While you’ve been following the paleo diet and chowing down on grass-fed steak and organic smoothies, a little-known eating plan has been quietly gaining devoted fans and success stories.
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Developed in 1992 by the American National Institute of Health, the diet is popular in the US for treating blood pressure and heart disease, but is yet to truly crack the Australian market.
Dieticians blame diets which are ‘sexier’ for taking attention away from the sensible and nutritionally-dense DASH recommendations.
What can you eat?
DASH has a strong focus on fruit, vegetables and cereals, and encourages people to reduce their salt, red meat, alcohol and sugar intake.
“I think it’s fairly consistent with our dietary guidelines, except it has slightly higher recommended intake of fruit and cereals,” says University of Canberra nutrition professor Rachel Bacon.
The diet encourages foods which are high in potassium and fibre, which help reduce blood pressure, and limits food which aggravate heart conditions.
“It encourages nuts, seeds and legumes as opposed to just relying on meat as a source of protein,” Ms Bacon says.
“Traditionally in Australia we’ve eaten more meat than we’ve needed and that’s associated with a higher intake of saturated fat which is linked to heart disease.”
How can it help you?
Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson Katie Thomsitt says the diet has a long list of benefits, most notably treating blood pressure.
“It has lots of proven benefits in terms of heart health, cholesterol, weight loss, blood pressure and fibre from grains,” Ms Thomsitt says.
“There is a little bit of research which shows it could also be good for treating diabetes.”
Ms Bacon says the diet is well balanced and easy to follow, making it sustainable.
“A lot of the diets that people love have a calorie deficit or a very low calorie intake which is good for rapid weight loss but is not nutritionally balanced,” she says.
“Higher fibre can also reduce bowel cancer risk so it’s not just the benefit of reducing your cholesterol levels.”
Things to consider
Ms Bacon says the diet is sensible for the general population but may need tailoring for certain groups.
“A potential risk is that perhaps it suggests a lower intake of iron than in our dietary guidelines, particularly for groups like menstruating women,” she says.
“You can get iron well enough from fish and legumes, you just need to be careful to have vitamin C to maximise your absorption.”
Ms Thomsitt says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting, but everyone should be able to follow the principles of DASH.
“Everyone would be able to adopt the core principles, if not follow the diet as a whole, because any dietary change that asks someone to include core food groups more often and less of refined food is good.”
Daily eating plan
The DASH diet is a straightforward eating plan, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, grains and low fat dairy at most meals.
A daily menu looks something like this:
Breakfast: oatmeal, fruit juice, low fat yoghurt and wholemeal muffins.
Lunch: salads, vegetable soup, fruit and wholemeal sandwiches.
Dinner: grilled or roasted lean meat, baked potatoes, salads, green vegetables and fruit with yoghurt.
Breakfast: porridge and toast
• Half a cup of unsweetened porridge with non-fat milk and one banana
• One slice of wholemeal toast with two teaspoons of strawberry jam
Lunch: tuna salad sandwich
• 180g can of tuna in springwater, half a cucumber diced, half a red onion diced, two pieces of celery diced, two tablespoons of olive oil, juice of one lemon, ground black pepper, one cup fresh baby spinach and two slices wholemeal bread.
• Combine ingredients, drizzle with dressing and place between bread. Remaining mixture will keep in fridge for up to three days.
Dinner: salmon and sides
• 115g grilled salmon with the juice of half a lemon, half a cup of mashed sweet potatoes, one cup steamed broccoli, one-and-a-half cups of mixed baby greens, topped with two tablespoons of vinaigrette dressing