In search of the Holy Grail of weight loss, many have tried countless diet plans, from Paleo to grapefruit cleanses to juice fasts. Yet one of the more frequently doctor-recommended diets is the DASH eating plan. Though not specifically designed for weight loss, following DASH's well-balanced eating principles while limiting calorie intake to 1,200 daily will create a healthy, effective weight-loss plan.
What is DASH?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet focuses specifically on foods and eating habits that have been shown to lower high blood pressure. The diet is low in fat and cholesterol, and incorporates whole, natural foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The diet also encourages reduced intake of sodium, which contributes to elevated blood pressure.
The standard DASH allows for 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily, though there is also a DASH-Sodium plan, which allows just 1,500 milligrams. This diet can be even more effective in reducing hypertension, and is recommended for those who already have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease. DASH-Sodium is also often recommended for African-Americans, and middle-aged or older adults.
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On a 1,200-calorie DASH plan, you should ideally eat four to five servings of grains, three to four servings of fruits and vegetables, two to three servings of low-fat dairy, three or fewer servings of meat, poultry or fish and just one serving of fats or oils daily. Nuts and seeds and sweets and added sugars should be eaten no more than three times per week.
Because drinking can increase blood pressure, it is recommended that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
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If you choose to eat three standard meals and two snacks per day, a 1,200-calorie plan would permit you to eat approximately 300 calories at meal time and 150 calories for each snack. This can be an extremely low calorie count to achieve while also eating the recommended number of servings the DASH diet recommends, so you will need to be wise about your food choices. Strictly limit or eliminate your discretionary calories from added sugars. Be mindful that nuts and seeds are very calorie-dense, so limit these as well. When selecting your meat or poultry foods, instead of selecting a high-calorie, high-fat cut of beef, instead choose a leaner protein source, such as fish or turkey. To help you feel full longer, choose the most substantial food serving. For example, though one-half cup of vegetable juice counts as a single vegetable serving, so does an entire cup full of leafy green vegetables, which is likely to be more filling.
Health Benefits of DASH
The DASH diet plan is flexible and balanced, making it a good option for a long-term eating program. The program has been shown to reduce blood pressure in just two weeks’ time, with even greater benefits over time. High blood pressure increases your risk of stroke and heart disease, and can also damage the blood vessels, brain, kidneys and eyes. Additionally, the healthy eating habits outlined by DASH may also protect against other health conditions, including osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure: Healthy Eating
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What Is the DASH Eating Plan?
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Following the DASH Eating Plan
- Mayo Clinic: DASH Diet: Healthy Eating to Lower Your Blood Pressure
- The DASH Diet Eating Plan: US News & World Reports: Best and Healthiest Diet Plan
Lauretta Claussen has been writing professionally since 1999. Specializing in health and fitness topics, her work has been published by a variety of print and online media outlets. She earned her journalism degree from Lewis University in 2001.