DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. As the name suggests this diet was designed with the aim of modifying diet in order to reduce blood pressure.
DASH diet involves eating lots of fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, nuts and fibre rich foods; which is why scientists felt this diet could be helpful in losing weight and improving metabolic health. DASH diet in combination with calorie reduction and exercise aids in reducing blood pressure better and losing weight.
What is the DASH diet approach for weight loss?
The DASH diet involves two phases:
During first 14 days you have to cut down on sugar and starchy foods like fruits, whole grains, alcohol. This helps in regulating blood sugar and controlling cravings. You can still have leafy greens, low fat dairy, lean meats, poultry, fish and healthy fats like nuts, olive oil etc.The protein content of this diet boosts your metabolism and promotes weight loss.
After first 14 days, you continue to eat foods of the first phase and reintroduce foods like fuits and whole grains in a manner that it supports weight loss. This phase lasts forever; in other words it is a permanent addition to your lifestyle.
The DASH diet focuses on maintaining blood sugar levels. Maintenance of blood sugar levels helps in improving insulin sensitivity, reducing abdominal fat and cravings, reducing cholesterol and blood lipids and reducing diabetes risk.
It also incorporates protein in order to support a healthy weight loss without loss of muscle mass and preventing slowing down of metabolism.
In the DASH diet you are not required to focus on any particular food group; you just have to eat more of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy. So like the conventional notion of ‘diet’, you don’t have to starve yourself or go on extreme calorie reduction.
What are the core components of DASH diet?
This is what the DASH diet is made up of:
The low proportion of carbs helps in reducing hunger and the inclusion of fruits, vegetables and other filling foods help in promoting satiety.
Additionally, avoiding starchy foods helps in regulating blood sugar, reducing cholesterol and blood lipids, reduction of abdominal fat and overall improvement in metabolic health.
The high fruit and vegetable content of DASH diet makes it more effective than mineral supplements in reducing hypertension in obese individuals.
Inclusion of protein
Protein rich foods are satisfying and do not affect blood sugar levels. They boost metabolism, prevent loss of muscle mass during weight loss and control hunger.
Inclusion of heart healthy fats
Heart healthy fats like nuts and olive oil promote satiety. They slow down digestion and reduce the rate at which blood sugar spikes thus ensuring a healthy metabolism. Healthy fats like omega3 are essential for brain health.
Rich in minerals
The DASH diet is rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium, calcium, fibre and has a low content of sodium. This helps in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body which indirectly helps in reducing blood pressure.
Also overweight or obese individuals suffer from nutritional deficiencies. This diet helps in restoring nutrient balance in obese individuals and improves their metabolic health.
However this diet focuses on reducing sodium. The daily recommended allowance of sodium is 2300mg. Phase I of the diet limits sodium intake to 2300mg a day and Phase II reduces sodium to 1500mg.
What does research have to say about role of DASH diet in weight loss?
Most of the research on DASH diet is focussed on its effect on blood pressure and other metabolic parameters. Here are some studies we came across that demonstrate that DASH diet indeed is beneficial for weight loss.
1.Healthy eating in DASH supports weight loss
A study was designed to compare the effects of DASH diet or calorie restricted diet in obese individuals suffering from non alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Both diets were consisted of 52-55% carbohydrates, 16-18% proteins and 30% total fats; however, the DASH diet was designed to be rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fats, cholesterol and refined grains.
It was observed that DASH diet brought about better reduction in weight, cholesterol, blood lipids than control diet. It also brought about a reduction in inflammation and improvement in antioxidant profile.
Inclusion of low sodium vegetable juice in DASH diet leads to better weight loss outcomes. The basic principle is that inclusion of fibre rich satiating foods which are also rich in nutrients leads to weight loss.
Blumenthal et al. report that addition of exercise and weight loss protocol to DASH diet brings about better reduction in blood pressure in obese hypertensive individuals.
Asemi et. al assessed the effect of DASH diet on metabolic health markers in overweight or obese women suffering from PCOS. Individuals were given either DASH diet or calorie restricted diet for 8 weeks.
Weight loss was 4.4 kg in the DASH diet group whereas 1.5 kg in control diet group. Decrease in insulin, blood lipids, cholesterol and increase in antioxidant defence was observed with DASH diet.
A review by Soltani et. al reports that adults on DASH lose more weight within 8-24 weeks and reduce waist circumference within 24 weeks. Low calorie DASH diet leads to even better weight reduction that other low calorie diets.
What does this mean?
Though limited, the scientific evidence clearly suggests that following DASH dietary pattern reduces body weight in a time span of 8 weeks.
2.DASH diet reduces abdominal obesity
Following DASH dietary pattern results in reduced body weight and waist circumference in 8 weeks.
DASH diet with omega 3 fatty acid supplementation is found to have beneficial effects on dietary habits and oxidative stress in women with abdominal obesity.
In a 8 week clinical trial it was observed that DASH dietary pattern reduced abdominal fat accumulation and improved metabolic parameters in women suffering from PCOS.
Visceral adiposity is fat that surrounds organs and this can cause metabolic issues. It is generally observed in trunk area. Combination of physical activity and DASH dietary pattern is proven to reduce visceral fat and total body fat.
What does this mean?
Inclusion of satiating and fibre rich foods in DASH diet reduces waist circumference and abdominal obesity within 8 weeks.
3.DASH diet helps in weight loss maintenance
A long term study was done to assess the effect of DASH diet on weight maintenance. The study involved 6 month initial weight loss followed by 30 month weight loss maintenance period.
Phase I involved following basics of DASH diet. In Phase II participants were asked to continue these dietary habits. Participants lost almost 4kg in Phase I. During Phase II, overall participants gained 52% of the weight lost but still managed to maintain 0.04 – 0.17kg weight loss per 6 months.
Researchers concluded that increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy assists in weight maintenance.
Hollis et. al conducted a similar study wherein the weight loss on following DASH diet was between 4-8 kg. Average weight loss was around 4kg. Findings of this study suggest that DASH diet successfully aids in short term weight loss and weight maintenance.
What does this mean?
DASH dietary pattern is an excellent option when it comes to maintenance of weight loss.
4.DASH diet improves metabolic health
Insulin resistance contributes to obesity. Insulin is required for effective metabolism of glucose and carbohydrates. In insulin resistance, one tends to have high sugar levels and insulin instead of aiding in glucose metabolism contributes to deposition of fat.
Research shows that DASH diet in combination with weight management reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and improves insulin sensitivity. A review of multiple studies reveals that DASH diet significantly improves insulin sensitivity irrespective of weight loss.
Leila et. al reported that following DASH diet reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases in type 2 diabetes patients. The study reported reduction in weight, blood sugar and cholesterol in 8 weeks.
Adherence to DASH diet has been associated with reduced risk of metabolic syndrome.
What does this mean?
DASH diet is primarily designed to reduce metabolic syndrome features like insulin resistance, cholesterol levels and blood lipid levels.
5.DASH diet improves health of overweight children
DASH diet was primarily designed with the approach to reduce blood pressure. Though now DASH diet has been designed to suit weight loss, the eating pattern brings about beneficial changes in metabolic health.
Saneei et. al conducted a clinical trial where 6 week adherence to DASH diet by adolescent girls with metabolic syndrome reduced blood pressure and features of metabolic syndrome.
Hajna et. al reported that following DASH diet can reduce obesity in children.
What does this mean?
Research suggests that DASH diet can help in redcing metabolic syndrome and obesity in children.
What to eat and what to avoid on DASH diet?
Depending on your calorie goal (2000 or 1600), you have to decide the number of servings you would need. You can find some help here.
Foods that you can eat include:
- At least 3 whole grain foods
- Low fat or non fat dairy
- Nuts, seeds and legumes
- Limited servings of fats and sweets
Avoid salt, red meats, sugary and starchy food and also food items that are rich in trans fat.
Scientifically the DASH diet is proven to cause sustainable weight loss and significant improvement in metabolic health. Also the diet focuses on involving all food groups and does not impose restrictions on any particular food groups, which makes it easier to follow.
To get started on DASH diet, Dash diet Weight Loss Solution by Marla Heller is a good read. But an important thing to remember is that this diet involves a permanent alteration in the lifestyle. I would recommend DASH diet to anyone looking forward to a healthy change in dietary habits.