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DASH Diet: Eating Healthy to Lower Blood Pressure

dash diet meal list
Last Updated on July 2, 2022

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is a diet plan designed to help people manage or prevent high blood pressure. 

It’s unlikely you’ll see the DASH diet on a list of dangerous celebrity weight loss fads like the 5-2 and meal replacement shake diets. Nevertheless, you should consider the pros and cons before embarking on any diet, including DASH.

So, we’ll help you understand how the DASH diet works, its advantages, and its downsides.

An Overview of the DASH Diet

eggs milk butter

The DASH diet is primarily for people with high blood pressure, called hypertension in the medical world. While there isn’t a cure for high blood pressure, you can lower it and manage it by living a healthier lifestyle.

Furthermore, many doctors believe that the DASH diet can help people at risk of gene-related high blood pressure reduce their chances of developing hypertension.

The DASH diet works by encouraging people to eat foods rich in the following blood pressure controlling nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Furthermore, it discourages the consumption of food with high sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat concentrations.

The result is that you might see a reduction in your blood pressure levels in as little as two weeks. It’s wise to work with a doctor when you’re following the DASH diet, as they’ll be able to monitor your blood pressure and the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your blood.

LDL is the bad kind of cholesterol that can cause stroke and heart disease. So, you might be able to reduce the chance of these issues by following the DASH diet’s recommendations.

Food You Can Eat on the DASH Diet

bread breakfast cucumber

Above all, the DASH diet focuses on removing high amounts of sodium from your diet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans should consume under 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day.

By following the DASH diet, you won’t have to worry about exceeding this amount, as it states that you shouldn’t consume more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day. 

However, you can take this a step further and reduce your sodium intake to a modified DASH diet, eating 1,500 mg per day. 

Some examples of food that you can eat on the DASH diet include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Bananas
  • Whole-grain bread
  • Milk
  • Egg
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Peas
  • Walnuts
  • Salad dressing

In all cases, you should choose non-fat or low-fat options when applicable. Furthermore, you should avoid spices with added salt and avoid salting pasta and rice water. Another place where sodium can often unknowingly sneak into food is canned vegetables.

Serving Sizes

The DASH diet strives to follow basic dietary guidelines for a diet high in lean protein, whole grains, and healthy but limited fats while reducing your intake of added sugars and processed food.

Based on that, below are the daily servings the DASH diet recommends. Remember that the exact serving size will depend on your gender, age, and activity level, so you should consult with your doctor about the specific portions for your situation. 

  • Grains: 6 - 8 servings
  • Vegetables: 4 - 5 servings
  • Fruit: 4 - 5 servings
  • Dairy products: 2 - 3 servings
  • Lean protein: No more than six ounces
  • Fats and oils: 2 - 3 servings

Furthermore, the DASH diet indicates that you can eat 4 - 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week. 

Another weekly recommendation the DASH diet gives is regarding food with added sugars. It indicates you should eat no more than five servings of foods with added sugar per week. Examples of such foods include jam and sorbet.

DASH Diet Pros

Based on the food list we just shared, you can expect to receive several science-backed health benefits by following the DASH diet. Below are some of the most notable ones.

Lower Blood Pressure

Since a high sodium intake is one of the leading causes of high blood pressure, you can expect your blood pressure to go down when following the DASH diet. In addition to eating DASH’s recommended food, we also recommend reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking if you do either of these.

Excellent Nutrition

The DASH diet centers around whole foods naturally dense in vitamins, minerals, protein, and other essential nutrients. Furthermore, it follows recommended guidelines about staying within healthy carbohydrate and fat percentages.

Sustainable for Life

The DASH diet shouldn’t leave you feeling hungry, and much of that is because you’ll be getting well-rounded nutrition, making this an excellent diet to follow for life. Furthermore, this diet has the backing of numerous doctors and medical associations.

DASH Diet Cons

It’s unlikely that many doctors will tell the average person trying to manage their blood pressure to steer clear of the DASH diet. However, you should consider a few cons before embarking on this diet.

Requires Lots of Cooking

You didn’t see frozen meals and protein shake meals on the list of DASH diet-approved foods for a reason, given that they often contain high amounts of sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. However, this downside is that you’ll likely need to spend more time in the kitchen, and some people don’t have the means to dedicate that much time to cooking.

Ambiguity 

Many diets come with a set plan of what to eat and when. Furthermore, they usually have an end date once you reach whatever goal you set. In contrast, the DASH diet doesn’t have organized support. So, you have to design your meals and measure portions.

Weight Loss May Not Happen

Many people think of losing weight when they hear the word “diet.” While the DASH diet may promote some weight loss via eating healthy foods, the reality is that this eating style doesn’t focus on calorie counting. Therefore, if your primary goal is to lose weight, the DASH diet might not be the right fit for you.

Benefits of the DASH Diet

The DASH diet will not only help you reduce your sodium intake, which can manage your blood pressure, but it will also encourage you to eat less red meat and processed foods. 

Furthermore, people with nearly any dietary restriction can follow this diet, including vegetarians, vegans, and people needing gluten-free foods. 

You can also adjust the number of calories you consume to your specific height and lifestyle. So, the DASH diet works by conforming to your lifestyle instead of the other way around.

Risks of the DASH Diet

Most people have an issue with overeating sodium, but too little sodium—called hyponatremia—can be dangerous. Symptoms of hyponatremia include seizures, headaches, and brain swelling.

You shouldn’t have to worry about not getting enough sodium on the DASH diet. However, you could run into issues if you intentionally restrict sodium below DASH’s recommended amount.

We encourage you to speak with your doctor before starting any diet. Because of how well-known the DASH diet is in the medical world, your doctor will likely be able to advise if it’s a good fit for you.

References

Mayo Clinic Staff, DASH Diet: Healthy Eating to Lower Your Blood Pressure, retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

Malia Frey, Pros and Cons of the DASH Diet, retrieved from https://www.verywellfit.com/dash-diet-pros-and-cons-3973825

Diet Review: DASH, retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/dash-diet/

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