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The DASH Diet To Lower High Blood Pressure

The DASH Diet To Lower High Blood Pressure

No wonder the DASH diet, also known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), has been continuously named as a top diet for heart health and weight loss by US News & World Report since it is a proven winner in both categories. Instead of fad diets that call for high calorie or food-group limitations without scientific evidence to support their efficacy, the DASH diet calls for reasonable dietary modifications that are adaptable and based on scientifically established nutritional guidance.

Paolo Reyna
Health
Oct 11, 2021

Table of Contents

No wonder the DASH diet, also known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), has been continuously named as a top diet for heart health and weight loss by US News & World Report since it is a proven winner in both categories. Instead of fad diets that call for high calorie or food-group limitations without scientific evidence to support their efficacy, the DASH diet calls for reasonable dietary modifications that are adaptable and based on scientifically established nutritional guidance.

Doctors, nutritionists, and other health professionals in the United States now promote the eating plan due to the fact that cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in three American people has high blood pressure (hypertension), which is an important contributing factor to heart disease, as indicated by the CDC. While it is true that only in America does heart disease kill more people than breast cancer, heart disease is still the most common cause of death in the world, according to the American Heart Association.

What Is The Dash Diet?

foods for DASH diet for a healthier heart

In the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet, which was developed from two studies, DASH and DASH-Sodium, researchers looked at ways to lower blood pressure by altering one's dietary habits. A total of three eating plans were used in the DASH study: a plan with nutrients similar to what most North Americans consume; the same plan but with additional vegetables and fruit; or the DASH diet, which is high in vegetables and fruit and low-fat dairy foods while being lower in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol than the typical North American diet.

The findings were illuminating. Both the high-vegetable, high-fruit diet and the DASH diet decreased blood pressure. The DASH diet had the biggest effect on blood pressure, significantly decreasing it within two weeks of beginning the regimen. Not only was blood pressure decreased, but also total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad cholesterol."

DASH Diet Types

Depending on your health needs, you can choose from two forms of the DASH diet:

  • The Standard DASH Diet This plan limits sodium consumption to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.
  • The Lower-Sodium DASH Diet This version calls for limiting sodium consumption to 1,500 mg per day.

Participants in the DASH-Sodium study were assigned to one of three sodium plans: the DASH diet with 3,300 mg of sodium per day (a typical intake for many North Americans); 2,300 mg of sodium (a moderately restricted intake); or 1,500 mg of sodium (a more restricted intake, about 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt). Everyone on the DASH diet had decreased blood pressure. However, the less salt is taken, the higher the blood pressure reduction. Individuals with pre-existing hypertension experienced the greatest reduction in blood pressure.

What Is The Significance Of Maintaining Normal Blood Pressure?

Dash Diet For Hypertension Chart for 1800kcals/day

Blood pressure that is too high makes it necessary for the heart to work harder in order to pump nutrition and oxygen-rich blood to the body. The arteries that carry blood become damaged and less elastic as a result of this process. Despite the fact that these changes occur in everyone as they grow older, they occur more quickly in persons who have high blood pressure. With increasing stiffness of the arteries, the heart is forced to work even harder, leading the heart muscle to become thicker, weaker, and less able to pump blood effectively. The damage caused by high blood pressure to arteries makes it impossible for them to provide enough oxygen-rich blood to organs to ensure their optimal functioning. Consequently, organs may also be harmed as a result of this. Examples of this type of injury include heart attack, brain stroke, and kidney failure. It can also affect other organs such as the lungs and liver, which can lead to pulmonary embolism.

What is the recommended daily salt intake?

As part of a healthy diet, the National Institutes of Health's 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend taking fewer than 2,300 mg of salt each day.

What Foods Are Permitted On The DASH Diet?

People frequently inquire about the items included in the DASH diet eating plan. The good news is that it features a diverse selection of foods and several selections. The DASH diet is straightforward. Consume more fruit, particularly vegetables, and fewer salty foods (sodium). For instance:

  • For lunch, opt for a salad with protein instead of a burger and fries.
  • Instead of fruity, sweetened yogurt, use low-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt.
  • Choose raw veggie sticks, fruit, bean-based spreads such as hummus or black bean dip, and raw unsalted nuts as snacks.
  • Whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa are recommended, as well as lean proteins such as chicken, lean pork, and fish.

What Foods Are Not Allowed On The DASH Diet?

burger, pretzels, cookies, candies, sodas and other unhealthy foods

High sugar, high-fat snacks, and foods high in salt should be avoided when following the DASH diet.

  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • Salted nuts
  • Sodas
  • Sugary beverages
  • Pastries
  • Snacks
  • Meat dishes
  • Prepackaged pasta and rice dishes (excluding macaroni and cheese because it is a separate category)
  • Pizza
  • Soups
  • Salad dressings
  • Cheese
  • Cold cuts and cured meats
  • Breads and rolls
  • Sandwiches
  • Sauces and gravies
  • Soups

Not only does using a potassium-based salt alternative function as a substitute in cooking and on the table, but the added potassium can help lower blood pressure. Individuals taking blood pressure drugs that boost potassium levels should ask their doctors to assist them in monitoring their blood potassium level (K) while making modifications.

Can You Lose Weight On The DASH Diet?

two bowls of oatmeal with coffee cup on table

The DASH diet is advised for people who want to lower their blood pressure, but it's also a wonderful option for anyone looking to eat healthier. It may also result in weight loss because it stresses eating complete foods that are naturally low in harmful fats and added sweets, as well as modest quantities.

The DASH diet has various advantages:

Long-Term Potential: The diet is diverse and simple to maintain as a lifelong dietary decision.

Reduce Blood Pressure and Maintain Normal Cholesterol Levels: According to research published in February 2016 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who follow this diet can lower their blood pressure and, when they consume low-fat dairy rather than high-fat dairy, also lower their LDL, or "bad," cholesterol. According to a December 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the blood-pressure-lowering effects are most significant in individuals with a systolic blood pressure of more than 150 mm Hg. 

A Lower Chance of Contracting Certain Diseases: Other parts of your health, such as kidney function, blood sugar management, and eye health, can benefit from a stronger heart. According to one study published in Clinical Nutrition in October 2019, the DASH diet lowers the chance of developing chronic renal disease. (14) Following the DASH diet may help reduce your risk for stroke, the NHLBI reports.

Improved Heart Health: A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in September 2019 discovered that women with type 2 diabetes who followed the DASH diet had a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease than women who did not prioritize fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Improved Management of Type 2 Diabetes: According to an article published in the journal Current Hypertension Reports, the DASH diet, when combined with a weight loss plan and exercise routine, may result in reduced insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. (16)

Better Nutrition: Because processed and packed foods frequently have the greatest additional salt, not to mention increased sugar, the DASH diet encourages consuming whole and fresh foods.

Possible Cons of Following the DASH Diet: What Experts Caution

The DASH diet has minimal disadvantages. Some people may be concerned because it does not provide a precise strategy to lose weight.

“It is not designed for weight loss per se, but it offers different numbers of servings for the food groups for different calorie levels, so you could follow a [more targeted] weight loss diet with this plan,” says Nancy L. Cohen, Ph.D., RD, professor and head of the nutrition department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Others may find it difficult to acclimatize to eating as much fiber as the DASH diet suggests. To avoid bloating and physical pain, gradually add high-fiber items to your diets, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and drink lots of water while doing so.

How Much Can DASH Diet Lower Blood Pressure?

According to Kimberley Rose-Francis, RDN, CDE, a nutritionist located in Sebring, Florida, the DASH diet works by lowering not only salt but also saturated fat, both of which can be harmful to heart health. According to Rose-Francis, sodium-rich salt can raise blood pressure, putting undue strain on the heart muscle. Saturated fat, on the other hand, has been shown to raise cholesterol levels. “Cholesterol has the ability to obstruct or reduce blood flow to the heart,” Rose-Francis says, adding that reduced blood flow could result in a heart attack.

Additionally, the DASH diet works by increasing fiber, lean protein, and other nutrients believed to help decrease blood pressure.

Additionally, individuals seeking to lower their blood pressure should combine the diet with other healthy lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity, lowering weight, and reducing alcohol use. Quitting smoking is also critical for blood pressure control and heart health maintenance.

How Long Does It Take For DASH Diet To Work?

While research indicates that the DASH diet can help lower blood pressure in the short term, lengthier studies are necessary to evaluate whether the DASH diet results in lower rates of heart disease for individuals who adhere to it long term.

Having said that, for many people, the DASH diet provides the perfect one-two punch: a smart diet for controlling blood pressure and losing or maintaining a healthy weight.

The DASH Eating Plan

List of foods you can/cannot eat when you're on DASH diet

DASH Food Groups:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Grains (mainly whole grains)
  • Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods
  • Lean meats, poultry, and fish
  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans
  • Fats and Oils

DASH Daily Servings (except as noted) and examples:

  • Vegetables: 4-5 servings

250 mL (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables

125 mL (½ cup) cooked vegetables

  • Fruit: 4-5 servings

1 medium piece of fruit

63 mL (¼ cup) dried fruit

125 mL (½ cup) fresh, frozen or canned fruit

  • Grains (mainly whole grains): 7-8 servings

1 slice bread

250 mL (1 cup) ready to eat cereal

125 mL (½ cup) cooked rice, pasta, or cereal

  • Low Fat or No-Fat Dairy Foods: 2-3 servings

250 mL (1 cup) milk

250 mL (1 cup) yogurt

50 g (1½ oz) cheese

  • Lean meats, poultry, and fish: 2 servings or less

3 ounces cooked lean meats, skinless poultry, or fish

  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week

1/3 cup (1.5 oz.) nuts

30 mL (2 tbsp) peanut butter

2 tbsp (1/2 oz.) seeds

1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas

  • Fats and oils: 2-3 servings

5 mL (1 tsp) soft margarine

15mL (1 tbsp) low-fat mayonnaise

30 mL (2 tbsp) light salad dressing

5 mL (1 tsp) vegetable oil

DASH Diet Sample Menu

bowl of oatmeal with fruits with spoon 7 day DASH Diet meal plan

A typical menu plan for a 1600-calorie DASH diet would include the following:

  • 2 cup veg
  • 2 fruit servings
  • 2 servings of dairy products that are reduced in fat or fat-free
  • 6 oz. oats ( 1 slice multi-grain bread plus 1 small serving brown rice)
  • 5 oz. lean meat, poultry, or fish
  • 2 tsp. wholesome oils, such as olive oil
  • 1 oz. nut and seed mixture

Once a week, small amounts of sweets, salty foods, and alcohol.

This is an example of a typical daily DASH diet menu.

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with chopped pecans, 12 apples and cinnamon, and black coffee
  • Morning snack: remaining apple half with 1 teaspoon peanut butter and a tall glass of water
  • Lunch: mixed green salad with grilled chicken breast and vinaigrette dressing on the side. Dip your fork into the dressing to infuse each bite with flavor without soaking the salad in salt and fat. Consume iced tea or water that is unsweetened.
  • Afternoon snack: unsweetened fruity iced tea or hummus-dipped carrot sticks
  • Dinner: zucchini pasta spiralized with a spiralizer, marinara sauce made with ground turkey and Italian spices, sparkling mineral water
  • Strawberries, 1 tbsp vanilla yogurt, cocoa powder sprinkling

Sample DASH Diet Recipes

Breakfast

  • Toast made with whole grains, avocado, and smoked salmon
  • Combine equal parts quick oats, unsweetened coconut flakes, raw sunflower seeds, and frozen blueberries in a glass refrigerated container the night before muesli. If you aren't lactose intolerant, mix in 12" unsweetened almond/oat/coconut milk or low-fat dairy milk.

Lunch

  • Make it simple. Prepare a salad with protein for lunch and explore the countless variations on the subject.
  • From scratch: leftover roasted vegetables and grilled chicken atop a bed of butter lettuce drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and premium balsamic vinegar.
  • If you're not at home, make a mixed greens salad without the cheese and top it with chicken, hard-boiled egg, or grass-fed steak if you can. Instead of drenching each bite with dressing, get the most taste by dunking your fork into the mixture before eating.

Dinner

  • Maintain simplicity. Concentrate on a nutritious, tasty veggie preparation, pair it with a protein, and serve with a side of complete grains.
  • Brown rice pilaf flavored with pine nuts, celery, onion, and Provence herbs
  • Wild salmon grilled with cracked pepper
  • Broccolini steamed with a small piece of butter or drizzled with olive oil

Snack

  • The DASH diet snacks consist primarily of fresh fruit and nuts, as well as small quantities of low-fat dairy.

What About Prescription Medications?

three prescription bottles

A large number of people use medication to keep their blood pressure under control. People with mild high blood pressure may find that changing their way of life, which includes eating well and engaging in regular physical activity, is the most effective treatment. When it comes to those who need medicine to control their blood pressure, adopting a healthy lifestyle may help them lessen their reliance on or the amount of medication they need.

A comprehensive healthy lifestyle, including good food, is part of the recommendations for high blood pressure treatment. The guidelines prescribe the following to help you manage your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease:

  • Be active 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week.
  • Choose the following more often: vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, whole grains, and protein from a variety of foods, such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, lean meats, poultry, and fish. Limit fast foods, processed foods because they usually have more sodium and saturated fat.
  • If you are overweight, losing about 10 lb (5 kg) will lower your blood pressure. Reducing your weight to within a healthy range for your age and gender will lower your blood pressure even more.

Reduce your salt intake by: 

  • reducing your use of salt in cooking and at the table; 
  • and avoiding highly processed meals.
  • Choosing fresh or plain frozen vegetables and fruit and avoiding high-salt canned or prepared foods
  • Using additional flavors such as herbs, spices, lemon juice, and garlic during food preparation and 
  • examining the Nutrition Facts table on food packages for sodium content
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day, with a weekly maximum of 10 for women and 3 drinks per day, with a weekly maximum of 15 for men if you use alcohol. Avoid drinking if you are driving a vehicle, taking medications or other drugs that interact with alcohol, pregnant or intending to become pregnant, making important decisions, participating in any type of dangerous physical activity, suffering from alcohol dependence or mental health problems, and/or are responsible for the safety of others. If you are concerned about how drinking may be affecting your health, you should consult with your physician).
  • Maintain a smoke-free environment. If you have hypertension, it is critical to quit smoking. Tobacco use raises the chance of acquiring heart disease and other chronic diseases. Additionally, your home and office should be smoke-free.
  • Take your medication exactly as directed.
  • Regularly check your blood pressure.
  • Consume no sugar-sweetened beverages. Rather than that, choose safe drinking water, low-fat milk, or tea.

Conclusion

It takes a lifetime commitment to make healthy lifestyle choices in order to change your nutrition. Instead of making a drastic adjustment in their diet all at once, those who make moderate changes over time are more likely to stick with their healthier eating habits.

You should first consult with your healthcare professional if you are thinking about beginning the DASH diet program.

Paolo Reyna | Paolo is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, majoring in International Studies with a Latin American emphasis. During the fall semester of 2012, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Peru, which piqued his interest in international growth. He learned about the disparities that impact indigenous peoples, got a taste of Peruvian culture, and improved his Spanish skills. Mitchel interned with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, conducting research on food security in Latin America, after being inspired by his foreign experience. He wants to work in international development and for a government department, writing legislation. He loves playing intramural basketball and practicing for the Chicago marathon when he is not thinking about current events in Latin America.

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