliced red onion, tomato, romaine lettuce, and a fat-free and sugar-free “dressing” (skip the sugary ketchup), baked sweet potato “fries,” and a serving of fresh berries with a small dollop of real, but low-fat, whipped cream, all washed down with a full glass of ice water with fresh lemon slices. Honestly, I just came up with that menu idea based on the research done on the DASH diet and I think it’s probably pretty on-point. Sounds delicious!
That said, if you do like the more structured style of a Weight Watchers, DASH recipes will certainly be fantastic low-point choices. In short, DASH is a very doable diet. Lose weight and live longer. Sounds like a plan.