The DASH Diet is Great for Weight Loss, So Why is No One Following It?

 Okea / Getty Images

Okea / Getty Images

The DASH diet often flies under the radar, especially when compared to buzzy diets such as the Keto diet, but it’s one of the most widely-respected diets out there. U.S. News & World Report has named it the “Best Diet Overall” for eight consecutive years in its annual diet rankings, and it’s recommended by the American Heart Association, who used it to develop their 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

With virtually no food groups as off-limits, DASH offers much more flexibility than other popular diet plans. It can also aid in weight loss and weight maintenance, given its emphasis on overall health. With all its praiseworthy qualities, you’d think everyone would be following a DASH diet plan. But here’s the surprising truth—less than 2 percent of the population actually follows the DASH diet.

How could this be? Let’s take a closer look at the DASH diet to find out for ourselves.

What Is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension." The diet was developed out of a study by the National Institutes of Health after researchers noticed that vegetarians tended to have lower rates of high blood pressure. Understanding that sodium intake affected blood pressure, researchers also believed that these levels may also be impacted by other nutrients in plant-based diets.

Enter the DASH diet. When individuals followed this eating plan, researchers saw dramatic reductions in blood pressure levels. Today, the eating plan is recommended for preventing and treating hypertension and heart disease—and it has been linked to decreased bone deterioration, improved insulin sensitivity, and possible risk reduction for some cancers.

How to Follow a DASH Diet Plan:

The DASH diet plan focus on increasing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; choosing lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and healthy fats; and limiting added sugars, trans fats, added salt, and processed foods. Serving sizes from each food group are based on individual calorie needs (see below for a 1600-calorie plan), and you’ll likely find that the plan looks pretty close to the MyPlate plan, as well as another consistently rated “top diet,” the Mediterranean Diet. Here’s a breakdown of the recommended nutrients in a typical day and week on the DASH diet:

Nutrients Per Day:

  • Grains: 6 servings
  • Vegetables: 3-4 servings
  • Fruits: 4 servings
  • Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy: 2-3 servings
  • Lean Meat, Poultry, or Fish: 4 ounces or less
  • Fat/oils: 2 servings
  • Sodium: 2300 mg or less

Nutrients Per Week:

  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 3-4 times per week
  • Sweets and added sugars: 3 servings or less

The secret to DASH’s success is its emphasis on increasing vegetables, fruits, and whole foods that are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. While most know that reducing sodium is essential, many don’t realize that getting adequate potassium intake is just as key for regulating blood pressure.

When foods are processed, their potassium levels actually decrease. So, choosing whole or minimally processed foods can improve blood pressure regulation from both a sodium and a potassium perspective. In addition, you’ll usually decrease your intake of saturated fat, added sugars, and overall calories—all of which can help you lose weight, and keep it off for good. 

So—Why Does DASH Have So Few Followers?

DASH's lack of followers seems to come down to misconceptions that people have about it. Check out my feature in Cooking Light : The DASH Diet is Great for Weight Loss, So Why is No One Following It? - where I address some common perceptions about the DASH diet, including what is—and what isn’t—true.