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Dash Diet 2012, New years resolution

Overview

Type:

Balanced.

The aim:

Preventing and lowering high blood pressure (hypertension).

The claim:

A healthy eating pattern is key to deflating high blood pressure—and it may not hurt your waistline, either.

The theory:

Nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber are crucial to fending off or fighting high blood pressure. You don’t have to track each one, though. Just emphasize the foods you’ve always been told to eat (fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy), while shunning those we’ve grown to love (calorie- and fat-laden sweets and red meat). Top it all off by cutting back on salt, and voilà!

How does the DASH Diet work?

First, decide how much you want to read. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which helped develop DASH, publishes free guides on the plan. One (PDF here) is 64 pages while another (PDF here) is six. Both take you through the same process of determining how many calories you should eat for your age and activity level, tell you where those calories should come from, and remind you to go easy on salt. It’s as simple as that.

For a 2,000-calorie diet, you should shoot each day (unless otherwise noted) for 6-8 servings of grains; 4-5 each of veggies and fruit; 2-3 of fat-free or low-fat dairy; 6 or fewer of lean meat, poultry, and fish, with one serving being equivalent to an ounce; 4-5 (a week) of nuts, seeds, and legumes; 2-3 of fats and oils; and 5 or fewer (a week) of sweets. DASH suggests capping sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day and eventually working to stay under 1,500 mg.

It’s OK to ease into DASH. Try adding just one vegetable serving to a meal, and a fruit serving to another. Go (sort of) vegetarian by preparing two or more meat-free dishes each week. And start using the herbs and spices hiding in the back of the pantry—they’ll make you forget the salt’s not on the table. Meanwhile, you’ll be encouraged to stick to a regular physical-activity program.

As for weight loss, you’re advised to ask your doctor about how to best tailor your plan. Because DASH emphasizes so many healthful foods, it can easily support weight loss. Just move more and eat slightly less, says the NHLBI.

Will you lose weight?

Likely, provided you follow the rules, and especially if you design your plan with a “calorie deficit.”

Though not originally developed as a weight-loss diet, some studies have looked at DASH’s potential to help dieters shed pounds. Here’s a closer look at the data:

  • In one study, published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 144 overweight or obese adults with high blood pressure were assigned to one of three approaches: DASH, DASH plus exercise and classes on weight loss, and a control diet where participants maintained their usual eating habits. After four months, those in the beefed up DASH group lost on average 19 pounds—while the other groups either lost a little or gained weight.
  • In another study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2006, researchers randomly assigned 810 adults with borderline or mild high blood pressure to three groups. The first received general advice on lifestyle changes to control blood pressure. The second had goals of staying under 2,300 mg. of sodium a day, losing weight, exercising, and limiting alcohol. The third mirrored the second but participants were also told to follow DASH’s dietary guidelines. After 18 months, the second group lost an average of about 8 pounds while the DASH group lost about 9½—both significantly more than the first group’s 3 pounds.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Yes. Rigorous studies show DASH can lower blood pressure, which if too high can trigger heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. (In fact, the name DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—hypertension being the medical term for high blood pressure.) It’s also been shown to increase “good” HDL cholesterol and decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, a fatty substance that in excess has been linked to heart disease. Overall, DASH reflects the medical community’s widely accepted definition of a heart-healthy diet—it's heavy on fruits and vegetables and light on saturated fat, sugar, and salt.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

A few studies show favorable results, and the approach is generally viewed as an ideal eating pattern for both. Moreover, DASH echoes dietary advice touted by the American Diabetes Association.

Prevention: Being overweight is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Although DASH isn’t specifically designed for weight loss, it will likely help you lose weight and keep it off—almost certainly tilting the diabetes odds in your favor. Combining DASH with calorie restriction has also been found to reduce risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, which increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart problems.

Control: A small study published in 2011 in Diabetes Care found type 2 diabetics on DASH reduced their levels of A1C—a measure of blood sugar over time—and their fasting blood sugar after eight weeks.

Because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged foods, you can ensure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.

Are there health risks?

No. However, if you have a health condition, check with your doctor to be sure DASH is right for you.

Posted 11:08 AM  View Comments

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