The DASH Diet

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

Updated: June 16, 2022

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet focuses on portion size, and obtaining the proper amounts of nutrients by consuming a wide variety of foods.
The main aim of the DASH diet is to reduce blood pressure. However, it can also help people who want to lose weight, reduce cholesterol, and manage or prevent diabetes. It is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for patients with hypertension to control their blood pressure. Also the National Kidney Foundation recommend it for people with kidney disease.
The DASH diet involves a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, low fat dairy foods, poultry, fish, meat, nuts, and beans. It also encourages the dieter to consume less sodium, or salt, and increase their intake of magnesium, calcium, and potassium which helps to lower blood pressure. Added fats, red meat, and sugary drinks and foods are limited.

Benefits of DASH Diet:

High blood pressure is associated with a significantly greater risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. As the diet is meant for hypertension people it can also reduce the risk of developing conditions associated with it.
The DASH diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure. It is seen from some research that after following the DASH diet for 8 weeks, patients with pre-hypertension had an average drop of 6 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 3 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure, where as Patients with hypertension experienced reductions of 11 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 6 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
Hypertension is the pressure  in the arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. Your blood pressure will be high if you have narrow arteries and your heart pumps more blood.
We have two numbers in blood pressure reading. The top number called systolic blood pressure is the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts.The bottom number called diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes.
Systolic Pressure is the blood pressure while the heart is pumping blood, while diastolic is the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called "pre-hypertension," and a blood pressure of 140/90 or above is considered high while a systolic blood pressure of about 90 to 100 is considered low blood pressure.
These reductions in blood pressure occurred without any changes in body weight as the diet is meant to keep your body weight stable.
Daily calorie intake on the DASH dietary pattern ranges from 1,699 to 3,100 calories. As the DASH diet is based on dietary patterns, rather than single nutrients, it can  provide sufficient nutrients that can help reduce blood pressure. It also contains a high proportion of foods rich in antioxidants which help prevent or delay the development of several chronic health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Eating patterns can affect blood pressure patients with moderate to severe hypertension. Individuals with hypertension can experience a reduction in hypertension within two weeks of starting the diet.

Amount of Sodium recommended in the DASH diet:

As sodium can raise blood pressure in some people, DASH diet encourages the reduction in the amount of sodium intake.
There are two types of the DASH diet:

  • First one is the Standard DASH diet where a person can consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day
  • Second one is the Low Sodium DASH diet, where the limit is 1,500 mg of sodium each day.

Normally, the consumption of sodium for many people is 3,500 mg of sodium or more each day. So in both types of the DASH diet it is aimed to reduce sodium consumption.

The diet plan:

The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains, as well as some legumes, poultry and fish, small amounts of red meat, fats and sweets.
Based on on a typical 2,000 calorie per day DASH diet a person can eat the following:

Six to eight servings of grains:

This include pasta, rice, cereal, and bread. One serving could be a slice of whole-wheat bread, half cup of cooked pasta, rice or cereal, or one ounce of dry cereal. Consume more of whole grains than refined grains because they have more fiber and nutrients. For instance, use brown rice instead of white rice, whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta and whole-grain bread instead of white bread. Look for products labeled 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat.Grains are naturally low in fat. Keep them this way by avoiding butter, cream and cheese sauces.

Four to five servings of vegetables:

This include fiber and vitamin rich vegetables, such as 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.

Mixed vegetables served over brown rice or whole-wheat noodles can be the main dish for a meal. Both fresh and frozen vegetables are good choices. But while buying frozen and canned vegetables, choose those labeled as low sodium or without added salt. Be creative to increase the number of servings you fit in daily. For example, cut the amount of meat in half and double up on the vegetables in a stir-fry.

Four to five servings of fruit:

Fruits 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. You can have a piece of fruit with meals and one as a snack, then round out your day with a dessert of fresh fruits topped with low fat yogurt. As the peels of apples, pears and most fruits with pits add interesting texture to recipes and contain healthy nutrients and fiber, do not peel it whenever possible. As citrus fruits and juices, such as grapefruit, can interact with certain medications, check with your doctor to see if they are OK for you. Make sure to choose canned fruit or juice with no added sugar.

Two to three servings of low fat dairy food:

These are all major sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. They must be either low fat or fat free. One serving could include one cup of skim milk, or milk that has 1 percent fat, 1.5 ounces of cheese, or 1 cup of yogurt. Low fat or fat free frozen yogurt can help you boost the amount of dairy products you eat. You can also add fruit for a healthy twist. Choose lactose-free products or consider taking an over-the-counter product that contains the enzyme lactase if you have trouble digesting dairy products. This can reduce or prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance. Try to avoid regular and even fat-free cheeses as they are typically high in sodium.

Up to six ounce servings of fish, poultry, or lean meat. Although meats are rich in proteins, B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients, DASH dieters should limit their meat consumption and eat mostly fruits and vegetables. One serving may include 1 ounce of cooked, skinless poultry, lean meat or seafood, 1 egg. Trim away skin and fat from poultry and meat and then bake, broil, grill or roast instead of frying in fat.
Eat heart-healthy fish, such as salmon, herring and tuna. These types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower your total cholesterol.

Four to five servings of nuts, seeds and legumes:

These include sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios. These are good sources of protein, potassium, magnesium, fiber, phytochemicals, and other essential nutrients. Nuts contain monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids which are healthy fat. However, eat them in moderation as they are high in calories. Try adding them to stir fries, salads or cereals. Soybean based products, such as tofu and tempeh, can be a good alternative to meat because they contain all of the amino acids your body needs to make a complete protein, just like meat.

Two to three servings of fats and oils:

Bbecause the human body needs fat to properly absorb essential vitamins and other nutrients. Healthy fats help to maintain the immune system. One serving may include one teaspoon of margarine, one tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, or two tablespoons of light salad dressing.

Saturated fat and trans fat are the main source of increasing your risk of coronary artery disease. DASH helps keep your daily saturated fat to less than 6 percent of your total calories by limiting use of meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, cream and eggs in your diet, along with foods made from lard, solid shortenings, and palm and coconut oils. Avoid trans fat, commonly found in such processed foods as crackers, baked goods and fried items. Read food labels on margarine and salad dressing so that you can choose those that are lowest in saturated fat and free of trans fat.
In addition, a person can eat up to 5 servings a week of sweets. The DASH diet does not cut out sweets altogether, but dieters should limit their intake. One serving could include 1 cup of lemonade, a half cup of sorbet, 1 tablespoon of sugar, jam or jelly. Choose sweets that are fat-free or low fat, such as sorbets, fruit ices, jelly beans, hard candy, graham crackers or low fat cookies.
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose may help satisfy your sweet tooth while sparing the sugar. But remember that you still must use them moderately. A diet cola can be swapped for a regular cola once in a while, but not in place of a more nutritious beverage such as low-fat milk or even plain water.
Cut back on added sugar, which has no nutritional value but can pack on calories.
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 whether the dieter is a man or woman, their age, and how much exercise they get. For example, a woman of 51 who is not very active, will need only 1,600 calories a day, while a highly active 25 year old man will need 3,000 calories.

Daily nutritional goals in the DASH diet:

1,500 mg of sodium in the low sodium DASH diet is usually recommended. In addition the Foods that you eat should be low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
Saturated fats are found in fatty meat, full fat dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
For a person on a 2,000 calorie eating plan, the following daily goals are suitable.
Total fat    27% of calories
Saturated fat    6% of calories
Protein            18% of calories
Carbohydrate    55% of calories
Cholesterol    150 mg
Sodium            2,300 mg
Potassium    4,700 mg
Calcium            1,250 mg
Magnesium    500 mg
Fiber            30 g

Useful 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

Don't just go for recipes, but focus on the overall eating plan, as this will provide a balance.

Tips to cut back on sodium:

  • Use sodium-free spices or flavorings with your food instead of salt
  • Do not add salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
  • Rinse canned foods to remove some of the sodium
  • Buy foods labeled no salt added, sodium free, low sodium or very low sodium

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