In-depth 101 guide to Dash Diet: For Beginners

More than a billion people worldwide are suffering from high blood pressure.

The number of high blood pressure patients is rising at a very high rate and has doubled in the last 40 years. High blood pressure is a very serious health concern, as it is linked to a higher risk of heart diseases, kidney failure and stroke (1*).

What you eat plays a major role in developing high blood pressure, studies have been made to prepare specific dietary strategies to help reduce it (2*).

In this article, we’ll talk about a diet, which was designed not only to combat high blood pressure but also to reduce people’s risk of heart disease, namely The DASH Diet.

What Is the DASH Diet?

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a diet formulated to prevent hypertension (high blood pressure) and reduce the risk of heart disease.

The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, it means it’s low in red meat, salt, added sugars and fat, as it was noticed that the people who are on a plant-based diet (like vegans and vegetarians) does not suffer from hypertension (3*).

It is speculated that one of the main reasons for this diet to benefit the people suffering from hypertension is because it reduces salt intake. According to the regular DASH diet program, a person should not take more than 1 teaspoon(2,300 mg) of sodium per day, which is also specified in most of the national guidelines. The lower-salt version suggests a maximum of 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

Health Benefits of the DASH diet

health benefits of DASH Diet

It not only reduces blood pressure but also offers a number of potential benefits, like weight loss and reduced cancer risk.

DASH diet isn’t going to shed weight on its own, as it was designed to lower blood pressure by reducing the sodium intake. Weight loss can simply be stated as an additional perk.

The diet impacts your body in several ways.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the measure of pressure the blood exerts on the walls of organs of the circulatory system as it flows through them. It’s counted in two magnitudes:

Systolic pressure: Pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the nerves when the heartbeats.

Diastolic pressure: The pressure exerted by your blood on your blood vessels between heart beats, when your heart is at rest.

Normal blood pressure of an adult is a systolic pressure below 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mmHg, which is written as 120/80.

People whose blood pressure reading is 140/90 are considered to have high blood pressure.

The DASH diet evidently lowers blood pressure in both healthy people as well as those with high blood pressure.

Studies tell us that people on the DASH diet experience lower blood pressure even if their weight isn’t lost or they haven’t reduced their salt intake (4*) and when sodium intake was hindered, the DASH diet lowered blood pressure even further. In fact, it was observed that lower salt consumption leads to lower blood pressure, it means those who consumed the least amount of salt showed the greatest reduction in blood pressure (5*).

The low-salt DASH diet resulted most effective for the people who already had high blood pressure, by reducing systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg and people with normal blood pressure readings lost 4mmHg of systolic and 2mmHg of Diastolic. (6*).

Please note: A decrease in blood pressure does not always define a lower risk of heart disease (7*).

May Aid Weight Loss

Most probably you’ll experience a lower blood pressure when you’re on a DASH diet even if you do not lose weight or fat. There are chances that you’re advised to lose weight if you are already suffering from high blood pressure because your weight is directly proportional to your blood pressure, higher the weight, higher will be the pressure, lower the weight lower will be the pressure (8*)(9*).

According to some studies, people can also lose weight on the DASH diet (10*).

Most probably, people who lost weight while being on the DASH diet must have been in a controlled calorie deficit (eat fewer calories than they were expending).

People might learn that they have automatically reduced their intake of calories which resulted in losing weight as the DASH diet eliminates a lot of high-fat and sugary foods, while people would have to limit their calorie intake (11*).

Either way, to lose weight even on the DASH diet, you’ll need to go on a low-calorie diet.

Other Potential Health Benefits

DASH diet also affects other areas of health

Decreases cancer risk

A study when reviewed showed that people who follow the DASH diet had a lower risk of some cancers, like colorectal and breast cancer (12*).

Lowers metabolic syndrome risk

Studies also showed that the DASH diet reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome by up to 81% (13*).

Lowers diabetes risk

Some studies showed that it can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and also improve insulin resistance. (14*).

Decreases heart disease risk

Following a DASH-like diet not only lowered the risk of heart disease by 20% but also the risk of stroke was lowered by 29% (15*).

A lot of these protective effects are due to the diet’s high content of fruits and vegetables. Eating more fruits and vegetables helps in reducing the risk of diseases (16*)(17*).

Does DASH Diet Work for Everyone?

Does DASH diet work for everyone?
Hand photo created by drobotdean – www.freepik.com

Studies show that the greatest reductions in blood pressure occurred in those with the lowest salt intake but it is still unclear how salt restriction will benefit the health and lifespan of a person.

People suffering from high blood pressure when reduced their salt intake, their blood pressure got significantly affected but the effects of lowering the salt intake were much smaller in people with normal blood pressure (18*).

There is a theory that states that some people are salt-sensitive (salt exerts a greater influence on their blood pressure), it could partly explain why people with normal blood pressure showed only a minimal amount of changes(19*).

Too Many Restrictions Over Salt can be Harmful

Too much restriction on salt may increase the risk of heart diseases, insulin resistance and fluid retention.

According to the low-salt version of the DASH diet, a person should consume a maximum of 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day, but any benefits to reducing salt intake this low are still uncertain (20*).

In a report, it is found that there isn’t any link between a person’s salt intake and risk of his death from heart disease, other than reductions in blood pressure levels (21*)(22*).

What to eat in DASH Diet?

DASH Diet - What to eat in DASH diet? DASH Diet meal plan

DASH diet does not have a specific food to eat kind of list, instead, it recommends certain amounts of servings from different food groups.

The number of servings depends upon the number of calories you consume per serve. Here is an example of food portions based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Whole Grains: 6–8 Servings per Day

1 slicewhole-grain bread
1 ounce (28 grams)dry, whole-grain cereal
1/2 cup (95 grams)cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Vegetables: 4–5 Servings per Day

You can eat any vegetable of your choice while you are on a DASH diet.

1 cup (~30 grams)raw, leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale
1/2 cup (~45 grams)sliced vegetables — raw or cooked — like broccoli, carrots, squash or tomatoes

Fruits: 4–5 Servings per Day

Following the DASH approach, you’ll be eating a lot of fruits, like apples, pears, peaches, berries and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango.

1 piecemedium sized apple
1/4 cup (50 grams)dried apricots
1/2 cup (30 grams)fresh, frozen or canned peaches

Dairy Products: 2–3 Servings per Day

If you’re following the DASH diet, your dairy products should be low in fat like skimmed milk, low-fat cheese and low-fat yogurt.

1 cup (240 ml)low-fat milk
1 cup (285 grams)low-fat yogurt
1.5 ounces (45 grams)low-fat cheese

Lean Chicken, Meat and Fish: 6 or Fewer Servings per Day

Prefer to consume only lean cuts of meat and try to eat a serving of red meat only occasionally (like once or twice a week).

1 ounce (28 grams)cooked meat, chicken or fish
1 pieceegg

Nuts, Seeds and Legumes: 4–5 Servings per Week

Nuts, Seeds and legumes include almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, kidney beans, lentils and split peas.

1/3 cup (50 grams)nuts
2 tablespoons (40 grams)peanut butter
2 tablespoons (16 grams)seeds
1/2 cup (40 grams)cooked legumes

Fats and Oils: 2–3 Servings per Day

People following the DASH diet are recommended to use vegetable oils over other oils, like margarine and oils like canola, corn, olive or safflower. DASH diet also allows consuming low-fat mayonnaise and light salad dressing.

1 teaspoon (4.5 grams)soft margarine
1 teaspoon (5 ml)vegetable oil
1 tablespoon (15 grams)mayonnaise
2 tablespoons (30 ml)salad dressing

Candy and Added Sugars: 5 or Fewer Servings per Week

DASH diet allows only very low amounts of added sugar, that means you’ve to minimize your candy, soda and even table sugar intake, it also restricts unrefined sugars and alternative sugar sources, like agave nectar.

1 tablespoon (12.5 grams)sugar
1 tablespoon (20 grams)jelly or jam
1 cup (240 ml)lemonade

Sample DASH diet meal plan for one week

If you need 2000 calories per day and you’re following the DASH diet, here is a sample for the week’s menu :

  • DASH Diet meal plan slide 1

Making Diet More DASH-Like

DASH diet does not have a particular set of food but you can convert your current diet into the DASH diet by following the given guidelines:

  • Increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits.
  • Use refined grains instead of whole grains.
  • Consume only those dairy products which are fat-free or low in fat.
  • Consume only lean protein sources like fish, poultry and beans.
  • Use vegetable oils in cooking.
  • Restrict food high in added sugars in your diet, like soda and candy.
  • Avoid consuming food with high in saturated fat like fatty meats, full-fat dairy and oils like coconut and palm oil.

Other than the measured fresh fruit juice portions, you’re recommended to stick to low-calorie drinks like water, tea and coffee.

Conclusion

The DASH diet is an easy and effective way to reduce blood pressure, but cutting down daily salt intake to 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) or less will not necessarily lead to any hard health benefits (like reduced risk of heart disease).

The DASH diet is pretty much similar to the standard low-fat diet. There have been largely controlled trials of the standard low-fat diet and the results did not show any reduction in the risk of death by heart disease (23*).

Healthy people might have their own little reason to follow this diet. Regardless, if you are suffering from high blood pressure or think you may be salt-sensitive, DASH might turn out to be a good choice for you.

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