What is the DASH Diet?

DASH Eating Plan

  • What to Eat
  • Health Benefits
  • Study Results

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a dietary system developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). This is a component of the US National Institute of Health to treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension) without medication. It is a flexible lifelong approach to healthy eating that helps create a heart-friendly eating style.

What to Eat

The diet does not require any special foods but entails consumption of more fruits and vegetables and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. It also allows a moderate amount of:

  • lean meat
  • whole grains
  • nuts
  • beans
  • fish
  • poultry

The idea is for the body to reap from the many benefits that come from the intake of high-fiber, low-fat foods.

There are two versions of the DASH diet:

  • the Standard diet
  • the Lower Sodium diet

The standard diet provides for the consumption of up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily. That is a sizeable adjustment considering that a typical American diet contains up to a whopping 3,400 mg of sodium per day.

The lower sodium diet further reduces the sodium intake to a maximum of 1,500 mg per day. Although the standard diet meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Heart Association is more comfortable with the lower sodium diet. The diet is flexible enough to meet most people’s food preferences and lifestyle while still managing to lower cholesterol levels. It is basically an Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet, but with more specific guidelines.

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Health Benefits

The diet encourages a reduction in sodium intake and an increase in the consumption of foods rich in nutrients such as:

  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • calcium

Experts claim that the diet reduces a person’s blood pressure by a few points in a matter of weeks. Over time, they say, a subject’s systolic blood pressure may go down as much as 14 points.

Besides significantly reducing the risks of hypertension, the diet is also in line with dietary requirements to prevent:

  • cancer
  • stroke
  • osteoporosis
  • heart disease
  • diabetes

The original DASH diet mostly targeted hypertension, but recent revisions aim to fight obesity by further cutting down on calorie-intake levels.

Study Results

The NHLBI funded three trials:

  • the DASH Trial
  • the DASH-Sodium Trial
  • the Premier Clinical Trial

The results were as follows.

  • DASH Trial: The DASH dietary plan lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels as compared to a typical American diet, even with the inclusion of fruits.
  • DASH-Sodium Trial: Combining the diet with sodium-reduction methods achieves a greater success ratio than the diet alone.
  • Premier Clinical Trial: Participants who received advice on behavioral changes, adhered to the recommended diet, and followed an established treatment plan which included increased physical activities showed the most improvement.

The DASH eating plan is most effective when combined with other lifestyle changes such as physical activity. It also helps to:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • avoid stressful situations
  • limit alcohol intake
  • get plenty of sleep
  • avoid smoking
  • be physically active

People should make one change at a time to avoid unnecessary strain. Practicing several healthy lifestyle habits makes it easier to achieve the desired effects in the long run.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)