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What you need to know about the DASH diet

Prima (UK) logo Prima (UK) 05/03/2018 Karen Gordon

The DASH diet: What you need to know about the healthy eating plan experts LOVE © Getty The DASH diet: What you need to know about the healthy eating plan experts LOVE So you want to lose weight or give your life a health kick. But how are you going to do it? With so many diets available to try, it can be difficult to know which one is the right one for you.

The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, has been ranked the best diet for the 8th year in a row by the News & World Report. Could this be the healthy diet that you've been looking for?

The diet, which is promoted by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), was originally developed to lower blood pressure, but the healthy eating plan also helps lower cholesterol and even promotes weight loss.

But is it doable? We spoke to the experts to tell you everything you need to know about this crowd-pleaser of a meal plan…

What exactly does the DASH diet involve?

Rather than calorie counting, it's an eating pattern based on a recommended number of daily servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and non-tropical (not coconut/palm) vegetable oils.

According to Sian Porter, consultant dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, the diet works because it's low in sodium, sugar and saturated fat, and moderate in protein, high in fibre and other nutrients, including potassium, magnesium and calcium.'The combined changes in your diet, eating the appropriate number of calories and other lifestyle choices, such as exercise, all work together to help lower blood pressure,' says Sian.

'Weight loss is often a natural part of the DASH diet and is devised around two phases,' adds Nicola Shubrook, a nutritional therapist from Urban Wellness.

Related: 6 Clues Your Body Gives You Before a Heart Attack (provided by Woman's Day)

Phase one is a kickstarter, and the first two weeks aim to curb craving and balance blood sugars. It focuses on a low-carb diet, including no wholegrains, fruits or starchy vegetables, such as potatoes.

After 14 days, in phase two, you will continue to eat foods from phase one, but introduce more wholegrains, fruits and non-starchy vegetables to help you lose weight at a steady rate and improve your body's response to hypertension.

What does a typical meal look like?

Based on how many calories you need, a typical meal plan is designed around servings within each food category. 'For example, on a 2,000-calorie diet you would have 7-8 whole grain servings a day, with one serving being the equivalent of a slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice,' says Nicola.

Once you know what foods you should be eating, here is what a typical DASH day plan would look like:

Breakfast: Eggs on wholegrain toast with mushrooms and tomatoes cooked in a little olive oil.

Lunch: Bean and avocado brown rice salad with peppers, a small amount of light dressing using unsaturated oil and a portion of fruit.

a bowl of food © Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)

Dinner: Turkey and vegetable stir-fry, Soba (buckwheat) or other wholegrain noodles, a portion fruit.

Snacks: Fruit, vegetables, seeds and nuts, low-fat (2% or less) unsweetened yogurt, a small piece of low-fat cheese, a wholegrain cracker with peanut butter, unsalted/unsweetened popcorn.

What foods are banned on the DASH plan? Is alcohol allowed?

Foods high in saturated fat (fatty meats, full-fat dairy, coconut and palm oil), sugary drinks and sweets should all be limited, according to Sian. It's also important to completely avoid all trans-fats, such as fried foods, pastries and cakes, along with refined sugar, processed foods and, of course, sodium.

Alcohol can be reintroduced in phase 2, says Nicola, in the form of wine. 'As long as it's a small glass, and occasionally,' she says.

What are the advantages of the DASH diet?

The DASH diet was initially designed to help lower blood pressure, but it has also proven highly effective in lowering cholesterol, as well weight loss.

© Provided by National magazine company ltd (Hearst UK)

A study, looking at 459 people with slightly high blood pressure, randomly assigned different diets, including DASH. Researchers found that the DASH plan lowered participants' blood pressure and cholesterol – as well as their risk of developing heart disease in the next 10 years compared to the other diets.

'A lot of people with hypertension are also overweight,' says Nicola. 'By aiding weight loss, this will help the body to better manage its blood pressure.'

According to Sian, other health benefits include a reduced risk of diabetes, stroke, colorectal cancer and kidney disease.

Are there any disadvantages?

As with any diet, it depends on how much time you're willing to commit to it. 'It needs planning and portion size control – but there is plenty of practical advice and tips available. It may also be more expensive, depending on what food you previously bought,' says Sian.

Nicola agrees that it may be initially quite hard to get used to the dietary changes, especially in the first 14-day phase, but, after some preparation, it can quickly become an easy way to eat. 'Cutting out sugars may also be a challenge. But taste buds do adapt, and those who follow DASH will notice their need for sweet food reduces,' she says.

DASH diet tips

It's important to include exercise as part of your DASH diet plan – even if it's a 15-minute walk every day, says Nicola. Studies have shown to be even more effective in lowering blood pressure. 'As weight loss is achieved, the ability to increase the length and type of exercise will improve.'

Nicola also suggest avoiding anything with artificial sweeteners or labelled 'sugar-free' as they'll contain some form of sweetener. 'There's been some evidence to suggest that this may have a negative effective in blood sugar regulation and could alter our gut microbiome.'

Related: Eating Nuts Helps Colon Cancer Patients (provided by Wochit News)

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