Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.See all posts »
Experts Critique Diets that Promise to Conquer Belly Fat and Lower Blood Pressure
Earlier this year, U.S. News announced its rankings for the best diets. They relied upon 22 experts in diet and nutrition to scrutinize the claims of dozens of diets to determine which ones “add up” or “fall short” of their stated goals. The result is a pretty thorough and unbiased overview of eating plans in seven categories, which makes it easier to find a diet that best meets your needs.
Two eating plans in the “Best Diets Overall” category are worth calling out. One approach promises to conquer belly fat while the other aims to lower blood pressure. Both are common concerns of menopausal women and contributing factors to our long-term health, so it’s worth taking a look at what the expert panel found.
The DASH Approach
The DASH Diet, which took top honors, was originally developed to prevent high blood pressure through dietary recommendations of the National Heart, Lung and blood Institute. In fact DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The plan calls for eating low salt, high-potassium foods like fruits and vegetables along with low-fat dairy foods. It also reduces consumption of added sugars and red meat. The expert panel concluded that “rigorous studies show that DASH can lower blood pressure and it echos dietary advice touted by the American Diabetes Association.
The Flat Belly Diet
By comparison, the Flat Belly Diet came in at # 12. It was created with the promise of losing up to 15 pounds and several inches of visceral belly fat, which is a risk factor for heart disease. The diet is based on the theory that healthy, plant-based fats such as nuts, seeds, chocolate, and olive oil target and destroy belly fat while promoting fullness and preventing overeating. It calls for a portion of healthy fat with every meal and snack. The expert panel liked the suggested tasty menus as well as the “abundant guidance and resources.” But they were critical of the skimpy evidence that “good” fats are a magic bullet. Furthermore, they reported that the salt content in a typical Flat Belly menu bumped up against the recommended daily limit of 1500 mg/day for men and women 51 or older. The meal plans also contained an insufficient amount of potassium, which they said decreases bone loss and counter’s salt’s ability to raise blood pressure.
Which brings us back to the DASH DIET and its emphasis on preventing or reversing hypertension, a significant risk factor for stroke and coronary heart disease. More women than men die as a result of these two conditions alone, so it’s certainly worth giving this low-salt, high-potassium, whole food plan a try if your weight or blood pressure is higher than where it ideally should be.
If you’re interested in learning more about the DASH eating plan and how to prepare meals that adhere to its guidelines, I recommend the recently published “The DASH Diet Cookbook”, to help you get started. Described as “the first comprehensive recipe collection fitting DASH guidelines,” it provides a concise overview of how the diet works; how it can help you lose weight; and for those who want a little more hand-holding, a 28-day meal plan that can help you jump start your new way of eating.
Wendy Hoffman writes about women's health at www.menopausetheblog.com