- Why So Many Nutritionists Love the DASH Diet
- What exactly is the DASH diet?
- DASH drawbacks to consider
- Why Dash can work for weight loss
- What Is the DASH Diet?
- What Is The DASH Diet? And Can It Help You Lose Weight
- Related: 6 Things You’ll Have to Give Up if You Want to Lose Weight FOR GOOD
- What's On (And Off) the Menu?
- Related: U.S. News Just Revealed The Best Diets Of 2018—And The Ketogenic Diet Ranked Last
- Should You Try It?
- Related: 6 Signs Your Metabolism Is Whack
- The DASH Diet Is Great For Weight Loss, So Why Is No One Following It?
- What Is the DASH Diet?
- How to Follow a DASH Diet Plan:
- So—Why Does DASH Have So Few Followers?
- Misconception #1: The DASH Diet is Only for People With High Blood Pressure.
- Misconception #2: “Low-Sodium” and “No-Salt” are the DASH Diet’s Sole Focus.
- Misconception #3: The DASH Diet is Unapproachable.
- Misconception #4: DASH is a “Diet” That You Follow Intermittently.
- The DASH diet: Health benefits and what you can eat
- Understanding blood pressure
- Will I lose weight?
Why So Many Nutritionists Love the DASH Diet
Last week, when the annual best diets list from U.S. News and World Report came out, the DASH diet once again made the cut—praised for its ability to help people lose weight or simply improve their overall health.
This recent buzz has put DASH back in the headlines again. But what exactly is the DASH diet, and is it something you should try? As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I have counseled people through it; in my opinion there are pros and cons.
RELATED: The Best Diets of 2019—and Why The Keto Diet Ranked So Low
What exactly is the DASH diet?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, yet it's not only effective for people trying to lower their blood pressure.
The diet has been around for two decades, and studies have shown that it can lead to weight loss, protect heart health, and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and certain cancers.
For these reasons, it's promoted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The plan is relatively simple. DASH recommends specific portions from a variety of food groups daily, depending on your daily calorie needs (which are determined by your age, sex, and activity level).
For example, a 1600 calorie DASH diet includes 6 servings of grains daily; 3-4 servings of vegetables; 4 servings of fruit; and 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy.
Also recommended are 3-4 ounces total per day of lean meat, poultry, or fish; 3-4 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week; and 2 servings of fats and oils daily.
DASH puts limits on sugar, recommending 3 or fewer servings per week of sweets. It also curtails sodium intake to a maximum of 2,300 mg per day.
The diet is intended to be part of a lifestyle that reduces alcohol consumption and emphasizes stress reduction, physical activity, not smoking, and getting plenty of sleep.
In short, it’s not a fad diet. DASH is meant to be followed for the long haul.
RELATED: The Number One Thing You Need to Do to Lose Weight Forever, According to Experts
DASH drawbacks to consider
But DASH does have some drawbacks. The plan is lower in healthful fats than I usually recommend, and there aren't obvious options for people who can’t or don’t eat dairy or animal proteins. Also, I typically advise a higher intake of non-starchy veggies and slightly lower consumption of starches.
Another con is that the rate of weight loss with DASH can be slow. To see continued progress, it’s important to pinpoint your ideal calorie level and follow the recommended portions carefully—in other words, two level tablespoons of nut butter, not two heaping spoonfuls.
RELATED: I Just Finished Whole30 and Lived to Tell the Tale—Here's How I Made It Through
Why Dash can work for weight loss
Yet DASH offers a number of positives. In addition to being very sensible, nutrient-rich, and effective, DASH is fairly straightforward and sustainable. Many books and cookbooks are available to help DASH dieters figure out how to transform the daily servings from all the different food groups into practical meals and snacks.
In my practice I have helped clients create outlines that make sense for meal planning (for example, including one serving of fruit with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack; one serving of veggies at lunch and two at dinner; two servings of starch at breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and so on). This type of framework is essential for implementing the diet daily. Understanding how to order from restaurant or takeout menus is also important.
Bottom line: DASH is tried and true. If your goal is weight loss, DASH won’t melt the pounds off quickly. But if you identify the proper calorie level and stick with it consistently, it can be a safe, effective, and sustainable way to shed pounds, and simultaneously improve your health.
Because DASH has been around for so long and is well accepted by health professionals, there are a lot of free resources online to access help.
However, if you have trouble figuring out how to take the recommended daily and weekly DASH servings and turn them into menus, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist.
He or she can also personalize the plan for your needs by adjusting for food allergies or intolerances and offering tips for following the plan as a vegan or vegetarian.
To get started, go to the NIH’s DASH page. Keep in mind that some aspects of the plan will work for you, but others may not. Ultimately the best diet is one that generates results, makes you feel well physically and emotionally, and has stick-with-it-ness.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.
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What Is the DASH Diet?
Enrique Díaz / 7cero / Getty Images
Are you trying to lower your blood pressure with dietary changes? If so, you're not alone. High blood pressure affects over 65 million people in the United States. That’s about one in every three adults. And the condition, also known as hypertension, can have serious complications.
The DASH Diet is the eating program most frequently recommended for reducing blood pressure. But this widely studied diet plan can provide other benefits as well. Learn how this eating style compares to other diets and consider the pros and cons to decide if it might be a smart program for you.
The DASH diet is an eating plan developed to reduce blood pressure. The recommended foods and variety offer results supported by research. However, if they are packaged as a weight loss plan, negative consequences of dieting may apply.
—Willow Jarosh, MS, RD
In 1992, researchers from the National Institutes of Health received funding to investigate if dietary changes could reduce blood pressure in test subjects. They began a trial named Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). There were 459 adults enrolled in the study, some with high blood pressure and some without.
For three weeks, test subjects were fed a control diet that was low in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, with a fat content typical of the average diet in the United States at the time.
After that initial phase of the research, subjects were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group ate a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
The other group ate a “combination” diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and with reduced saturated and total fat. Sodium intake and body weight were maintained at constant levels.
Study authors found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods and with reduced saturated and total fat can substantially lower blood pressure. Their findings were published in the April 1997 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Specifically, researchers found that the combination diet reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 11.4 and 5.5 mm Hg more than the control diet in people with hypertension. In people with normal blood pressure, the diet was also able to reduce blood pressure, although less significantly.
The diet was further studied in trials including the Optimal Macronutrient Intake Trial for Heart Health (OmniHeart). Additionally, researchers began to study different sodium levels combined with the DASH Diet to see if it would result in further benefits for those with high blood pressure.
In 2001, researched published another study in The New England Journal of Medicine finding that lower sodium levels combined with the DASH Diet can substantially lower blood pressure. They also suggested that “long-term health benefits will depend on the ability of people to make long-lasting dietary changes and the increased availability of lower-sodium foods.”
Since that time, the DASH Diet has become one of the most widely studied, widely recommended, and widely recognized diets. Free resources are available to consumers on the National Institutes of Health website, making it one of the most easily accessible diets, as well.
The DASH Diet is not a diet that you follow for a short period of time to lose weight. Instead, it is an eating style that is followed for life to boost health and wellness. There are no specific calorie requirements and no foods that are off-limits.
Consumers build meals around foods from a variety of different food groups and try to limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams or 1,500 milligrams per day. You can also expect to reduce your overall fat intake. When following the DASH diet you are advised to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, poultry, legumes, and low- or non-fat dairy products.
To figure out how many servings of each food group to consume, you first determine your total calorie intake level. Calorie level recommendations vary age, gender, and activity level.
Women can expect to consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day. Men can expect to consume 2,000 to 3,100 calories per day. You are not required to count calories. But the more calories you can consume per day, the more servings you'll consume from each food group.
The NIH DASH Eating Plan also makes lifestyle recommendations to prevent hypertension or to lower blood pressure. Consumers are advised to:
- Be physically active
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol intake
- Manage and cope with stress
- Quit smoking
- Get plenty of sleep
Americans who try the DASH Diet can expect to gain several health benefits. Researchers continue to find new advantages. But there are also a few drawbacks that you may want to consider.
First and foremost, you can expect to see your blood pressure decrease if you stick to this diet. Repeated studies continue to find that eating according to DASH recommendations can help to treat or prevent hypertension.
Additionally, those who follow the eating plan may be able to reduce LDL cholesterol and improve other cardiovascular risk factors. The DASH diet has been shown to be an effective management strategy for diabetes and other illnesses.
In addition to studies supporting the DASH diet specifically, research has consistently found that reducing your sugar intake, eliminating heavily processed, sodium-rich foods, and increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables leads to a wide range of health benefits.
However, this diet may be hard to stick to. A study investigating DASH diet compliance found that people have a hard time sticking to the program and need more than just counseling to stick with it for the long term. And other studies have suggested that increasing the fat intake while lowering sugar intake on the diet may provide the same health benefits and promote better adherence.
It is true that DASH experts recommend removing the salt shaker from the table. They encourage you to flavor your food with citrus, spices, or vinegar. However, most of the sodium that Americans consume is found in processed foods.
By eliminating or reducing your intake of convenience and snack foods ( microwavable meals, canned soups, pretzels, and crackers) you will substantially reduce your sodium intake. This may allow you to add some salt to your food.
Nutrition experts who develop the DASH eating program guidelines suggest that you start by reducing your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. Once you have reached that level they suggest that you speak with your healthcare provider to see if reducing it to 1,500 milligrams per day will provide further health benefits.
DASH is not designed for weight loss. Also, there have been few long-term studies investigating weight loss on the eating plan.
However, for many people, this diet will help them lose weight. Simply cutting your fat intake may help you to create the energy deficit needed for weight loss. In addition, boosting your fruit and vegetable intake and focusing on whole grains will help you to feel full longer after eating and may help you to eat less for weight loss results.
The DASH Diet consistently ranks as one of the healthiest diets available. Also, since information about how to follow this diet is free and solid research, it is often recommended by healthcare professionals. But there are other diets that are recommended as well.
When you follow the DASH Diet, you can expect to consume macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein) in line with recommendations provided by the USDA. You will also benefit from consuming adequate amounts of important micronutrients including fiber and important vitamins and minerals.
The diet requires you to consume from all food groups recommended by the USDA and also limits food and food ingredients according to recommended guidelines. However, one area where the DASH diet differs from the USDA 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that it does not specifically promote healthy (plant-based) fats and oils.
The Mediterranean Diet is another top-ranked, evidence-based eating program. the DASH Diet, there are no specific calorie guidelines and no foods are off-limits. But healthy food choices are recommended. On the Mediterranean diet, you'll consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, in line with USDA recommendations.
However, on the Mediterranean diet, healthy plant-based oils (such as olive oil) are promoted. As a result, you are probably going to consume more fat on the Mediterranean diet. However, the fats are ly to be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which are considered to be better for you than saturated fat.
DASH, the Mediterranean diet has been widely studied and is known to provide substantial health benefits, including a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, certain cancers, obesity, and diabetes.
The Flexitarian Diet is a vegetarian diet that allows for more flexibility. This diet is also highly ranked by health experts because it promotes plant-based eating but allows for occasional meat-based meals which may help to boost adherence.
Some people who follow a flexitarian diet simply eat vegetarian and then sometimes eat meat. But others follow a book the eating program.
If you follow the book by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, you can expect to eat meals that are calorie-restricted. Your total daily intake will be at about 1,500 calories.
You'll consume from a variety of food groups, in accordance with USDA recommendations.
A plant-based eating plan also provides documented health benefits including a reduced risk for heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
The Mayo Clinic diet is similar to DASH in that it was developed by medical experts to improve factors related to heart health. However, it differs from the other programs listed in that it is a fee-based subscription program. The program is inexpensive, however, and promises to help you lose weight and improve wellness.
Men can plan to consume between 1,400 to 1,800 calories per day. Women can plan to consume 1,200 to 1,600 calories on the plan. The foods recommended on this plan will help you to reach the USDA recommendations for good nutrition.
According to the health experts at the National Institutes of Health, just two weeks on the DASH eating plan can reduce your blood pressure. So, while the adjustment to this eating style may be challenging, it comes with substantial benefits—especially if you are trying to manage hypertension.
Try making small changes first. Learn how to read nutrition labels to look for lower sodium foods, remove the salt shaker from the dinner table and cooking area, and replace starchy side dishes with fruits or vegetables.
Once you feel comfortable making small changes, start to create meal plans in accordance with the food group recommendations provided.
The DASH Diet is not only recommended by highly respected medical organizations, but the health benefits that you are ly to gain are also supported by strong scientific evidence. However, remember that there is no diet that works for everyone.
As you evaluate the pros and cons of this eating style, the food recommendations, and the lifestyle changes you may have to make, think about whether or not you think these changes will be manageable. If you are unsure, consider making one or two DASH-related diet changes and see how it goes.
Lastly, speak to your healthcare provider about the way that dietary changes might impact your specific health profile. In some cases, you may be able to reduce your dependence on medication or eliminate it altogether. Knowing these facts may boost your motivation as you make decisions about the right eating plan for you.
What Is The DASH Diet? And Can It Help You Lose Weight
To be honest, the DASH Diet sounds something the Kardashians would hawk.
But DASH—which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—is far from a fad diet. Created by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the DASH Diet is designed to improve health in people with high blood pressure, a.
k.a. hypertension. (In the U.S., one every three adults has high blood pressure, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.) U.S. News & World Report has named the DASH Diet the best overall diet for the past eight years.
That’s because the DASH Diet has been proven to work, says Reshmi Srinath, M.D., an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. One study found that people who followed the DASH Diet had lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels than those who consumed a typical American diet or an American diet infused with extra fruits and veggies.
Related: 6 Things You’ll Have to Give Up if You Want to Lose Weight FOR GOOD
And while the diet wasn't designed with weight loss as a primary goal, it's no secret that many of the nutritional factors that influence blood pressure also influence weight, she says. Think: processed foods, trans fats, and excess sugar.
According to one DASH study, adults who who followed the diet lost more weight in a span of eight to 24 weeks than those adhering to other low-calorie diets.
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What's On (And Off) the Menu?
So, what is the DASH Diet all about? It's a flexible eating plan that prioritizes whole foods vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, as well as fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils olive oil—all of which have been linked to improved health, including weight loss.
“Un many popular diets, there’s really not a huge focus on eliminating starches,” Srinath says.
“What most studies have found is that dieting is really about sustainability—so the people who lose the most weight are those who are able to maintain a diet and keep up with it,” she says.
“A big issue with a lot of the low-carb diets out there is that it’s really, really hard to limit carbs completely. That’s why I think DASH is more palatable to people.” Yaaas, carbs!
Related: U.S. News Just Revealed The Best Diets Of 2018—And The Ketogenic Diet Ranked Last
The only limitations: processed foods, and excess intake of fats, sugars, and sodium. And, yes, nixing processed foods pretty much takes care of the fat, sugar, and sodium problem, Srinath says.
Research published in BMJ Journal shows that ultra-processed foods make up 58 percent of all of the calories and 90 percent of the added sugars that the average American consumes in a given day. And 75 percent of the average American’s sodium consumption (which is about 1.
5 times the RDA of sodium per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) comes from processed foods, per Harvard University.
“Excess salt—which is found in the majority of processed foods—can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke,” says Srinath. “Lowering the amount of salt in your diet can reduce those risks, which is what this diet was originally designed to do.”
But again, when it comes to salt, there's a blood pressure-weight link that can't go ignored.
A diet rich in sodium may lead to the development of obesity, according to one study, and salty foods are more ly to promote overeating, which obviously also leads to weight gain, per another study.
And by now, it's more than evident that excess fat and sugar intake can contribute to caloric surpluses, blood sugar and insulin spikes, inflammation, and, yes, more weight gain, she says.
Check out some of the weirdest weight-loss trends through history:
If you’re moderately active and between 19 and 51, the DASH Diet recommends following a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet that breaks down this:
- Grains: 6-8 servings per day
- Meats, poultry, and fish: 6 or fewer servings per day
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
- Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 servings per day
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings per day
- Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas: 4-5 servings per week
- Sweets: 5 or fewer servings per week
- Sodium: 2,300 mg per day
Should You Try It?
The DASH Diet is a great choice for women with high blood pressure. “It’s also a good option for anyone with a family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke,” says Srinath—even if you haven’t shown any signs of those issues yet. It’s never too early for a diet that could help you avoid serious health complications down the road.
It’s also a good option if you eat out frequently or overdo it with processed foods, says Srinath. The basic, food pyramid-style guidelines can help you put the focus back on whole foods without restricting any particular food groups or making you feel deprived.
But the DASH Diet isn’t a magic solution if you’re looking for quick weight loss. “I do think that if people follow this diet, there can be healthy weight loss,” says Srinath, “but weight loss is also tied to calorie restriction.
” If you’re looking to drop, say, 20 pounds, you’ll have to consume fewer calories in addition to hitting the recommended serving amounts.
Still, if you currently follow a pretty junky diet, you could easily wind up cutting the necessary calories with DASH, she explains.
Related: 6 Signs Your Metabolism Is Whack
Remember, DASH wasn’t designed to be a weight-loss solution. Yes, making healthier food choices may help you lose weight—and, in the end, the DASH Diet will help to teach you how to make those choices for the rest of your life.
The DASH Diet Is Great For Weight Loss, So Why Is No One Following It?
The DASH diet often flies under the radar, especially when compared to buzzy diets such as the Keto diet, but it’s one of the most widely-respected diets out there. U.S.
News & World Report has named it the “Best Diet Overall” for eight consecutive years in its annual diet rankings, and it’s recommended by the American Heart Association, who used it to develop their 2010 Dietary Guidelines.
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With virtually no food groups as off-limits, DASH offers much more flexibility than other popular diet plans.
It can also aid in weight loss and weight maintenance, given its emphasis on overall health. With all its praiseworthy qualities, you’d think everyone would be following a DASH diet plan.
But here’s the surprising truth—less than 2 percent of the population actually follows the DASH diet.
How could this be? Let’s take a closer look at the DASH diet to find out for ourselves.
What Is the DASH Diet?
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The diet was developed a study by the National Institutes of Health after researchers noticed that vegetarians tended to have lower rates of high blood pressure. Understanding that sodium intake affected blood pressure, researchers also believed that these levels may also be impacted by other nutrients in plant-based diets.
Enter the DASH diet. When individuals followed this eating plan, researchers saw dramatic reductions in blood pressure levels. Today, the eating plan is recommended for preventing and treating hypertension and heart disease—and it has been linked to decreased bone deterioration, improved insulin sensitivity, and possible risk reduction for some cancers.
How to Follow a DASH Diet Plan:
The DASH diet plan focus on increasing vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes; choosing lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and healthy fats; and limiting added sugars, trans fats, added salt, and processed foods.
Serving sizes from each food group are individual calorie needs (see below for a 1600-calorie plan), and you’ll ly find that the plan looks pretty close to the MyPlate plan, as well as another consistently rated “top diet,” the Mediterranean Diet.
Here’s a breakdown of the recommended nutrients in a typical day and week on the DASH diet:
Nutrients Per Day:
- Grains: 6 servings
- Vegetables: 3-4 servings
- Fruits: 4 servings
- Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy: 2-3 servings
- Lean Meat, Poultry, or Fish: 4 ounces or less
- Fat/oils: 2 servings
- Sodium: 2300 mg or less
Nutrients Per Week:
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 3-4 times per week
- Sweets and added sugars: 3 servings or less
The secret to DASH’s success is its emphasis on increasing vegetables, fruits, and whole foods that are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. While most know that reducing sodium is essential, many don’t realize that getting adequate potassium intake is just as key for regulating blood pressure.
RELATED: More Than Half of Americans’ Calories Come From Processed Foods
When foods are processed, their potassium levels actually decrease. So, choosing whole or minimally processed foods can improve blood pressure regulation from both a sodium and a potassium perspective. In addition, you’ll usually decrease your intake of saturated fat, added sugars, and overall calories—all of which can help you lose weight, and keep it off for good.
So—Why Does DASH Have So Few Followers?
DASH's lack of followers seems to come down to misconceptions that people have about it. Here are some common perceptions about the DASH diet, including what is—and what isn’t—true.
Misconception #1: The DASH Diet is Only for People With High Blood Pressure.
The DASH diet was created when researchers were looking for ways to effectively reduce hypertension, but this was over 20 years ago! Though it’s still often marketed as a treatment for high blood pressure, the DASH eating plan is really an ideal way to eat for overall health, weight maintenance, and chronic disease prevention. In fact, studies suggest that DASH lowers risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, and some cancers.
Also, people with high blood pressure aren’t the only ones who need to worry about sodium intake. Data suggests that 90 percent of Americans exceed sodium’s max limit (3500mg) daily. Regularly going over this amount takes a toll on your body—even healthy bodies—over time.
Misconception #2: “Low-Sodium” and “No-Salt” are the DASH Diet’s Sole Focus.
Sodium reduction is part of the DASH equation, but it’s not the only focus.
Eating by DASH recommendations also increases your intake of potassium, calcium, magnesium and fiber—all nutrients that play a role in cardiovascular health, as well as the prevention of other chronic diseases.
It’s thought to be the combination of increasing your intake of these nutrients and decreasing your intake of added sugar, salt, sodium and unhealthy fats that leads to lower blood pressure and a laundry list of other long-term health benefits.
RELATED: 7 Ways to Keep Food Tasty While Decreasing Your Sodium
Also, reducing sodium doesn’t restrict you to boring, bland food, nor does it mean you have to toss out the salt shaker.
Yes, reducing the amount of salt you use and choosing lower-sodium products are key, but opting for fresh foods or whole foods instead of boxed, canned, and ready-to-heat items makes a big enough impact.
Experiment with spices and herbs, and use a little salt to enhance flavor. Salt should never be the sole flavoring or seasoning in any in dish.
Misconception #3: The DASH Diet is Unapproachable.
Many equate healthy eating, particularly lower-sodium eating such as DASH, with the idea that all meals have to be cooked from scratch.
This is overwhelming for many (myself included), but there are plenty of tricks and tips to help you. First, understand that “whole foods” doesn’t exclusively mean fresh produce.
Take advantage of time-saving, minimally processed foods unseasoned frozen vegetables and no-salt-added canned veggies.
Two additional shortcuts that can easily be worked into a DASH diet plan are meal prepping and batch cooking—both of which are important for quick, healthy eating. Meal prepping doesn’t have to mean cooking a full meal, either.
It’s just preparing components that can be used to toss together a quick meal— baking chicken breasts, roasting vegetables, and cooking a whole grain quinoa.
You can also minimize time spent in the kitchen by buying weekly salad greens, bags of pre-cut veggies, and prepping produce at the start of the week.
Misconception #4: DASH is a “Diet” That You Follow Intermittently.
Perhaps the biggest thing that holds people back from following DASH is approaching it with an “all-or-nothing” attitude.
However, DASH does not fall under the common “diet” approach of following an eating plan for a few weeks and then returning to your old way of eating. After all, no one’s diet is perfect.
the Mediterranean Diet, the DASH diet is best viewed as a healthy way of living and eating. Making small, gradual changes in your food choices—and food quality—can help you form healthier habits for life.
The DASH diet: Health benefits and what you can eat
- What is it?
- Two types
- What you can eat
- Getting started
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The main aim of the DASH diet is to reduce high blood pressure. A person will eat fruits, vegetables, whole grain, low-fat dairy foods, poultry, fish, nuts, and beans, but they will limit their intake of red meat, fat, sugar, and salt.
The full name of the DASH diet is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Experts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the diet to help people manage their blood pressure.
However, it is an overall healthful eating plan, and it can help people lose weight.
In (mm Hg), and the diastolic fell by 1.9 mm HG.
In people without metabolic syndrome, the systolic pressure fell by 5.2 mm Hg, and the diastolic fell by 2.9 mm Hg.
In other words, DASH can be effective at lowering blood pressure in people with or without metabolic syndrome. There is also evidence that it may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and improve overall life expectancy.
The National Kidney Foundation recommend DASH for people with kidney disease.
Which foods can help lower blood sugar? Find out here.
Understanding blood pressure
Systolic pressure is the blood pressure while the heart is pumping blood, while diastolic is the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. A person with a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg will have a reading of 120/80 mm Hg.
Current guidelines from the American College of Cardiology describe blood pressure as follows:
Normal: Below 120/80 mm Hg.
Elevated: Systolic is 120–129, and diastolic is below 80.
Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic is 130–139, and diastolic is 80–89.
Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic is 140 or above; diastolic is 90 or above.
Hypertensive crisis: Systolic is over 180; diastolic is over 120.
Will I lose weight?
People can lose weight on the DASH diet, but they do not have to. If a person does wish to lose weight, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend reducing calories gradually.
Other tips for losing weight on DASH include:
Which breakfast foods can help a person lose weight?
The DASH diet aims to provide nutrients that can help reduce blood pressure.
Here are some of the features:
- It focuses on dietary patterns, rather than single nutrients.
- It emphasizes foods that are rich in antioxidants.
A person should aim to balance their nutrient intake as follows:
|Total fat||27% of calories|
|Saturated fat||6% of calories|
|Protein||18% of calories|
|Carbohydrate||55% of calories|
|Cholesterol||150 mg per day|
|Sodium||1,500 mg or 2,300 mg, depending on the diet|
Foods should be:
- low in saturated and trans fats
- rich in fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, and potassium
- low in sodium
Saturated fats mostly occur in fatty meat, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
The DASH diet focuses largely on plant-based foods, many of which are rich in antioxidants. Experts believe that antioxidants play a role in preventing various health issues, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
The DASH diet encourages people to eat less sodium. Sodium is the main ingredient in table salt, and it occurs naturally in a number of foods. The human body needs salt, but adding salt to the diet can make sodium levels too high. This can raise blood pressure in some people.
There are two versions of the DASH diet:
The Standard DASH diet: People consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day.
The Low Sodium DASH diet: The maximum sodium intake is 1,500 mg each day.
Many people in the U.S. consume 3,600 mg of sodium or more each day, so both versions of the DASH diet aim to reduce sodium consumption.
In a clinical trial to assess the diet’s impact, experts found that combining the DASH diet with a low sodium intake has more impact on blood pressure than taking just one of these actions.
As people reduce their salt intake, they should also eat more foods that contain potassium. Potassium helps the blood vessels relax, and this can lower blood pressure. People should aim to consume 4,700 mg of potassium each day.
Foods that contain potassium include:
- dried fruit, such as apricots, prunes, and raisins
- lentils and kidney beans
- orange juice
A half-cup of dried apricots will provide around 30% of a person’s daily need for potassium. A cup of cooked lentils provides 21%.
The Mediterranean diet may also benefit the heart and overall health. Find out more.
The DASH diet emphasizes:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- low-fat dairy products
- whole grains
- some legumes, poultry, and fish
- small amounts of red meat, fats, and sweets
It is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol.
On a typical day on a 2,000 calorie-per-day DASH diet, a person might eat:
Grains: 6–8 servings. Examples include pasta, rice, cereal, and bread. One serving could be a slice of whole wheat bread, a half-cup of cooked pasta, rice or cereal, or 1 ounce (oz) of dry cereal.
Vegetables, including fiber- and vitamin-rich vegetables: 4–5 servings. Examples include broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, carrots, or tomatoes. One serving could be a half-cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or a cup of raw, green, leafy vegetables.
Fruit: 4–5 servings. These are rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins, and other minerals. One serving may include a half-cup of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit, or one medium fresh fruit.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy food: 2–3 servings: These provide calcium, protein, and vitamin D. One serving could include 1 cup of skim milk or milk that is 1% fat, 1.5 oz of cheese, or 1 cup of yogurt.
Fish, poultry, or lean meat: Up to six 1-oz servings. Meats are rich in proteins, B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients, but people following the DASH diet should limit their meat consumption and eat mostly fruits and vegetables. One serving may include 1 oz of cooked, skinless poultry, lean meat or seafood, 1 egg, 1 oz of tuna, packed in water, with no salt added.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4–5 servings. These provide protein, potassium, magnesium, fiber, phytochemicals, and other essential nutrients. Examples include sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios.
Healthful fats and oils: 2–3 servings. Fat helps the body absorb essential vitamins and other nutrients and maintain the immune system, among other roles. One serving may include 1 teaspoon (tsp) of margarine, 1 tablespoon (tbsp) of low-fat mayonnaise, or 2 tbsp of light salad dressing.
Sweets: Up to 5 servings a week. The DASH diet does not eliminate sweets but recommends limiting their intake. One serving could include 1 cup of lemonade, a half-cup of sorbet, 1 tbs of sugar, jam, or jelly.
The DASH diet recommends no more than two alcoholic drinks for men and one for women each day.
The amount of food will also depend on the individual’s needs for energy, and this will depend on their age, sex, and activity levels.
- A 51-year-old female who is not very active will need only 1,600 calories a day.
- A highly active 25-year-old male will need 3,000 calories.
One attraction of the DASH diet is that it allows for variety.
Dietitians have prepared special recipes to suit the diet, such as garden splendor chicken, fabulous frittata, and meaty sauce over spaghetti.
A variety of DASH diet cookbooks are available for purchase online.
Here are some general tips:
- Make sure there is plenty of color on the plate.
- Include fruits, vegetables, and nonfat or low-fat dairy foods.
- Have at least two side dishes of vegetables.
- Prepare fruit-based desserts, rather than pastries.
- Focus on an overall eating plan, rather than specific dishes, to get a variety of nutrients.
The NHLBI recommend switching to the DASH diet over a couple of days or weeks, gradually adding more vegetables and cutting down on fatty products so that it becomes part of the daily routine.
- Cardiovascular / Cardiology
- Nutrition / Diet