The DASH Diet: How does it work?
Added fats, red meat, and sugar-laden drinks and foods are limited.
In January 2017, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the DASH diet the best diet for the seventh year in a row.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet aims to help people manage high blood pressure.
DASH is an acronym. It stands for:
The diet focuses on portion size, consuming a wide variety of foods, and obtaining the proper amounts of nutrients.
The National Kidney Foundation recommend it for people with kidney disease.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the DASH diet as an ideal eating plan for all Americans.
It is not a vegetarian diet, but it adds more fruits and vegetables, low- or non-fat dairy foods, beans, nuts, and other nutritious items.
It provides suggestions about healthy alternatives to "junk food" and encourages dieters to avoid processed foods.
Your guide to lowering your blood pressure with DASH, published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), provides useful information on popular mainstream food items and their healthy alternatives.
The book also includes samples of meal plans and their nutritional values. At the end of the book, readers can see a list of resources and how to get hold of them.
Research supports the DASH diet as a safe way to treat hypertension.
The United States has seen a significant increase in hypertension, or high blood pressure, in the last 50 years. High blood pressure is associated with a significantly greater risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.
Research published in the journal Hypertension indicates that after following the DASH diet for 8 weeks, patients with pre-hypertension had an average drop of 6 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 3 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic Pressure is the blood pressure while the heart is pumping blood, while diastolic is the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
Patients with hypertension experienced reductions of 11 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 6 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
These reductions in blood pressure occurred without any changes in body weight because the study controlled factors to keep weight stable.
Daily calorie intake on the DASH dietary pattern ranges from 1,699 to 3,100 calories.
A study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that the DASH diet reduces the 10-year risk of heart attack, especially among Black Americans, although another study suggested that this group is less likely than white Americans to adopt the diet.
The DASH diet aims to provide nutrients that can help reduce blood pressure. It is based on dietary patterns, rather than single nutrients. It also contains a high proportion of foods rich in antioxidants. These are thought to help prevent or delay the development of several chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Research that was carried out before the launch of the DASH diet showed that eating patterns can affect blood pressure patients with moderate to severe hypertension.
Participants in the study experienced a reduction in hypertension within 2 weeks of starting the diet.
Sodium in the DASH diet
The DASH diet encourages participants to reduce their sodium intake. Sodium can raise blood pressure in some people.
There are two versions of the DASH diet:
- On the Standard DASH diet, participants can consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day
- On the Low Sodium DASH diet, the limit is 1,500 mg of sodium each day
Normally, many people consume 3,500 mg of sodium or more each day, so both versions of the DASH diet aim to reduce sodium consumption.
The U.S. government advises people to limit their sodium intake to no more than 2,300 mg per day.
What you can eat
The DASH diet includes fruits, whole grains, and low fat dairy products.
The DASH diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, as well as some legumes, poultry and fish, small amounts of red meat, fats and sweets. It is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.
This is what a person might eat in a day on a typical 2,000 calorie-per-day DASH diet:
Six to eight servings of grains, including pasta, rice, cereal, and bread. One serving could be a slice of whole-wheat bread, ½ cup of cooked pasta, rice or cereal, or 1 ounce of dry cereal.
Four to five servings of vegetables, including fiber- and vitamin-rich vegetables, such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, carrots, or tomatoes. One serving could be a half cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or a cup of raw, green, leafy vegetables.
Four to five servings of fruit, as these are rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins, and other minerals. One serving may include a half cup of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit, or one medium fresh fruit.
Two to three servings of low-fat dairy food, as these are all major sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. They must be either low-fat or fat-free. One serving could include 1 cup of skim milk, or milk that is 1 percent fat, 1.5 ounces of cheese, or 1 cup of yogurt.
Up to six 1-ounce servings of fish, poultry, or lean meat. Meats are rich in proteins, B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients, but DASH dieters should limit their meat consumption and eat mostly fruits and vegetables. One serving may include 1 ounce of cooked, skinless poultry, lean meat or seafood, 1 egg, 1 ounce of tuna, packed in water, with no salt added.
Four to five servings of nuts, seeds and legumes, as these are good sources of protein, potassium, magnesium, fiber, phytochemicals, and other essential nutrients. Examples include sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios.
Two to three servings of fats and oils, because the human body needs fat to properly absorb essential vitamins and other nutrients. Healthy fats help to maintain the immune system. One serving may include 1 teaspoon of margarine, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of light salad dressing.
Weekly, a person should be eating up to 5 servings a week of sweets. The DASH diet does not cut out sweets altogether, but dieters should limit their intake. One serving could include 1 cup of lemonade, a half cup of sorbet, 1 tablespoon of sugar, jam or jelly.
The DASH diet recommends no more than two alcoholic drinks for men and one for women each day.
The amount of food will also depend on whether the dieter is a man or woman, their age, and how much exercise they get. A woman of 51 who is not very active, for example, will need only 1,600 calories a day, while a highly active 25-year-old man will need 3,000.
Daily nutritional goals in the DASH diet
The following daily goals are suitable for a person on a 2,000-calorie eating plan.
|Total fat||27% of calories|
|Saturated fat||6% of calories|
|Protein||18% of calories|
|Carbohydrate||55% of calories|
* 1,500 mg of sodium in the low-sodium DASH diet
Foods should be:
- low in saturated and trans fats
- rich in fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, and potassium
- low in sodium
Saturated fats are found in fatty meat, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
What can I eat?
One reason for the success of the DASH diet is that it allows for variety.
There are cookbooks available, with specific recipes, such as chicken souvlaki, Mexican-spiced pork chops, and vegetable lasagne.
Here are some general tips:
- Make sure there is plenty of color on the plate
- Include fruits, vegetables, and nonfat or low-fat dairy foods
- Have at least two side dishes of vegetables
- Prepare fruit-based desserts, rather than pastries
Don't just go for recipes, but focus on the overall eating plan, as this will provide a balance.
The NIH recommend changing onto the DASH diet over a couple of days or weeks, gradually adding more vegetables and cutting down on fatty products so that it becomes part of the daily routine.