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healthy foodThe National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) helped develop the DASH diet, so at its core, this eating plan focuses on heart health and balanced living. In fact, the program’s very name is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

What is the DASH diet?

Incorporating “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” means working to reverse or prevent hypertension, or high blood pressure. The basics of the DASH diet, therefore, are to reduce sodium consumption; cut back on saturated fat, high-cholesterol foods, and trans fats; and emphasize healthy eating with whole grains, lean proteins, and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Though it was not created as a diabetes diet plan, the DASH Diet is also one of the best diabetes diets, helping prevent or reverse everything from pre-diabetes to full-fledged type II diabetes.

Science behind the DASH diet

If you want to know the science behind the DASH diet – and understand why it’s one of the best diabetes diets out there – then look no further than your physician. The medical community has found, time and time again, that fruits and vegetables, coupled with lean proteins and healthy fats, contribute to heart health. Studies reinforce these statements, showing that the DASH diet can lower hypertension (blood pressure), which in turn can reduce your risks of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and other cardiovascular maladies. And because the DASH Diet eschews processed sugars, white starches (white bread, white rice, etc.) and saturated fat, it echoes the dietary recommendations of the American Diabetes Association.

DASH diet foods

If you’re new to the DASH diet, good news – the information’s free! The NHLBI publishes free DASH info on their website, including a 60+ page guide that’ll help you figure out the dos and don’ts of the plan. Before you dive into DASH diet recipes, you’ll evaluate your daily calorie requirements based on your gender, age and activity level. Then you’ll move on to the DASH eating plan and your recommended daily servings of each food group. For example, a dieter who eats 2,000 calories everyday would eat the following:

  • Whole grains: 6-8 servings of whole wheat bread, rolls, whole wheat pasta, English muffins, pita bread, bagel, cereals, grits, oatmeal, brown rice, unsalted pretzels or unsalted popcorn
  • Vegetables: 4-5 servings of broccoli, carrots, collards, green beans, green peas, kale, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, or tomatoes
  • Fruits: 4-5 servings of apples, apricots, bananas, dates, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, grapefruit juice, mangoes, melons, peaches, pineapples, raisins, strawberries, or tangerines
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy: 2-3 servings of fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk or buttermilk; fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese or cream cheese; fat-free or low-fat regular or frozen yogurt
  • Lean protein: 6 or fewer servings of lean meat that has been broiled, baked, poached or roasted
  • Nuts, seeds & legumes: 4-5 servings per week of almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, kidney beans, lentils, split peas
  • Healthy fats & oils: 2-3 servings of soft margarine, vegetable oil (canola, corn, olive, or safflower), low-fat mayonnaise, or light salad dressing
  • Sweets: 5 or fewer servings per week of fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit punch, hard candy, jelly, maple syrup, sorbet and ices, sugar

Sample DASH diet menu

This is where the hard work comes in. Once you’ve determined your recommended calorie intake, it’s up to you to craft your own menus. You’ll also have to prepare most meals from scratch, which can be time consuming. But here’s a look at a sample menu for a person on a 2,000-calorie daily diet:

  • Breakfast: 1 whole wheat bagel with margarine or 2 tbsp peanut butter; 1 apple; 1 cup of skim milk; and decaf coffee
  • Lunch: Fresh salad of mixed greens, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, raisins, 1/3 cup almonds, and 2 tbsp reduced-fat dressing; 12 low-sodium crackers or whole wheat toast; 1 cup of fat-free milk
  • Dinner: Herbed salmon steak; 1/2 fresh veggies, steamed; 1/2 cup brown or wild rice; 1 dinner roll with margarine; 1 cup fresh berries; water or unsweetened herbal tea
  • Snack: 1 cup fat-free or low-fat yogurt with mandarin orange slices

Can you lose weight on the DASH diet?

Yes, but don’t expect it to melt off too quickly. The DASH diet is more about heart health than it is fast weight loss. Nevertheless, by definition, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains will help you lost weight, especially if you’re carrying more than a few extra pounds to start. That’s also why it’s a good plan for managing diabetes with diet: as you reach your goal weight, your risk of developing diabetes (or continuing to have the condition) plummets.

Physician-guided program for managing diabetes

One of the benefits of developing your DASH diet menu with The Center for Medical Weight Loss is that a physician-guided program takes out much of the guesswork and tedious planning. Your weight loss physician can help you tweak the best diabetes diets to determine your daily nutrition requirements, develop a customized meal plan, and load you up with suggestions on healthy meals to see you through even your toughest cravings. Get started today by entering your zip code into the box at top right, and don’t forget to ask your nearest Center for Medical Weight Loss about welcome specials available to newcomers.

Read about the Flexitarian diet, and the Engine 2 diet.