By Kati Mora, RD for DietsInReview.com
When you think of weight loss, the DASH diet might not be the first plan that comes to mind. Afterall, it was designed to help individuals lower their blood pressure and not necessarily their calorie intake, right? Well, yes and no. Although the DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, diet has been proven to reduce blood pressure, it can also help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
This diet was recently named the best overall diet for health by US News and World Report. That’s because it’s balanced, relatively simple to follow, backed by scientific research, and generally safe to put into practice. From fruits and vegetables to lean meats and low-fat dairy, this meal plan correlates well with the USDA MyPlate recommendations. Many of these foods are lower in calorie and rich in important nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber. A few more things to know about DASH diet meal plans:
-An individual should consume no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium a day. With the more stringent or low sodium plan, no more than 1500 milligrams should be consumed on a daily basis.
-Followers must go easy on fats, oils, sweets, and added sugars. Depending on how many calories you need to function each day and how
physically active you are, the amount of these and other components of your diet vary.
-Instead of utilizing special foods or counting calories, the emphasis here is more on servings and portion sizes. In general, those following the DASH diet should aim for 4-5 servings of both fruits and vegetables a day, 6-12 servings of whole grains, 2-3 servings of low-fat or no-fat dairy, less than 6 servings of lean meats, poultry and fish, 2-3 servings of fats and oils, 4-5 servings of legumes, nuts, and seeds, and no more than 5 servings of sweets per week. Alcoholic beverages should also be limited to no more than two drinks for men and one drink for women each day.
Not sure what a serving looks like? ChooseMyPlate.gov has a few excellent resources to help you identify what a serving size is for each food group. It varies depending on what type
of food you are eating and it can be tricky to keep all your serving sizes straight, but in general:
A serving of fruit = 1 cup
A serving of vegetables = 1 cup
A serving of whole grain= 1 ounce
A serving of protein = 1 ounce
A serving of dairy = 1 cup
The DASH diet might be for you if you’re looking to improve the nutritional quality of the way you eat. It is often associated with improved blood pressure maintenance; however, weight loss can also result from the dietary modifications taking place!
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The remedy for the healthy-but-boring dilemma is easy: Stock your pantry with a few strategic items that consistently bring a little “spark” to your cooking without adding significant cost or calories. Start with great basic ingredients, prepare them simply, and then add a punch of flavor to the dish.
Add flavor without all the fat by trying these five ingredients:
1. Lemon Juice
Squeeze half a lemon (just 6 calories per serving) over just about anything, and you’ll get a burst of flavor that’s bright and expressive. Here are some ideas:
- Toss a bowlful of Bibb or butter head lettuce with lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper, and you have a fantastic alternative to bottled salad dressing.
- Spritz lemon juice over steamed, grilled or sautéed green vegetables of any kind: broccoli, snap peas, fresh spinach, asparagus, green beans, zucchini. For even brighter flavor, grate the rind of half a lemon using a microplane or zester, and add that to the dish. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add lemon juice to marinade for chicken; when cooked, it will create a more tender and juicy dish. Squeeze lemon juice over a grilled steak.
- Make a compound butter: Combine 1 stick of salted butter (softened at room temperature) with the zest of 1 lemon and 2 Tbsp. of finely minced parsley. Wrap in waxed paper; place in a zip-top bag and store in the freezer. Use this to sauté vegetables or to top grilled steak or fish; a little bit (35 calories per tablespoon) goes a long way—and adds a ton of flavor.
Sure, you know about garlic. But here’s an insider technique that really brings out garlic’s flavor: Place a large unpeeled clove on a cutting board; place the blade of a chef’s knife flat to cover the garlic, and hit it sharply with your palm. This makes it easy to remove the papery skin. Trim off the root end and remove any green sprout inside. Hold the knife at about a 45-degree angle to the cutting board, and firmly draw the blade across the smashed garlic repeatedly, creating a paste. If your recipe calls for salt, then sprinkle some on the garlic as you work; the salt is abrasive and helps mash the garlic. Add this paste to salad dressing, marinade or a sauté pan instead of using chopped garlic.
Think beyond basic black pepper and try pimenton, cayenne and red pepper flakes for a new range of flavors. Pepper is essentially calorie-free and doesn’t carry the health risks that salt (sodium) does. Try these varieties:
- Pimenton is a smoked Spanish paprika that adds a spicy, smoky taste that’s hot (but still modest) and deeply flavored. Pimenton is fantastic on vegetables and wonderful on grilled meats.
- Cayenne can pack a lot of heat, and the fresher it is, the hotter. Add a pinch, then taste and see if the dish can take more heat.
- Red pepper flakes aren’t just pizza toppers; they’re great in spaghetti sauce, as well. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes along with garlic when you sauté any vegetable, particularly if you’re going for an Italian flavor. You can also add a pinch to any marinade for some extra spice.
More from Spark People:
- 10 Easy Ways to Lighten Up Any Recipe
- Shakin’ It Up with the Skinny on Salt
- Get a Free Personalized Weight-Loss Plan