There is no shortage of fad diets calling for extreme calorie or food- group restrictions without supportive scientific evidence. Forty-five million Americans go on a diet each year and spend $33 billion on weight-loss products, yet only 5 percent manage to keep the weight off long term.
In the United States, a staggering 70 percent of adults are considered overweight or obese. This excessive weight can lead to several health problems, including arthritis, sleep disorders, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or what is known as metabolic syndrome. What’s sneaky about metabolic syndrome is many people don’t have obvious signs or symptoms.
Metabolic syndrome overview
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors or symptoms occurring together which increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. If you only have one of these conditions, it doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome — but if you have three or more of the following risk factors, then you could be on a fast track to serious trouble…
- Increased blood pressure
- Excess fat around the waist
- High blood sugar
- Low levels of HDL (the good) cholesterol
- High levels of triglycerides
Metabolic syndrome is common, and up to one-third of U.S. adults have it. As a response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created food patterns designed to help people follow the recommendations outlined in its Dietary Guidelines, and one of them is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan.
DASH Diet Plan
U.S. News & World Reports has ranked the DASH diet as the best eating plan for several years in a row. The DASH diet was developed specifically to help people lower high blood pressure and is promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The focus is on whole foods, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry. The plan requires eliminating processed foods, sugary drinks, packaged snacks and limiting red meat.
Depending on your health needs, you can choose from two forms of the DASH diet:
- Standard DASH Diet — Limits sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams (mg) daily
- Lower Sodium DASH Diet — Limits sodium consumption to 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily, which is ideal for individuals with high blood pressure, a family history of heart disease, and at risk for type 2 diabetes, or are currently managing the condition.
But in addition to lowering salt intake, the very foods recommended in the diet promote nutrients that have been shown to lower the risk of conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, including fiber, polyphenols and antioxidants. That’s why it’s important to get the recommended daily servings of:
- Grains: 6 to 8 servings daily
- Vegetables 4 to 5 servings daily
- Fruits: 4 to 5 servings daily
- Dairy (low-fat or fat-free): 2 to 3 servings daily
- Lean meat, poultry or fish: 6 one-ounce servings daily
- Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4 to 5 servings weekly
- Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings daily
- Sweets: 5 servings or fewer per week
How can the DASH diet help?
Blood Pressure Control — Many studies have shown that the DASH diet can reduce blood pressure in just 14 days, which can make a significant difference in your health risks. The diet encourages you to reduce sodium and eat a variety of foods containing potassium, calcium and magnesium, which are known to help lower blood pressure.
Diabetes Prevention — A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies reviewed the differences among various diets’ effects in preventing type 2 diabetes. The authors concluded the DASH & Mediterranean diets were associated with strong potential and a 20 percent decrease in type 2 diabetes risk.
Cholesterol — Several components of the DASH diet have been linked to lowering cholesterol, such as increased fiber intake, eating fish and leaner cuts of meat, and limiting sweets, carbohydrates and processed foods. A 2015 study compared both versions of the DASH diet and found both versions improved LDL and total cholesterol.
Weight loss — Even though weight loss was not the focus of the 160 doctors, registered dietitians and Ph.D. nutrition researchers that helped develop the DASH diet, following the diet certainly helps participants lose their weight.
Another big plus of the DASH diet, according to Dr. Catharine Champagne, one of the lead developers of the diet, “The diet was scientifically proven to be very effective for reducing blood pressure naturally. The drop in blood pressure in people with hypertension in the study was equal to that achieved with blood pressure drugs common at the time. It was effective for men, women — really all demographic groups you can list.”
Why is this a very big deal? It’s been shown that blood pressure medications are not as effective for women as they are for men.
Tips for cutting back on sodium
You can quickly obtain a complete overview of DASH diet menus and eating plans to help reduce your metabolic syndrome risk. In the meantime start by cutting down on the salt…
- Try these healthier spices in place of salt: garlic, dried onion flakes or powder, red pepper flakes, turmeric, tarragon or extra black pepper.
- Rinse canned foods to remove some of the salt
- Read labels at the store and look for “reduced sodium” or “no salt added.”
- Don’t add salt when cooking.
Editor’s note: Blindly lowering cholesterol has effects most of us never hear about—like stealing your memories. That’s why anyone looking to get better numbers might look at food, diet and cholesterol-lowering alternatives before popping pills. To learn more, check out this preview of The Cholesterol Super Brain!
The Big Number : 45 million Americans go on a diet each year — Washington Post
Overweight & Obesity Statistics — NIH National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive/Kidney Disease
DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure — Mayo Clinic
Which diet for preventing of type 2 diabetes? — Endocrine
What is the DASH diet? A Guide to the plan for losing weight and lowering blood pressure — Everyday Health.com
DASH Eating plan: An Eating Pattern for Diabetes Management — Diabetes Spectrum