What is the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet is endorsed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and is an acronym that stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was designed to help treat and reduce the prevalence of high blood pressure and its associated health concerns.  The goal of the DASH diet is to reduce dietary intake of sodium. Instead, DASH dieters consume foods with a natural ability to lower blood pressure, such as fruits, vegetables and those that are rich in fiber, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure refers to the pressure that is exerted on the arterial wall as the heart pumps blood throughout the body. High blood pressure is a serious health concern. As blood pressure remains elevated, less blood can flow through the arteries. This forces the heart to work twice as hard to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Hypertension increases the risk for serious health consequences including heart disease, stroke and kidney damage. Hypertension is strongly correlated to diet and lifestyle; however, some people are more at risk. Other risk factors for the development of hypertension include age, gender, family history, obesity, diabetes, and smoking.

If you have been diagnosed with pre-hypertension or hypertension, following the DASH diet can be an effective treatment to reduce your blood pressure. Small changes in blood pressure can be seen in as short as two weeks, and overtime, people report blood pressure drops by up to 14 points. The standard DASH diet limits sodium consumption to no more than 2,300 mg per day. It emphasizes consumption of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, as well as moderate intake of whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. The standard DASH diet meets the sodium limit defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Listed below is an example DASH plan based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Food Amount Recommendations
Grains 6-8 servings/day – Make at least ½ whole grains.

– Avoid adding high-fat sauces butter or cheeses.

Vegetables 4-5 servings/day – Colored veggies provide more nutrient variety.

– Choose low-sodium canned or frozen vegetables.

– Incorporate vegetables into every meal. They are

not just a side dish!

Fruits 4-5 servings/day – Leave the fruit skin on; it is packed with nutrients.

– Choose canned fruit or juices with no added sugar.

Dairy 2-3 servings/day – Select low-fat or non-fat dairy products.

– Some cheeses can be higher in sodium than others.

Lean Meat, Poultry, Fish 2 servings/day – Remove skin to reduce fat and sodium content.

– Consume heart-healthy fishes like salmon and tuna.

– Bake, grill or roast meat.

Nuts, Seeds, Legumes 4-5 servings/week – Add nuts to salads and yogurt.

– Soybeans are a great vegetarian protein source.

Fats and Oils 2-3 servings/day – Avoid trans fats.

– Limit saturated fats to <6% of total calories.

Sweets <5 servings/week – Choose low-fat sweets like frozen yogurt or sorbet.

– Reduce added sugar and sugar sweetened drinks.

It takes time for your taste buds to adjust to change, therefore, newcomers to the DASH diet may have a hard time when starting out. The easiest way to overcome this change is to slowly introduce low-sodium foods. Listed below are five simple ways to reduce sodium content while following the DASH diet.

  1. Rinse canned foods such as beans, tuna and vegetables to reduce sodium.
  2. Reduce intake of frozen dinners, canned soups and deli meats. These contain high levels of sodium used as a preservative.
  3. Cook with a no-salt spice blend to improve flavor without adding sodium.
  4. Cook rice and pasta without adding salt to water.
  5. Buy foods labeled as “low-sodium” or “no salt added.”

The DASH diet has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure and aid in the treatment of hypertension. Remember, that change is not immediate… it takes time! Incorporation of the DASH diet into your daily routine should be a gradual process. For example, rather than switching from whole milk straight to skim milk, try changing to 1% milk first. Your taste buds will be less likely to notice a difference, and you will be more inclined to continue with the health habit. It is important to reward yourself for success, but don’t use food! Positive feedback has been shown to improve outcomes. For example, treat yourself to a manicure or go see a movie for positive changes in your blood pressure. Lastly, ask for help. If you are struggling to follow consult a registered dietitian or other medical professional. Seeking support can be the best way to achieve success when adjusting to the DASH diet.

Resources:

American Heart Association

National Institute of Health

Mayo Clinic

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