DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Many experts recommend DASH dieting for people who want to decrease their risk of heart disease by lowering their blood pressure.
If someone has mentioned this diet to you, then you may be familiar with the negative effects of high blood pressure. It's an increasingly important health concern for many people in the United States. In fact, high blood pressure can lead to stroke and kidney failure. (1)
Your diet affects your blood pressure in addition to other lifestyle factors and genetics. So, scientists have found ways to reduce it via dietary strategies.
How Does The DASH diet work?
Professional studies have shown that people who follow a plant-based diet don't deal with blood pressure problems as much. For that reason, DASH diets focus on lean proteins and meats, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. The sources of protein include beans, fish, and chicken. You also should consume fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
The main attraction to the DASH diet is the reduced sodium intake. To help lower blood pressure, following the DASH diet requires consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) of sodium per day. Some versions of the DASH diet even restrict this amount to 1,500 milligrams (3/4ths of a teaspoon).
Other than salt, diet followers also restrict red meat, fat, and added sugars. By eating nutrient-rich foods that contain magnesium, calcium, and potassium, you can make a difference in your health. The DASH diet may also help prevent:
Some people have noticed lower blood pressure in only two weeks of following the DASH diet.
What are the Benefits?
There are several potential benefits of the DASH diet. These include blood pressure control, potential weight loss, and reduced risk of disease.
Obviously, lowering high blood pressure is a huge perk of the Dash Diet. How exactly do doctors measure blood pressure? There are two relevant numbers: diastolic pressure is your blood pressure when your heart is resting, and systolic pressure is the blood pressure with your heart is beating.
When we write blood pressure values, we write the systolic over the diastolic. Average adults have a value of 120/80, which means 120mmHg of systolic pressure and 80 mmHg of diastolic pressure. The value for high blood pressure is understood to be 140/90.
According to studies of the DASH diet, the diet results in lower blood pressure even for people within the normal range. (2) The greatest results appeared for people who reduced their salt intake.
The purpose of the DASH diet is not to lose weight, but it is possible. There are many connections to body weight, heart health, and blood pressure. (3) If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, you can do so on the DASH diet by reducing your calorie intake.
People in a controlled study lost weight on the DASH diet when they expended more calories than they consumed. However, some experts suggest that you may lose weight regardless once you cut out sugary, high-fat foods. Either way, you want to consult a medical professional for the best way to lose weight with DASH eating.
For more options, check out these popular weight loss meal delivery programs.
Risk of Disease
According to other DASH diet research, the DASH diet may lower your risk of:
It is important to keep in mind that lowering blood pressure and healthy eating does not automatically protect you from cardiovascular disease. However, eating fruits and vegetables is understood to reduce disease risk in general.
Are there Drawbacks to the DASH diet?
According to research, you do need at least some sodium in your diet. If you eat too little, you may increase your risk of fluid retention and insulin resistance. Experts cannot be sure that the low-salt DASH diet, where you consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium, is truly beneficial.
However, reducing your salt consumption from high levels (such as 10-12 grams per day) to half of that amount could positively affect your health. (4) You can do so by lowering your intake of processed foods.
Backed by Research
Unlike some popular diets, the DASH diet is research-based. Several organizations and guidelines have backed the plan, including:
Those who support the diet say it is appropriate for people of all ages. So, you can get your entire household to consume DASH foods. Some studies show that children as well as adults can reduce high blood pressure on the DASH diet.
If you're ready to get started, there are resources on The DASH diet website such as tips, a guide, and a cookbook. You can find ideas for meals and learn how to incorporate the diet into your lifestyle.
What Counts as a DASH food?
Generally, the DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and low-fat dairy products. You should also throw in some nuts and seeds, and you can include poultry and fish. The diet requires low amounts of trans fat and saturated fat. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, here are the servings you should consume from each food group:
You don't have to avoid sweets altogether, but you want to eat five servings or less per week. Cut back on added sugars and find low-fat food choices such as hard candy, half a cup sorbet, or fat-free cookies. Examples of one serving are a cup of juice or lemonade, a tablespoon of jelly, or a handful of jelly beans.
Fats and Oils
Your total daily calories from fat should be under 30 percent. Stay away from trans fat and focus on monounsaturated fats such as salad dressing, mayonnaise, or margarine. Be sure to read the food labels first!
Since saturated fat can lead to heart health problems, you also want to limit your intake of eggs, cream, whole milk, butter, fatty meats, and coconut oil.
Legumes, Seeds, and Nuts
While nuts, seeds, and legumes are full of potassium, calcium, and protein, these foods are also high in calories. You want to have four to five servings a week, and these foods include:
Fish, poultry, and meat
In this category, you should limit your meal intake to lean options and have no more than six, one-ounce portions every day. If you eat fish, choose heart-healthy options such as tuna, herring, or salmon. For chicken, trim the skin and fat and choose to roast or grill it.
A serving of dairy could be 1.5 ounces of skim cheese, 1 cup of yogurt, or a cup of skim milk. The DASH diet recommends a number of servings equal to two or three per day. Dairy products contain vitamin D and calcium, but watch out for the saturated full-fat dairy foods and be sure to choose low-sodium options.
Fruits have potassium, fiber, and magnesium, and you want to incorporate four to five servings daily. A serving of fruit could be four ounces of juice or 1/2 cup of fruit. If you eat canned fruits, make sure to watch the nutrition labels for added sugar.
The days of viewing vegetables as a side dish are long gone. Veggies are full of vitamins and minerals, and they can be the main attraction on your plate. Eat four to five servings of hearty vegetables such as:
You can choose to eat fresh, canned, or frozen vegetables. Either way, check the nutrition facts for sugar and sodium levels on the packages before you purchase them.
The star of your DASH diet, you want to have six to eight servings of grains a day. Shift your focus from refined grains (such as regular pasta) to whole grains like whole-wheat pasta or whole-grain bread. As these foods are naturally low-fat, don't add fat and sodium to them with excess butter and sauces.
DASH Diet Sample Menu
When in doubt, follow a DASH diet menu that includes a variety of foods that are low in sodium. Your personal DASH eating plan will depend on your activity levels, fitness needs, and so on. However, here is a sample DASH diet eating plan. Keep in mind that you can also follow a vegetarian version of the DASH diet.
For snack time, you might enjoy some low-cal sweets such as vanilla wafers, pretzels, trail mix, or yogurt with peaches.
Ways to Adjust Your Diet Gradually
When it comes to starting DASH, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, you won't be perfect right away. Remember that to follow the DASH diet, you are taking a long-term approach to lower blood pressure. For some people, it may be easier to make lifestyle changes gradually.
For instance, if you are used to eating heavy meat dishes, start by replacing meats with leaner options or changing the way you prepare your meals. If you aren't ready to switch to whole grains completely, try it for just some of your daily servings. Meal planning regularly can also help make the process easier.
Remember that everyone slips up sometimes, so forgive yourself when you do. Changing your habits slowly instead of all at once can also reduce side effects such as diarrhea and bloating. If you need support, ask your dietitian for recommendations or materials that can help you stay on track.
The DASH diet is all about reducing sodium to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. You should consume a variety of food groups such as:
When it comes to snacks and dessert, you want to consume sodium and sugar in moderation. Find recipes that use low-fat ingredients and substitute canola or safflower oils for vegetable oil.
For the best health benefits, your diet should include vegetables, fruits, grains, and protein. You should avoid food and drinks that are high in salt and sugar such as soda, salted nuts, chips, pizza, and sugary beverages. Search for healthier items such as cereal, oatmeal with raisins, tea, low-sugar jam, or nut butter.
A person on the DASH routine should limit the number of eggs to reduce cholesterol. However, you can enjoy the occasional boiled egg or egg sandwich.
The goals of the diet are sodium reduction, heart health benefits, and to control blood sugar and blood pressure. The DASH diet plan was not created as a weight loss program. However, you can lose weight on this diet by increasing your physical activity level and operating at a calorie deficit.
Is the DASH Diet for You?
Evidence shows that variations of this diet are linked to all types of benefits. Although it is not a guaranteed method for heart disease prevention, it is effective for reducing blood pressure. If you have salt sensitivity or a family history of diseases, this may be the choice for you.
The key is limiting table salt intake, drinking plenty of water, and consuming different nutrients. Ask your doctor for advice before changing your way of life, especially if you are taking blood pressure medications. Lastly, someone with lactose intolerance may want to take lactase pills to reduce those symptoms.
- from 1975 to 2015: a pooled analysis of 1479 population-based measurement studies with 19·1 million participants. Lancet (London, England), 389(10064), 37–55. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31919-5
- Appel, L. J., Moore, T. J., Obarzanek, E., Vollmer, W. M., Svetkey, L. P., Sacks, F. M., Bray, G. A., Vogt, T. M., Cutler, J. A., Windhauser, M. M., Lin, P. H., & Karanja, N. (1997). A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. DASH Collaborative Research Group. The New England journal of medicine, 336(16), 1117–1124. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJM199704173361601
- Staessen, J., Fagard, R., & Amery, A. (1988). The relationship between body weight and blood pressure. Journal of human hypertension, 2(4), 207–217.
- Ha S. K. (2014). Dietary salt intake and hypertension. Electrolyte & blood pressure : E & BP, 12(1), 7–18. https://doi.org/10.5049/EBP.2014.12.1.7