A guide to the DASH diet for weight loss

Ever thought about trying the DASH diet for weight loss? The healthy eating plan was originally designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure, but it could also boost weight loss, as a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine (opens in new tab) found. 

Dr Deborah Lee (opens in new tab) from Fox Pharmacy says: “DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was initially piloted more than 20 years ago, when it was first realized that blood pressure could be lowered by controlling what we eat.”

Researchers found that high blood pressure was less common in people who restricted their red meat intake and cut back on sodium, fats and refined sugars. Perhaps not surprisingly, a side effect of cutting out these less healthy foods can be weight loss. 

So yes, the DASH diet can be effective for weight loss – but don’t expect it to help you drop pounds on its own. For sustainable weight loss you will need to be in a calorie deficit, eating fewer calories than you burn. The best meal replacement shakes could also save your time and energy in the kitchen, without compromising nutrition.

In this article we explain how the DASH diet works, how to employ it most effectively and the foods to eat and avoid. Plus, check out our 7-day DASH diet meal plan for a week’s worth of meal ideas.

Dash diet: how does it work?

Anyone who suffers from high blood pressure will be at increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. By limiting consumption of red meat, sodium, fats and refined sugars, the DASH diet aims to reduce the risk of an individual developing hypertension. 

So, why does it work? Salt, for instance, makes your body hold onto water. So if you eat too much, the extra water in your blood means there is too much pressure on your blood vessel walls, thus raising your blood pressure. 

Saturated fat in turn can boost ‘bad’ cholesterol, which is linked with hypertension. Fatty foods can also increase visceral fat on the body – the really dangerous type of body fat that is stored deep inside the belly, wrapped around the major organs – and this can raise blood pressure by physically compressing the kidneys. 

“The DASH diet is low in sodium but high in potassium, calcium and magnesium,” says Dr Lee. “It is also low in saturated fat and sugar – this is what is needed to lower blood pressure and for good heart function.” 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The standard DASH diet involves restricting sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day – approximately just one teaspoon of salt. 

There is also an option to follow the ‘Low Sodium DASH diet’ whereby sodium is restricted even more, to less than 1500mg per day. 

So, what can you eat? 

“The diet contains lean meat and fish, low-fat dairy, whole grains, unsaturated fats and fruit and vegetables,” explains Dr Lee. “High fat, high sugar, and high salt foods should all be avoided. This means not eating processed foods, which tend to be high in all these constituents.”

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“You will be eating roughly 2,000 calories per day, including six to eight portions of whole grains, four to five portions of fruit and vegetables, two to three portions of low-fat dairy (such as yogurt), and one ounce of low-fat meat or poultry, or one egg. In addition, four to five portions of nuts and seeds should be consumed every week. You should consume five or fewer servings of sugar per week – for example, one tablespoon of jam is one serving.” 

Is the dash diet good for weight loss?

Absolutely, says Dr Lee. “In one 2016 review published in Obesity Reviews (opens in new tab), featuring meta-analysis comparing DASH with other low energy diets, it was shown to be statistically significantly beneficial for weight loss,” she says.

“DASH dieters lost approximately 3.1lb (over the course of eight to 24 weeks), 0.4 units of BMI (over eight to 52 weeks), and 0.4 inches more of waist circumference (over 24 weeks) than those on other diets. The effect of the diet was greater in those who were overweight and obese, compared to standard Western diets.

“These may seem like small differences. But one of the key issues about weight loss is continuing to lose weight as time goes by and keeping the weight off. These changes were noted after following the DASH diet for up to one year.”

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Dash diet for weight loss: what to eat

As we know, the DASH diet involves cutting back on sodium, red meat and fatty or processed foods and instead eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. 

Fruit and vegetables are good for lowering blood pressure – and in turn aiding weight loss – not only because they are low in calories and fat but because they are rich in antioxidants, substances found in plants that counteract the effects of oxidative stress, which occurs in our bodies every day

Dr Lee says: “Oxidative stress results in the production of electrically charged particles called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). These have the potential to damage DNA and underpin the development of many of the chronic diseases we see today, including hypertension.” 

“By eating lots of fruit and vegetables, you are ingesting large amounts of antioxidants and helping to combat oxidative stress, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

“Fruits and vegetables which have bright colors – such as beets, broccoli, sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries – are especially high in antioxidants.” 

  • Related: Which fruits are low in sugar?
(Image credit: Anastasiia Krivenok via Getty Images)

Whole, unprocessed grains are also a good choice. The outer bit (the husk) is especially high in fiber, which has numerous health benefits.

“Fiber helps you feel fuller for longer and helps control appetite,” says Dr Lee. “It helps digestion and reduces the dietary absorption of cholesterol. It also reduces insulin resistance, aiding the metabolism of glucose (helping lower glucose levels in the bloodstream, and avoiding high levels of insulin). Whole grains are often high in potassium, too, which is beneficial for the control of blood pressure.”

So go for brown rice, pasta, bread and cereal, while avoiding white, processed carbohydrates. Try to eat 100% whole grain products.

“Many studies, including one published in Nutrition Journal (opens in new tab), have shown that replacing saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated plant-source fats, such as olive oil, helps to lower blood pressure,” continues Dr Lee.

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“Choose oils such as sunflower, olive, avocado or flaxseed soil. Avoid animal fats, butter, cream, lard, ghee, and cheese. The reasons for this are complex, but unsaturated fats have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and to have favorable effects on cholesterol.”

Dash diet for weight loss: what to avoid

If you want to try the DASH diet for weight loss you need to kiss goodbye to high salt foods – and this doesn’t mean simply avoiding adding salt to your meal. 

Dr Lee says: “Salt can be hidden in foods, so read the label and be cautious about what you eat. There are often high levels of salt in table sauces, stock cubes, soups, ready meals and snacks.” 

“Bacon, salami and other foods containing cured meats and fish can also be high in salt. Don’t eat crisps, roasted nuts and other salty snacks. Don’t put a salt cellar on the table or use it in your cooking, flavor foods with garlic, herbs and spices instead.”

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Takeaways are also off the menu as they are often fried and high in salt. “Even curries and other convenience foods often have sauces high in salt and fat,” warns Dr Lee.

Instead create your own low fat, healthy options at home instead. You can spray potatoes with dry fry olive oil spray and roast them in the oven, for example, to make low-fat chips.

“Get out of the habit of adding sugar to food and drink,” says Dr Lee. “You can use a sweetener, or slowly wean yourself off to go without. Use a small spoon of honey sometimes as an alternative, and choose low-sugar jam and marmalades.

“You are what you eat. Treat your body with care and make sure you eat well every day, with large amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables. This will work wonders for your general health, too.”

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

— Update: 22-03-2023 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article The DASH Diet Is One of the Top Ranked Weight Loss Plans—Here's What It's All About from the website www.health.com for the keyword the dash diet for weight loss.

Last week, when the annual best diets list from came out, the DASH diet once again made the cut—praised for its ability to help people lose weight or simply improve their overall health.

This recent buzz has put DASH back in the headlines again. But what exactly is the DASH diet, and is it something you should try? As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I have counseled people through it; in my opinion there are pros and cons.

What exactly is the DASH diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, yet it's not only effective for people trying to lower their blood pressure. The diet has been around for two decades, and studies have shown that it can lead to weight loss, protect heart health, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers. For these reasons, it's promoted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The plan is relatively simple. DASH recommends specific portions from a variety of food groups daily, depending on your daily calorie needs (which are determined by your age, sex, and activity level). For example, a 1600 calorie DASH diet includes 6 servings of grains daily; 3-4 servings of vegetables; 4 servings of fruit; and 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy. Also recommended are 3-4 ounces total per day of lean meat, poultry, or fish; 3-4 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week; and 2 servings of fats and oils daily.

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DASH puts limits on sugar, recommending 3 or fewer servings per week of sweets. It also curtails sodium intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg per day. The diet is intended to be part of a lifestyle that reduces alcohol consumption and emphasizes stress reduction, physical activity, not smoking, and getting plenty of sleep. In short, it's not a fad diet. DASH is meant to be followed for the long haul.

DASH drawbacks to consider

But DASH does have some drawbacks. The plan is lower in healthful fats than I usually recommend, and there aren't obvious options for people who can't or don't eat dairy or animal proteins. Also, I typically advise a higher intake of non-starchy veggies and slightly lower consumption of starches.

Another con is that the rate of weight loss with DASH can be slow. To see continued progress, it's important to pinpoint your ideal calorie level and follow the recommended portions carefully—in other words, two level tablespoons of nut butter, not two heaping spoonfuls.

Why Dash can work for weight loss

Yet DASH offers a number of positives. In addition to being very sensible, nutrient-rich, and effective, DASH is fairly straightforward and sustainable. Many books and cookbooks are available to help DASH dieters figure out how to transform the daily servings from all the different food groups into practical meals and snacks.

In my practice I have helped clients create outlines that make sense for meal planning (for example, including one serving of fruit with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack; one serving of veggies at lunch and two at dinner; two servings of starch at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and so on). This type of framework is essential for implementing the diet daily. Understanding how to order from restaurant or takeout menus is also important.

Bottom line: DASH is tried and true. If your goal is weight loss, DASH won't melt the pounds off quickly. But if you identify the proper calorie level and stick with it consistently, it can be a safe, effective, and sustainable way to shed pounds, and simultaneously improve your health.

Because DASH has been around for so long and is well accepted by health professionals, there are a lot of free resources online to access help. However, if you have trouble figuring out how to take the recommended daily and weekly DASH servings and turn them into menus, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist. He or she can also personalize the plan for your needs by adjusting for food allergies or intolerances and offering tips for following the plan as a vegan or vegetarian.

To get started, go to the NIH’s DASH page. Keep in mind that some aspects of the plan will work for you, but others may not. Ultimately the best diet is one that generates results, makes you feel well physically and emotionally, and has stick-with-it-ness.

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About the Author: Tung Chi