DASH Diet: Is It A Healthy Diet For Lowering Blood Pressure 2023?
The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan specific for treating and preventing high blood pressure. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
Foods included in the DASH diet are extremely rich in particular nutrients that help to control blood pressure, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It also encourages limited to no foods high in added sugar, salt, and saturated fat.
The DASH diet is very effective and can decrease a person’s blood pressure in just two weeks. Furthermore, it can reduce one’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels which is essential if you are worried about heart disease and stroke, as high LDL cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for these.
What Is A DASH Diet?
The DASH diet is more of a lifestyle change than a diet. It focuses on flexibility and balance and thus helps to create heart-healthy habits that are sustainable in the long term. In addition, it uses foods that can be found in every grocery store and is easy to follow.
The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute helped develop the DASH diet. They created the diet after researchers found that vegans and vegetarians had significantly lower blood pressure than their carnivore peers. Therefore, they formed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes low-fat dairy foods, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans. Intake of other foods such as salt, added sugars, full-fat dairy, and red meat is discouraged.
The main driving force behind the benefit of this diet for people with hypertension is thought to be lowering sodium intake. This diet does not allow more than one teaspoon of salt daily. One teaspoon is equal to approximately 2300 mg of sodium. These recommendations mimic the Dietary Guidelines for Americans put out by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Benefits Of DASH Diet
Along with helping those who suffer from hypertension, the DASH diet can provide numerous health benefits, including decreasing your risk of cancer and even helping with weight loss.
The DASH diet can benefit your health in the following ways:
Lower Blood Pressure
- The first number (systolic blood pressure): The pressure (in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg) exerted against the walls of your arteries from the force of a heartbeat
- The second number (diastolic blood pressure): The force remaining against the walls of your arteries in between heartbeats; a measure of peripheral vascular resistance
When documenting blood pressure readings, the systolic number is placed above the diastolic pressure number. Normal blood pressure is described as one less than 120/80 mmHg (119/79 or lower). Fascinatingly, the DASH diet has shown lowered blood pressure in not only people with high blood pressure but also in people with healthy blood pressure levels.
On average, research has proven that using the DASH diet as the only intervention for reducing blood pressure can lower systolic blood pressure by 6 to 11 mm Hg. Furthermore, the DASH diet has been shown to not only can decrease blood pressure but also lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.
You can shed a few pounds as an added perk of following the DASH diet. Losing weight is a bonus toward normalizing blood pressure, and most people with hypertension are encouraged to lose weight for this very reason. Generally, your blood pressure tends to be higher if you weigh more.
Many studies have shown that along with exercise, the DASH diet can help you lose weight. Of note, the study participants also followed a calorie restriction, meaning they ate fewer calories than they burned throughout the day.
Given this information, there is evidence that more than adapting the DASH diet is needed to promote weight loss. Thus, the DASH diet combined with exercise and calorie reduction is a great way to lose weight.
Another benefit of following the DASH diet is the fact that it may have anti-cancer properties. For example, a study published in July 2020 showed that women who adhered to the DASH diet had a lower likelihood of developing breast cancer. In addition, a meta-analysis study performed in 2020 showed that adherence to the DASH diet was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Healthier Gut Microbiome
We are only now learning the positive impact on health that comes from a healthy gut and a favorable balance of good intestinal bacteria, from the aforementioned weight loss, cancer prevention, and heart health to discouraging the onset of insulin resistance and diabetes.
The DASH diet, while beneficial for some people, can also have its potential downsides, such as
The DASH diet plan involves a lot of planning and forethought because of the promotion of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. This is quite a lifestyle change if you are not used to following or preparing meal plans and cooking most of your meals. In that case, the DASH diet will require you to consider your food choices and possibly obtain guidance from a registered dietitian or another medical professional.
Some foods allowed on the DASH diet are unhealthy and may not be appropriate to ward off heart disease and other adverse health effects.
For example, pretzels are an approved food choice and come from the grain group even though they contain hardly any fiber or nutrition. (Salted pretzels, well, you can imagine.) Frozen yogurt is another questionable food because while it is deemed acceptable, it is typically loaded with sugar. Lastly, cereals are a generally allowed food even though multiple kinds of cereal are incredibly high in sugar and low in fiber and other nutrients.
The DASH diet tends to be very high in fiber due to the high fruit and vegetable consumption. Therefore, some people not used to high fiber may find the sudden increase gives them an upset stomach through bloating and gas. You can help fight off these negative impacts by slowly adding high-fiber foods over several weeks rather than all at once.
DASH Diet Food List
Specific foods aren’t listed in the DASH diet. Instead, it gives the serving sizes you should have for each food group. Your calorie levels determine the number of servings allowed in each group.
Below is an example of a dash diet menu list with servings allowed in a 2,000-calorie diet.
Grains (Mostly From Whole Grains), 6 To 8 Servings Daily
One serving is equivalent to one ounce of dry cereal, half a cup of cooked pasta or cooked rice, or one slice of bread.
Examples of grains include
- Tortilla shells
- Pita bread
Vegetables, 4-5 Servings Daily
One serving is equivalent to one cup of leafy green vegetables or a half cup of cooked vegetables or dry beans.
Examples of vegetables include
- Bell peppers
- Butter lettuce
- Potatoes, including white and sweet potatoes
Fruits, 4 To 5 Servings Daily
One serving is equivalent to one medium whole fruit, one-fourth cup of dried fruit (unsweetened), or half a cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.
Examples of fruits include
Dairy, 2 To 3 Servings Daily
One serving is equivalent to one cup of yogurt, one cup of milk, or 1.5 ounces of cheese.
Examples of dairy include
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy products: Cow’s milk, cheese, frozen yogurt
- Fortified soy beverages
- Lactose-free products
Lean Meats, Fish, Poultry, And Eggs, Six Servings Or Less Daily
One serving is equivalent to one ounce of cooked fish, poultry, fish, or one egg.
Examples of lean meat, fish, and poultry:
Fats And Oils, 2 To 3 Servings Daily
One serving is equivalent to one teaspoon of vegetable oil, margarine, or two tablespoons of salad dressing.
Examples of fats and oils include
- Canola oil
- Corn oil
- Olive oil
- Safflower oil
- Salad dressing
Nuts, Seeds, And Legumes, 4-5 Servings Weekly
One serving is equivalent to two tablespoons of seeds, 1.5 ounces of unsalted nuts, half a cup of cooked legumes, or two tablespoons of nut butter.
Examples of nuts, seeds, and legumes:
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
Added Sugars And Sweets, Less Than Five Servings Weekly
One serving is equivalent to one tablespoon of table sugar, half a cup of sherbet, or one cup of sugar-sweetened beverages
Examples of added sugars and sweets:
- Table sugar
DASH Diet Sample Meal Plan
This sample DASH diet menu is based on the 2000 calories per day diet. This meal plan also stays below the recommended sodium intake of 2300 milligrams.
- 1 half-cup oatmeal
- 1 slice whole wheat toast topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1 medium banana
- 1 cup of low-fat milk
- Unsweetened coffee
- 2 slices (3 ounces) chicken breast, skinless
- 2 pieces whole wheat bread
- Reduced-fat cheddar cheese
- 2 large leaves of romaine lettuce
- 2 slices tomato
- 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
- 1 cup cantaloupe pieces
- 1 cup fresh pineapple
- 1 cup cooked whole wheat spaghetti noodles
- Three-fourths cup low-salt spaghetti sauce
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
- 2-3 ounces lean ground turkey
- 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
- One-fourth cup fresh carrots
- 1 tablespoon vinegar and oil dressing
- One-third cup almonds (unsalted)
- One-fourth cup dried apricots
- 1 cup fat-free yogurt
Research has shown that the dash eating plan is effective to reduce blood pressure. In addition, this diet can also help to lower your risk of cancer and help you lose a few pounds along the way. Therefore, if you are struggling to lower your blood pressure or have a salt sensitivity, this may be the diet for you.
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