The DASH diet is the latest weight-loss craze to make it across the pond, but unlike many of its predecessors it’s actually considered to be healthy - while still promising to help you drop a dress size before Christmas.
DASH has won the coveted ‘healthiest diet’ accolade in the US for two years running and the eating plan, which stands for ‘Dietary approaches to Stop Hypertension’, was initially created to help people tackle high blood pressure with what they eat.
It’s now endorsed by several medical bodies in America that focus on heart and blood pressure issues, such as the American Heart Association (AHA).
Similar to the Atkins diet, DASH focuses on increasing how much protein you eat, but advocates unlimited intake of vegetables (though not fruit, which is high in natural sugars). And after the first two-week kick-start period, DASH (unlike Atkins) allows grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.
The DASH diet may be focused on improving health, but it can also reduce your waistline and by starting now you could prepare your metabolism for Christmas to prevent the annual bulge the holiday season brings.
Marla Heller, the nutritionist behind the DASH diet, recommends eating lean proteins and healthy fats during phase one to keep you full, and to initially cut out on carbs, before reintroducing them in part two of the diet.
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It’s not as complicated as the Dukan diet, but it still involves thinking more carefully about your diet than many of us are used to, which is probably no bad thing.
Ultimately the diet isn’t advocating drastic changes; instead it’s reminding us how to eat healthily to keep us feeling full and energetic during the day - without resorting to carbs and sugars that give us a lift but make us put on weight.
Kick start: The first 14 days
Initially the plan is to cut out carbs and reduce your portion sizes, while still eating regular, healthy meals. Pick foods that are high in protein - lean meats such as chicken, fish, low fat cheeses, beans and eggs and accompany them with good fats such as avocados and olive oil. This should help keep you feeling satisfied without needing a hit of carbs.
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Adding more portions of vegetables to your meals is important both to keep you full and to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition you need.
Foods such as bread and pasta are out, as are fruits, which are full of sugar. Healthy snacks are allowed – a small portion of nuts or as much as you like of sugar-free jelly for when you need a pick-me-up.
Phase two and forever
The diet is designed to be a way of life, so after this kick-start phase, dieters are encouraged to look at their activity levels and match their food intake for phase two. This is where you reintroduce carbs, though only three portions a day, and fruit makes a comeback (two portions a day).
This reintroduction of foods, in sensible portions and still with the emphasis on protein and healthy fats, is designed to make the diet easy to follow forever.
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An example of a phase one diet plan:
Egg white omlette with lean ham and mushrooms
Stir fry salmon with vegetables (without noodles)
Grilled chicken with leaf and avocado salad drizzled with one teaspoon of olive oil and vinaigrette dressing
Crudites with houmous, unsalted nuts, a small fat-free yoghurt or a Babybel Light
More diet ideas, suggestions and recipe plans are to be found in The Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution: 2 Weeks to Drop Pounds, Boost Metabolism and Get Healthy (Dash Diet Book) by Marla Heller, MS RD, which is out on December 20 and on the Dash diet website.