DASH Diet Offers Weight Loss & Proven Health Benefits
When physicians, dietitians, and weight loss experts recommend diet plans, “DASH” is often at the top of the list. Originally developed to combat high blood pressure—DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—the program focuses on eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting salt.
For the past three years, DASH has been named the top overall diet in U.S. News & World Reports’ evaluation of 35 diet plans, citing overall nutrition and numerous health benefits. Coffey Health System Registered Dietitian Antonia Ahlgrim agrees.
“The DASH diet is good for the heart, lowers blood pressure, helps with weight loss, and can prevent diabetes—that’s what I love about it,” Ahlgrim explains. “You don’t have to buy expensive foods; it’s all at the grocery store. Best of all, it is proven to work.”
Developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the DASH program is low in sodium (salt), saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. Compared to the typical American diet, DASH is reduced in lean red meat, sweets, added sugars, and sweetened beverages.
The DASH plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in just 14 days. In studies, the best response came in people whose blood pressure was only moderately high. For people with more severe hypertension—who may not be able to eliminate medication—the DASH diet can help improve response to medication and help lower blood pressure. The DASH diet can also help lower cholesterol and with weight loss and exercise can reduce insulin resistance and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
New research continues to show additional health benefits of the plan, including reduced risk of cancers.
“You don’t get sick as often if you’re eating a DASH diet,” Ahlgrim explains, “because it helps your immune system and is full of antioxidants, which can help prevent certain cancers.”
Toni’s Advice for Going to the Store
DASH recommends 1500 milligrams of sodium per day, which equals 4 grams or roughly 2/3 teaspoon. To meet this, Ahlgrim recommends careful label reading with special attention to sodium and an equally important second number: serving size.
“The maximum you’re looking for is 300 milligrams of sodium per serving,” she says. “Canned soup is a good example. The serving size is half a cup; but most people don’t eat just half a cup, they eat the whole can. They then need to multiply that 300 milligrams of sodium by the actual number of servings they’re eating.”
She also warns of high sodium in unexpected products like breads, canned vegetables, soups, and lunchmeats.
Some people find that the availability and cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is difficult—especially during Kansas winters—but Ahlgrim offers easy solutions.
“If fresh vegetables aren’t available or you’d like more variety, frozen vegetables really do taste better,” she says. “You’ll love the freshness of flavors and it is easy to season with products like Mrs. Dash™ that don’t add sodium. Stay away from frozen vegetables in sauces though. Canned vegetables have too much salt, and I’ve found that the ‘low sodium’ canned vegetables just don’t taste good.”
When meeting with patients, Ahlgrim tries to balance the bad with the good. “As soon as I give a patient a list of high-sodium food items, I also give them a low-sodium list so that they can compare. It is important to see all the good things that they can have.”
As with any weight loss plan, it is important to talk with your physician before starting the DASH diet. Ahlgrim works with patients who are referred by their physician and she reports great success with DASH.
“I have seen real weight loss and good blood pressure control. I won’t see the end results such as prevention of diabetes and cancers, but I certainly see our patients looking good because they’ve lost weight and feeling good because their blood pressure is in control,” she says.
In addition to being recommended by physicians at Coffey Health System, DASH is also endorsed by the following organizations. Their websites provide a wealth of information and resources to help you succeed.
Give yourself a solid foundation when starting any diet or weightloss plan. Visit with your physician to help decide the best plan for your individual needs.
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