What is the DASH diet?

Katy MacQueen, MS, RD, LDN, CDOE and Vincent Pera, MD
Dash Diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as the DASH diet, originated in the 1990s as a healthy diet approach to help with blood pressure control.

It is a heart-healthy, balanced way of eating that includes all the food groups. It does not omit any particular food group and does not necessarily involve calorie restriction.

Although, individuals may lose weight on the DASH diet, the term “diet” in DASH diet is referring to the traditional definition of diet, “what one eats” or “the kinds of food that a person habitually eats.”

The best diets

The DASH diet is considered one of the best dietary approaches because it is well-studied and backed by large amounts of strong research. This eating plan could be appropriate for most health-conscious adults looking to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, or just eat healthy as a preventive measure. It is:

•    evidence-based and has proven itself over the past 30 years
•    realistic and attainable as it allows a variety of foods and does not restrict a single type of food
•    maintainable and can be followed long-term without burn out

In the recent U.S. News 2020 rankings of 35 diets, DASH Diet was named among the best eating plans, including:

  • #1 in Best Diets for Healthy Eating (tie)
  • #2 in Best Diets Overall (tie)
  • #2 in Best Diabetes Diets (tie)
  • #3 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets
  • #6 in Easiest Diets to Follow

What to eat on the DASH diet

The DASH diet promotes eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which includes:

  • eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, which is higher than normal dietary guidelines
  • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • fish, poultry
  • beans and nuts
  • vegetable oils

It does include limits on certain foods, including:

  • saturated fat such as fatty meats
  • full-fat dairy products
  • tropical oils such as coconut,  palm kernel, and palm oils
  • sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

The DASH diet is

  • low in saturated (unhealthy) fats
  • high in many vitamins and minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium
  • high in fiber
  • controlled in sodium (goal: less than 2,300 mg sodium per day)

The NHLBI website provides helpful guides and eating plans that include food options and daily/weekly serving recommendations based on your daily calorie intake.  

The health benefits

The DASH diet helps lower blood pressure, blood glucose levels, triglycerides, cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Also, a lower incidence of colorectal cancer, mainly in the white population, has been seen with the DASH diet.  It has also been proven in multiple studies to have lowered all-cause mortality in adults.

Four NHLBI-funded studies tested the health benefits of the DASH diet by comparing the DASH diet with the typical American diet or by comparing different variations of the DASH diet. Another NHLBI-funded study, the PREMIER clinical trial, measured the health benefits of following the DASH diet and increasing physical activity. The results of these studies showed that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol in the blood and shaped the NHLBI’s DASH eating plan recommendations, which includes following a DASH diet with reduced sodium intake.

Tips for success

To increase your likelihood of success with the DASH diet , or any dietary intervention, we recommend the following:  

  • Get your environment ready. Have fruits and veggies available during the day so you can get your recommended servings. Add them to all your meals, and snacks too!
  • Put time into meal planning and prep. This will help you reduce how often you eat take out foods or dine out. Careful planning and healthy recipes can help you eat more whole, nutritious options and minimize your intake of processed foods.
  • Get social support. Don’t go it alone. It’s good for the whole family- even the kids!
  • Positive reinforcement through improved health. Let your satisfaction come from seeing your health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels improve. Your improved health is a wonderful reward.

For more on weight loss and how we can help you, visit our website.

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