[Read this article and then comment below to be entered to win one of 3 copies of FOF Marla Heller’s best-selling book, The Dash Diet Action Plan (Grand Central Publishing, 2011)]
This fall, US News and World Report released its annual “Best Diets” issue, ranking the top 25 consumer diets for overall health and weight loss–as rated by an independent panel of health experts. It included the usual suspects: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, The Zone…even Slim Fast made the cut. The number one ranked diet was The Dash Diet . . .
. . . Wait. What?!
Yeah, we’d never heard of it either. What is this US-News-beloved formula, and why isn’t it advertised everywhere like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig?
For answers, we turned to FOF Marla Heller, 62, a registered dietitian and the author of The Dash Diet Action Plan, the New York Times best-seller about the diet.
Marla explained the diet originated from a government funded study in the 1990s: “The original study, titled Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), was intended to take the best components of a vegetarian diet–a diet known to lower blood pressure–and make it doable for most meat-eating Americans,” says Marla. To do this, researchers compared three diets: (1) the typical American diet, (2) the typical American diet with extra fruits and vegetables, and (3) the typical American diet with extra fruits and vegetables and extra low-fat dairy.
They found that the third option was the winner–it lowered blood pressure in as little as 14 days. Subsequent studies showed that the diet also supported weight loss as well as a reduced incidence of breast cancer, diabetes, colorectal cancer, heart disease, and stroke.
“US News and World Report said it’s the best diet for a lot of reasons,” says Marla. “But I think the key is that the goal isn’t just weight loss; it’s health. When you get to your goal weight, you’re going to be healthier.” In fact, a look at the US News article confirms that the diet received average scores when it came to weight loss and long-term weight loss, but outstanding scores when it came to nutrition, safety and heart health.
What are the rules?
“The key to DASH is getting more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy,” says Marla. Sounds simple enough, but consider that the average American gets just three servings of fruits and vegetables each day, while the DASH diet calls for 4-5 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables daily. “The focus of my book is meal plans that show you how to work multiple fruits and vegetables into every meal,” says Marla. “They’re bulky; they fill you up. Once you pair those with the recommended portions of lean proteins (5-7oz. a day), low fat dairy (3-5 servings a day), beans, nuts and seeds, you really don’t have room for much else.”
Marla insists that the focus is on adding foods, not eliminating. “Have a turkey sandwich,” she says. “But load it with as many vegetables as possible–cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, peppers….” And in fact, a typical day’s DASH menu, at 2,000, calories looks like a decadent feast.
A typical day on the Dash Diet:[portfolio_slideshow]
The tricky part is that this “typical day” is designed to lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health–not necessarily to help you lose weight. If your goal is weight loss, and you’re an FOF woman, you’ll likely need to opt for a more restricted calorie intake of 1200-1600 calories a day. Marla outlines DASH Diet meal plans at these calorie counts as well, and she insists that the premise remains the same: “We help you figure out what your calorie level should be and how many servings of the key foods you need to get into your day. By the time you’ve gotten all those servings in, you’ve used up your calories, and you’re full. You don’t have time or desire for the junk food.”
So, will I lose weight?
“Yes,” insists Christine Ambrose, 44, who has lost 90 pounds since starting the diet in 2010. At 5’4”, Christine was about 233 pounds when she started the diet at the suggestion of her physician. “My blood pressure was very high. He offered me two options–weight loss surgery or DASH.” Christine started out on a non-restrictive calorie plan and saw her blood pressure go down significantly, but it wasn’t until she cut down to 1500 calories/day that she began to see the weight drop off. She currently weighs 143. “It gave me structure,” Christine explains. “I knew how much I could eat–I focused on eating lots of fruits and vegetables and never going over my sodium limits.” [Note from Marla: “Sodium restriction is not a part of the standard DASH diet, but it is recommended by many doctors who are treating patients with high blood pressure.”] The best part, says Christine, is the improved health. “My skin and hair is better. I look younger. My resting heart rate is 45! That’s a good number for an athlete–a marathon runner!”
Why have so few people heard of it?
“It’s less sexy than a lot of diets out there,” Marla admits. There’s no clever marketing hook for DASH (No carbs! No wheat! Eat cookies and lose weight!) since it’s basically about eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats. In fact, there’s no real marketing at all. Once the DASH research was published in the late 90s, the NIH released some educational materials exclusively to physicians and dietitians, “but my patients couldn’t understand any of the information,” Marla explains. “My academic advisor was on the committee that studied the diet, so I understood how great it was. I thought, I have to find a way to explain this so people can actually use it.”
In 2000, Marla began work on her own book as a way to explain the diet to her private clients. She self-published in 2005, but it wasn’t until this past summer that she was approached by an agent and publisher interested in republishing the book. Since then, the diet appeared as number one in US News and Marla’s book hit the New York Times bestseller list.
Who would do best on this diet?
According to Marla, the DASH Diet “is for everyone. It doesn’t restrict any one type of food, and we accommodate for sensitivities to dairy and gluten.” Still, when we searched for women over fifty who had tried and lost weight on the diet, we couldn’t find anyone–despite posting on the DASH Diet Facebook page.
So what do you think…Would you try this diet? Have you tried it? Tell us below and you’re automatically entered to win a copy of Marla’s best-selling book, The Dash Diet Action Plan. 3 women will win!