There are many different diets that appear regularly, gathering numerous fans and followers around themselves. But despite this diversity, just a few of them have actually proven effective, including safety and possible side effects. And if the diet is not only required to reduce weight, but also prevent serious chronic diseases, then the choice becomes very small. In fact, only two eating plans, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet, are backed by extensive scientific evidence for health benefits, such as controlling blood pressure and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Today we will talk about DASH diet for treating hypertension.
Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet originated in the 1990s. The diet was created after researchers noticed that high blood pressure was much less common in people who followed a plant-based diet, such as vegans and vegetarians. To verify this observation, in 1992, the National Institute of Health (NIH) started funding several research projects to see if specific dietary interventions were useful in treating hypertension. So, people included in the study were advised to follow certain dietary suggestions and not to include any other lifestyle modifications. As a result, it was discovered that the dietary intervention alone was able to decrease systolic Blood Pressure by about 6 to 11 mm Hg1. That is to say, this effect was seen both in hypertensive as well as normotensive people. Based on these results, in some instances DASH has been advocated as the first-line pharmacologic therapy along with lifestyle modification.
Besides, U.S. News and World Report, evaluating the most popular diets annually, defines the DASH diet as the most effective among healthy diets.
In 2020, DASH diet took first place in the nomination of the Best Diets for Healthy Eating.
DASH Diet is ranked:
- 2 place in Best Diets Overall
- 23 place in Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets
- 10 place in Best Weight-Loss Diets
- 3 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets
- 2 in Best Diabetes Diets
- 1 in Best Diets for Healthy Eating
- 6 in Easiest Diets to Follow
What is DASH diet?
The DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. It also advocates the reduction of sodium in the diet to about 1500 mg/day. And also it emphasizes on consumption of minimally processed and fresh food.
The DASH eating plan requires no special foods. So that a typical serving guide is as follows:
Vegetables: about 5 servings per day
Fruits: about 5 servings per day
Carbohydrates: about 7 servings per day
Low-fat dairy products: about 2 servings per day
Lean meat products: about 2 or fewer servings per day
Nuts and seeds: 2 to 3 times per week.
DASH Diet is balanced and can be followed long term, which is a key reason nutrition experts rank it as US News’ Best Overall Diet.
Getting Started on DASH Healthy Diet
Even small lifestyle changes made gradually can lead to significant health benefits.
- Gradually begin making changes to your diet. For example, try adding one serving of vegetables to each meal.
- Introduce two or more meat-free meals each week.
- Use fresh fruit as a dessert and almonds or pecans instead of a bag of chips.
- When baking, use half the amount of butter or margarine that you would usually use.
People who want to get the most benefit from the DASH diet would have to limit their sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day. This is a difficult task although effective in dealing with hypertension. For most other adults, the limit is 2,300 mg. Here are some tips on how to reduce your salt intake:
- Don’t add salt when cooking rice, pasta, and hot cereals.
- Flavor your foods with salt-free seasoning blends, fresh or dried herbs, and spices, or fresh lemon or lime juice.
- Rinse canned foods or foods soaked in brine before using them.
- Use less table salt
For more guidance, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute publishes free guides on the plan, including one (PDF here) that’s 20 pages and one (PDF here) that’s six. They’ll help you determine how many calories you should eat for your age and activity level, tell you where those calories should come from and remind you to consume less salt.
Learn more about DASH dietary guidelines
Carbohydrates and Fats
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in the body. So, healthy carbohydrates included under DASH include:
- Green leafy vegetables: kale, broccoli, spinach, collards, mustards
- Whole grains: cracked wheat, millets, oats
- Low glycemic index fruits
- Legumes and beans
- Good fats
Fats are used for energy after they are broken into fatty acids. You have probably heard about good and bad fats. Good fats prevent inflammation and promote overall health. These fats, when consumed in moderation, have shown an increase in good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering of small dense LDL particles. You can find some of the sources of good fats below:
- Olive oil
- Flax seeds
- Fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids
Bad fats such as margarine, vegetable shortenings, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, cause an increase in small LDL particles, which is destructive to your blood vessels. Therefore, their consumption must be excluded.
Proteins are natural organic substances consisting of amino acids and playing a fundamental role in the life of our bodies. DASH recommends more servings of plant proteins such as legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds. As for animal protein, it should be mainly composed of lean meats, low-fat dairy products, eggs, and fish.
Processed and canned meat is not recommended because it causes hypertension and also contains carcinogens.
In conclusion, we want to add that the DASH diet also includes foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. This is due to the fact that they prevent vascular wall pathology. Some of the potassium-rich foods included in the diet are bananas, oranges, and spinach. Dairy products and green leafy vegetables bring enough calcium to the body. And magnesium comes with the consumption of whole grains, leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
DASH Diet Effects on Other Diseases
Several studies have shown that DASH diet helps lower blood glucose levels, triglycerides, LDL-C, and insulin resistance. This makes DASH diet a very important adjunct to pharmacological therapy in metabolic syndromes. It also has been a successful tool in weight management. Another research showed that adherence to the DASH diet has shown significant improvements in control of type 2 diabetes. It is also a preferred diet among patients with heart failure.
In addition, the DASH diet has also shown a reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer. Besides, numerous studies have proven DASH dieting to reduce general mortality from all causes.
To sum up, DASH can be a very useful tool to tackle hypertension more efficiently. When compared to some other dietery patterns, it has an added advantage of having clear guidelines on the serving sizes and food groups, which makes it easier for the physicians to make prescriptions and monitor their patients’ treatment2.
Healthy Dash Diet Meal Plan
Many DASH-friendly recipes are easy to find, they are regularly published, and new ones are added constantly. For example, the NHLBI offers more than 180 heart-healthy recipes in its online database. You can also find useful the Mayo Clinic long lists of DASH-friendly recipes and review 26 simple tips on how to eat healthy.
Your daily sample menu may look like, for instance:
- 3/4 cup bran flakes cereal
- One cup low-fat milk or 1 cup fruit yogurt, fat-free, no sugar added
- a medium raisin bagel
- 1 Tbsp peanut butter
- a cup of orange juice
- ham and cheese sandwich:
- 2 oz ham, low-fat, low sodium
- 1 slice (3/4 oz) natural cheddar cheese with reduced fat
- 2 slices whole wheat bread
- 1 large leaf romaine lettuce
- 2 slices tomato
- 1 Tbsp mayonnaise, low-fat
- 1 cup carrot sticks
- 1/4 cup dried apricots
- 1/3 cup mixed, unsalted nuts
- One cup fat-free milk
- 3 ounces grilled salmon
- 1/2 cup brown rice
- 1 cup steamed broccoli
- Spinach salad with 1 cup raw spinach, 2 cherry tomatoes, 2 cucumber slices
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium, homemade vinaigrette salad dressing
- One cup grape juice
It is based on a 2,000-calorie diet with 1,500 mg of sodium.
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