DASH Diet : The weight loss diet for diabetics

1 in every 6 people with diabetes in the world is from India. Making us the number 2 country with an estimated 77 million diabetics! (IDF Diabetics Atlas, 2019).

These staggering numbers means that you or someone you know suffers from this disorder which needs a lifestyle change.

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for a diabetic as it can have a direct impact on blood sugar levels which has to be maintained.

Consuming very low calories or trying unreasonable weight loss approaches is not the way to go about it. The DASH diet has gained worldwide recognition for helping diabetics to lose weight, effectively.

This dietary approach is a nutritious, balanced, and sustainable eating plan that can improve a number of health parameters, including hypertension, insulin resistance, hyperlipidemia, and overweight/obesity.

What is the DASH diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was developed by the National institutes of Health (NIH) to lower blood pressure without medication.

It is not a weight loss program or a meal plan but a lifelong eating pattern to manage diabetes with an additional benefit of losing weight.

The DASH diet generally includes 2000 calories a day. People following the DASH diet are encouraged to reduce portion sizes and eat foods rich in blood pressure-lowering nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium and abstain from sodium.

This diet includes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products in ample amounts. It also includes fish, poultry, and legumes, as well as nuts and seeds. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat and total fat.

What to eat on a DASH diet ?

The recommended servings from each food group for a 2000 calorie-a-day looks like this :

Whole Grains – 6 to 8 servings a day

One serving includes : 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 1/2 a cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta

Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients while being low in fat.

Vegetables – 4 to 5 servings a day

Tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens and other vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, potassium and magnesium.

One serving includes : 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables.

Vegetables can be used in a stir fry and also can also be consumed as a main dish with a side of brown rice.

Fruits – 4 to 5 servings a day

Fruits are packed with fiber, potassium and magnesium while being low in fat.

One serving includes : One medium sized fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit.

Fresh fruits coupled with a dollop of low fat yogurt can be the dessert that accompanies the meals.

If buying canned fruits, make sure there is no added sugar

Dairy – 2 to 3 servings a day

Fat free/low fat milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein.

One serving includes : 1 cup skim or 1 % milk, 1 cup low-fat yogurt.

Low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt should be added to your grocery list. Avoid regular and even fat free cheese as they are typically high in sodium.

Lean meat, poultry and fish – 2 servings or less a day

Meat can be a rich source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc.

One serving includes : 1 egg or 30 grams of cooked meat, poultry or fish.

Eat heart friendly fishes like salmon that are high in omega 3 fatty acids.

Use healthier methods of cooking like baking, broiling, grilling or roasting instead of frying the meats and fish in fat.

Nuts, seeds and legumes – 4 to 5 servings a week

Almonds, beans, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, peas and lentils are great sources of magnesium, potassium, fiber, phytochemicals and protein.

One serving includes : 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tbsp seed or nut butter or 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.

Always stick to moderate amounts of these servings as this food group is high in calories. Nuts are also high in MUFAs and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Tofu and tempeh, can be a good meat substitute for the protein requirements.

Fats and oils – 2 to 3 servings a day

Fats are necessary to absorb essential vitamins. The DASH diet limits fats to less than 30 % of daily calorie intake, with special focus on healthier fats. As saturated and refined fats increase risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Healthy options for fats include avocados, low-fat cheese, and yogurt, dark chocolate, nuts, olive oil.

One serving includes : 1 tsp soft margarine, 1 tbsp mayonnaise or 2 tbsp salad dressing.

Limit use of butter, cheese, whole milk, cream and eggs along with foods made solid shortenings, palm and coconut oils.

Avoid trans fat, found in such processed foods as crackers, baked goods and fried foods. Read labels to choose foods that are low in saturated fat and free of trans fat.

Desserts/Sweets: 5 servings or fewer a week

Choose sweets that are low fat and low in calories, like sorbets, fruit ice or low fat cookies.

Swap your regular coke for a diet one, but low fat milk or even water is always a better option.

The plan also advises you to limit sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats.

People with diabetes on this plan should reduce their sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.

NOTE : The traditional DASH diet can be low in fat and too high in carbohydrates for those with diabetes. Lowering your carb intake and adding in more unsaturated fats through foods such as oils, nuts, seeds and avocado can help you control your blood sugar levels and give you more energy.

Depending on your weight, height, gender, age and activity level your calorie needs may differ. To find out more about if the DASH diet meal plan is suitable for you, contact us on info@activeat.in.

Why the DASH diet?

Unlike temporary diet fads that are quick fixes for weight loss, DASH is all about inculcating a healthy lifestyle in the long run.

Numerous studies have shown that the DASH diet can reduce hypertension and high blood pressure.

By following the DASH diet, blood pressure can reduce by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, the top number of the blood pressure (systolic blood pressure) could drop by 8 to 14 points, which can make a significant difference in health risks.

High blood pressure is one of the risk factors associated with Type 2 diabetes.

DASH diet has also shown to improve blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, high cholesterol and promote weight loss in conjunction with diet and exercise. All these decrease risks of development of Type 2 diabetes and are essential for diabetes management.

This type of eating plan may be helpful for individuals with prediabetes or who are at risk for type 2 diabetes.

The DASH diet has also proven to be a great diet plan for the general population as well. It has shown to significantly lower total and LDL-cholesterol (referred to as the “bad” cholesterol) levels in patients with borderline-high and high cholesterol.

Several studies have shown that the DASH diet has been independently associated with a 20 % reduced risk of diagnosis of the disease and also lowering health complications in those already afflicted with Type 2 diabetes.

Further research in Diabetes Management and The FASEB Journal also found this diet helped lessen episodes of hyperglycemia (excess glucose in the blood) and control blood glucose levels in children with Type 1 diabetes.

Because of the diet’s effect on weight, insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, it works well for people with prediabetes and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

DASH and Sodium Diet :

In a Standard DASH diet : You can consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.

Lower sodium DASH diet : You can consume up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Both versions of the DASH diet aim to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet compared with what you might get in a typical Indian diet, which can amount to a whopping 3,400 mg of sodium a day or more.

If you aren’t sure what sodium level is right for you, talk to your nutritionist or physician.

How you can cut back on sodium :

Although the food groups in the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. There are ways you can further reduce your sodium intake :

  • Using sodium-free spices or flavorings with your food instead of salt
  • Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
  • Rinsing canned foods to remove some of the sodium
  • Buying foods labeled “no salt added,” “sodium-free,” “low sodium” or “very low sodium”
  • One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium.

DASH diet and Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks or less per day.

Practical ways to begin the DASH diet :

DASH is not a temporary eating plan. It’s designed to be a lifelong part of diabetes nutrition.

  • Start gradually – If you eat only 1 or 2 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, try to add extra serving at lunch and dinner.
  • Increase whole grains by adding 1 or 2 grain servings as whole grains.
  • Cut out sodas and leave the salt shakers in the cabinet.
  • Increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains gradually can also help prevent bloating or diarrhea that may occur if you aren’t used to eating a diet with lots of fiber.
  • Celebrate your milestones and forgive your slip-ups – It’s a long term lifestyle change, always pick up where you left off.
  • Add exercise you enjoy – In addition to the DASH diet, will help lower blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 min/week of physical activity, or about 30 min daily on most days of the week
  • Get support – From your physician and/or nutritionist, get the right approach to stick to your DASH diet.
  • Reduce portion sizes
  • Consider eating smaller meals more frequently during the day
  • Limit intake of fatty meats, high-fat dairy, and added fats
  • Drink water or seltzer water instead of sweetened beverages
  • When you start the DASH diet, check your blood glucose levels more frequently than usual to learn how this plan affects your glycemic control.
  • Using a shopping list can help with meal planning and also help to ensure that healthful foods are purchased.
  • If you are unfamiliar with healthful cooking methods or cooking in general, watch healthy cooking videos (available online on YouTube).
  • Set small goals on a weekly basis to include a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal and snack.
  • Aim to eat at least one meatless meal each week. Meatless meals emphasize plant-based protein sources, including legumes, tofu, tempeh, and meat substitutes
  • When dining out, you can request that foods be prepared without added salt, asking for sauces and salad dressings on the side, substituting a salad for fries, limiting bread, drinking water or seltzer, and eating half of the meal and taking the rest home for another meal.

Conclusion :

The appeal of the DASH diet is that it is practical and easy to begin. Requires no expensive, hard to find supplements or food are required for this diet. This diet promotes consumption of nutrient dense foods containing vitamins, minerals and fiber.

It is also easy to sustain for long term as there are no hard restrictions of any major food groups, just recommendations to eat small amounts of red meat, desserts and fats.

Although it isn’t a commercialized diet, ACTIVeat can curate DASH-friendly meal plans with low sodium meals.

Following a healthy eating plan is key to managing diabetes nutrition. With the DASH diet, you can love what you eat while still managing your diabetes and protecting your heart. It’s all about moderation and balance.

A quick look at a 2,000-calorie DASH plan :

6 to 8 servings of whole grains

4 to 5 servings of vegetables

4 to 5 fruit servings

2 to 3 servings of dairy

6 or fewer servings of lean meat, fish and poultry

Include about 4 portions of nuts, seeds and legumes weekly

Macronutrient goal of a DASH diet :

• Total fat: 27% of calories

• Saturated fat: 6% of calories

• Protein: 18% of calories

• Carbohydrates: 55% of calories

• Cholesterol: 150 mg

• Sodium: 2,300 mg (A lower goal of 1,500 mg sodium considered better)

• Potassium: 4,700 mg

• Calcium: 1,250 mg

• Magnesium: 500 mg

• Fiber: 30 g