The DASH Diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet was developed specifically to help people lower high blood pressure, also called hypertension. The food options available on the DASH diet closely mirror the eating plan recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid, with the focus on fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. It is a diet low in fat, red meat, and sugar, including sugary drinks.
The DASH diet specifically meets the low-sodium (salt) requirements that can give people an edge over hypertension. Depending on health needs, people can choose from a plan limiting salt to either 1,500 or 2,300 milligrams per day.
Here are some of the other daily nutritional goals of the DASH diet plan:
- Total fat is 27 percent of calories
- Saturated fat is 6 percent of calories
- Protein is 18 percent of calories
- Carbohydrates are 55 percent of calories
- Cholesterol is limited to 150 milligrams
- Fiber is 30 grams
The DASH Diet: How Does It Work?
Depending on weight loss or weight maintenance needs, you can choose a DASH diet plan that provides 1,600, 2,000, 2,600, or 3,100 calories per day. People who want to lower their blood pressure should combine the diet with other approaches to managing hypertension, such as getting more exercise, losing weight, and cutting back on alcohol.
The DASH diet works by limiting not only salt, but also saturated fat and cholesterol, both of which contribute to heart disease, and by increasing foods that provide fiber, protein, and nutrients thought to help lower blood pressure.
The DASH Diet: Sample Diet
Here is a dinner that you might eat on the DASH diet:
- 3 ounces of turkey meatloaf
- Small baked potato topped with 1 tablespoon each of fat-free sour cream and low-fat cheese, and a chopped scallion
- Small whole-wheat roll
- Cooked spinach
The DASH Diet: Pros
The DASH diet is recommended for people who want to lower blood pressure, but it is also a great option for anyone who wants to adopt a healthy diet.
There are several benefits to following the DASH diet:
Long-term potential. The diet offers variety and is easy to follow as a lifelong dietary choice.
Health benefits. Studies have shown that people who stick to this diet can lower their blood pressure and their cholesterol.
Better nutrition. The DASH diet emphasizes eating whole and fresh foods because processed and pre-packaged foods often have the most added salt.
The DASH Diet: Cons
There are few drawbacks to the DASH diet. Some people may be troubled by the fact that it does not outline a specific way to lose weight.
“It is not designed for weight loss per se, but offers different numbers of servings for the food groups for different calorie levels, so you could follow a weight-loss diet with this plan,” says Nancy L. Cohen, PhD, RD, professor and head of the department of nutrition at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Other people may find it hard to adjust to eating as much fiber as the DASH diet recommends. It is a good idea to gradually add high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, to avoid bloating and discomfort.
The DASH Diet: Short-and Long-Term Effects
“When tested, it was found that the DASH diet lowered blood pressure in those with normal blood pressure, as well as those with high blood pressure. As initially designed, sodium intake should be around 2,300 mg a day. The DASH diet was even more effective for lowering blood pressure if a lower amount of sodium was consumed,” says Allen Knehans, PhD, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Oklahoma University Health Sciences University in Oklahoma City.
Longer studies will be needed to determine whether the DASH diet will translate into lower rates of heart disease for those who stick with it over the long term. Either way, the DASH diet is a sensible diet for losing or maintaining weight while achieving better health in the bargain.