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The DASH Diet: A Comprehensive Guide
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a popular eating plan among health professionals in the United States, and it has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best overall diets. The diet is based on making manageable and flexible dietary changes that are rooted in proven nutritional advice.
What is the DASH Diet?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) developed the DASH diet specifically to help people lower high blood pressure. Blood pressure readings higher than 130 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) for systolic blood pressure and higher than 80 mmHg for diastolic (the bottom number) are considered high.
Benefits of the DASH Diet
The DASH diet is particularly beneficial for women, as heart disease is the number one killer among both men and women, and high blood pressure is a major contributing factor. Research has found that the DASH diet may help lower blood pressure in patients with resistant hypertension, which is blood pressure that remains elevated despite medication.
- Reduces blood pressure: The DASH diet has been shown to lower blood pressure in both hypertensive and normotensive individuals.
- Improves heart health: The diet promotes heart-healthy foods and reduces intake of saturated and trans fats, which are harmful to heart health.
- Helps with weight loss: The DASH diet emphasizes whole foods and limits processed foods, which can lead to weight loss.
DASH Diet Meal Plan Example
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with berries and whole-grain toast
- Snack: Apple with almond butter
- Lunch: Grilled chicken salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, and avocado
- Snack: Carrots with hummus
- Dinner: Baked salmon with quinoa and roasted vegetables
- Dessert: Dark chocolate
How to Get Started with the DASH Diet
- Consult with a healthcare provider: Before starting the diet, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.
- Gradually make changes: Start by making small changes to your diet, such as adding more fruits and vegetables, and gradually increasing the number of servings.
- Use resources: The NHLBI offers free resources on the DASH diet, including meal plans and recipes.
How the DASH Diet Works
The DASH diet promotes whole foods, such as:
- Lean meats
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy
- Whole grains
It requires cutting back on:
- Processed foods
- Sugary drinks
- Packaged snacks
- Red meat
Red meat has been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Following the DASH Diet
Depending on your health needs, you can choose from two forms of the DASH diet:
- The standard DASH diet limits sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day
- The lower-sodium DASH diet calls for limiting sodium consumption to 1,500 mg per day
The daily DASH eating plan involves consuming:
- Six to eight servings of grains, preferably whole grains
- Six or fewer servings of meat, poultry, and fish
- Four to five servings of vegetables
- Four to five servings of fruit
- Two to three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- Two to three servings of fat or oils
Here are some of the other estimated daily nutritional goals of the DASH diet plan:
- Total fat is about 27 percent of calories
- Saturated fat is 6 percent of calories or less
- Protein is about 18 percent of calories
- Carbohydrates are about 55 percent of calories
- Cholesterol is limited to 150 mg
- Fiber is 30 grams (g) or more
Depending on your weight loss or weight maintenance needs, you can choose a DASH diet plan that provides 1,200, 1,400, 1,600, 1,800, 2,000, 2,600, or 3,100 calories per day. You can track your nutrient and calorie intake with the help of various apps, such as Lose It! Calorie Counter, which is free to download on the App Store and Google Play.
Tips for Sticking to the DASH Diet
- Meal prep: Plan and prepare meals in advance to make healthy eating easier.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand: Stock up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to have healthy snack options available.
- Limit eating out: Restaurant meals are often high in sodium and unhealthy fats, so limit eating out and choose restaurants that offer healthy options.
- Be patient: It may take time to adjust to the DASH diet and see results, but be patient and stick with it.
Potential Drawbacks of the DASH Diet
- Cost: Eating whole foods and fresh produce can be more expensive than processed and packaged foods.
- Time and effort: Meal planning and preparation can take more time and effort than simply grabbing fast food or ordering takeout.
- Restrictive: The diet limits the intake of some foods, such as red meat and processed foods, which can be challenging for some individuals to stick to.
The DASH diet works by limiting sodium and saturated fat, which are detrimental to heart health. Increasing fiber, lean protein, and other nutrients help lower blood pressure. To manage hypertension, individuals should combine the DASH diet with other healthy lifestyle approaches, such as getting more exercise, losing weight, cutting back on alcohol consumption, and managing stress levels.