Heart disease is still the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, even after study after study is published warning against the dangers of processed foods on heart health.
Too much sodium raises blood pressure, which in turn all but destroys your heart muscle. Conditions like obesity cause the heart to overwork itself in order to continue pumping blood throughout the body, which weakens it over time.
What you eat matters. When we talk about the leading causes of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death, it’s not to scare you. The truth hurts. Science keeps coming back to these same conclusions time and again: your eating habits help to determine the positive and negative outcomes of your life. So while you’re still in control of what you eat, it’s worth considering a positive change in your diet.
Whether you want to lose some of those extra pounds, gain better control of your portions or just learn how to eat a variety of healthy foods without giving into cravings and eating too much, the DASH diet is worth looking into. This is not an elimination diet or a complex system of numbers and charts – the rules are simple, and you have a lot of freedom to pick and choose which foods you want to eat and which ones you don’t.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the DASH diet one of the most praised and inclusive diets recommended by health professionals.
DASH Diet Review
This is a diet established for everyone – old; young; virtually healthy or struggling to overcome chronic conditions. Created and approved by nutrition experts and endorsed by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the DASH diet has been named the top diet across the country more than once – the US News & World Report has named it as the #1 diet for multiple years in a row. This diet focuses on healthy weight loss and maintenance, heart health and keeping a diet that helps people avoid blood sugar spikes and uncontrollable food cravings.
The DASH diet is considered a credible, effective diet by experts due to years of health research as well as its focus on encouraging people to eat real food – foods that eliminate additives and preservatives and endure minimal processing when going from the farm to local store shelves. It has proven effective for many because it encourages eating, rather than eliminating or discouraging certain whole foods.
No diet plan is perfect, but the DASH diet has come pretty close. Let’s take a closer look at how this series of diet plans works – and why you might want to consider trying it out for yourself.
DASH Diet Plan Basics and Rules
Even if you aren’t particularly worried about your sodium intake, you should be – many people consume more than the recommended amount of daily sodium in their diets just by eating breakfast. The DASH diet makes it easy to cut back on the amount of sodium you eat, though, causing you to experience lower blood pressure while enjoying your favorite whole foods. Heavily processed foods are often at fault for higher than average salt intake, so the fact that DASH focuses on fresh, whole foods helps.
There are now three separate DASH diet plans: the original plan (the action plan), the weight loss plan and the vegetarian plan. All serve as different adaptations to a heart healthy diet that encourages healthy eating, healthy weight loss and consuming a variety of foods from all major food groups.
While the original DASH diet plan focuses primarily on eating appropriate daily and weekly servings of a variety of foods, its weight loss diet plan focuses more thoroughly on incorporating foods into the diet that are filling, such as vegetables and high protein foods like meat and poultry. Many people struggle to lose weight because poor blood sugar regulation leads to cravings and overeating – the DASH weight loss approach aims to introduce how foods high in protein and complex carbohydrates can help curb cravings and avoid eating mounds of empty calories. Note that while there is a specific diet plan specifically targeting those interested in losing weight, any segment of the DASH diet has the potential to help you reach your weight loss goals.
The vegetarian diet plan, created for those who want to follow the DASH diet without meat, poultry and/or fish products. This diet plan incorporates a variety of healthy plant proteins like dark green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, beans and more.
Foods are broken down into subgroups to help those on the DASH diet keep track of how well they are eating using serving sizes. Following the original DASH diet plan, it is laid out specifically how many servings of each subgroup of food to eat per day. Based on an average 2,000 calorie diet, these are as follows:
- 7-8 servings of grains and grain products, three servings of which should be whole grains
- 4-5 daily servings of fruits (fresh fruit juices, such as freshly squeezed orange juice, count – heavily processed beverages should be avoided)
- 4-5 servings of vegetables
- 2-3 servings of low or nonfat dairy products
- 2 or fewer servings of lean meats, poultry and/or fish
- 4-5 weekly servings of nuts, seeds and legumes (legumes = peas, beans, lentils)
- Limited (ideally 2 or fewer) weekly servings of saturated fats and sweets
For some, following these guidelines is a simple change – you might realize you are already eating adequate servings of most of these food groups without even trying. For others, however, this can be a major adjustment. If you’re dependent on takeout meals, microwave dinners and snacks that come in packages and boxes, you might find DASH a bit more of a struggle in the beginning. That’s okay – no one has ever said lifestyle changes were easy.
However, even if you don’t think this will be much of a struggle for you at first, meal planning and preparation is essential – everything from making grocery shopping lists to pre-planning meals at the beginning of the week to making time to prepare them each afternoon or evening. This step can make or break your chances of success. So let’s dive in to a few helpful tips, plus a day’s worth of sample menus and a sample grocery shopping list to get you started.
Menu and Meal Planning
First of all, always remember that fresher is better. If it doesn’t have an ingredient list, you can pretty much guarantee you’re good to go. If it does come equipped with a food and nutrition label, in general, the fewer ingredients, the better. Try to avoid foods with added sodium and sugar, like potato chips, flavored crackers or “colorful” breakfast cereals.
The more creative you can get with your meals, the better. A colorful plate – one made up of a variety of foods from different food groups – is a happy plate. Take a look at this sampe breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, and the healthy snack suggestions that follow.
- Oatmeal with blueberries and granola
- Cinnamon toast
- Turkey, cheese, spinach, tomato, cucumber sandwich on whole grain bread
- Cottage cheese with fruit
- Baby carrots with hummus or alternate dip
- Spinach, tomato, olive and walnut salad
- Baked potato
- Baked and seasoned chicken breast
- Green beans
- Whole grain dinner roll
- 1 cup fruit salad (healthy dessert)
- Orange slices
- Celery with nut butter spread
- Yogurt with fresh fruit
- String cheese
- Grape tomatoes stuffed with cheese
- Hard boiled eggs
Grocery Shopping List
The DASH diet breaks foods down into six main groups: grains and grain products, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry and fish, nuts, seeds and legumes, and fats and sweets. Here are samples of foods from each of these food groups to help you decide what you want to put on your shopping list this week.
Grains and grain products, including:
- Corn and corn based products
- Whole grain breads
- Whole grain pasta
- Oats and oatmeal
- Brown and wild rice
- Whole grain breakfast cereals
Fresh fruits and vegetables, including:
Low fat dairy products, including:
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Cream cheese
- Fresh deli cheese
Lean animal proteins, including:
Nuts, seeds and legumes, including:
- Brazil nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
While fats and sweets are not included on this list, they are allowed on the DASH diet – two to four servings per week on average. Desserts are okay every once in awhile, but in general, the more refined sugar you eat, the more you will crave. Something as simple as limiting desserts to Saturdays and Sundays can help you cut back on highly addicting, empty calorie foods.
Does the DASH Diet Work?
Reviews and Weight Loss Results
“I started the DASH diet about two years ago.
I initially lost 30 pounds and gained 10 back as I increased my calories. Unsure of how many inches I lost.
I was able to remain off meds for two years for high blood pressure as well as cholesterol meds. I have a strong family history of both.
Most difficult part of the DASH diet is restaurants. I travel a lot for work. Eating out is not easy. EVERYTHING is loaded with salt. Easier part was cooking, lol. It’s pretty simple. Lean meats. Veggies and healthy carbs.
What I have learned is how bad I was actually eating and how lazy I was. I’m more motivated to try things now and actually have started weights. Light ones, lol. It was awesome buying all new clothes and I actually enjoy shopping. People still tell me I wasn’t fat. And perhaps I wasn’t. But I wasn’t fit and I wasn’t happy. Both of those I have changed after the DASH diet.
I also went to the doctor. This wasn’t unmonitored. :-)”
Imagine not having to worry about your blood pressure, your weight or how many calories you have eaten today. That’s the kind of life you can live if you stick with the DASH diet. It’s been proven to help people turn their lives around by lowering their risk for developing devastating chronic conditions. The healthier you are, the happier you’ll be – just try it out and see for yourself.