The DASH Diet

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Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, and it can exacerbate high blood pressure (also known by its medical term, hypertension) that you may already have. One diet that the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend to help manage high blood pressure is the DASH diet.

What Is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” and provides an eating plan for reducing blood pressure and preventing hypertension.

In select patients with only minimal elevations in blood pressure, this and adequate daily physical activity may be enough to keep blood pressure controlled. For most patients, this dietary plan is part of a broader approach to control blood pressure that includes appropriate medications, weight management, exercise, smoking cessation, and reduction of other cardiovascular risk factors.

The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are the two dietary styles recommended by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for the prevention of stroke.​

The DASH diet provides an eating plan that follows principles geared toward reducing total fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol intake, as well as increasing intake of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber foods. Importantly, the DASH diet is high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium (essential elements that all help to control blood pressure), and low in salt and sodium.

How to Change to the DASH Eating Plan

A good guide to follow if you are serious about switching to the DASH eating plan is that provided by the NHLBI, titled “Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure.”

The DASH eating plan is based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet (which is more than most women need, and more than some men need), so if you are trying to lose weight while following the DASH diet, you will also need to reduce your calorie intake while following the basic DASH principles.

However, you will find that the basic elements of the DASH diet are these: at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, incorporation of whole grains into your diet, greater intake of nuts, seeds, and dry beans, limitation of lean meats, limitation of sweets and moderate intake of low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

DASH for Weight Loss?

As noted above, the DASH eating plan was not originally designed specifically for weight loss, but can be adapted to achieve weight management goals. Because it is rich in low-calorie foods like vegetables and fruits, you can further reduce calories by eating many more of those whole fruits and veggies. This has the added benefit of helping to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease as well.

A report by the World Health Organization has stated that there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity. Compared to high-calorie foods such as processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, fruits and vegetables are less likely to contribute to obesity or overweight.

And, because they contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.

Luckily, the DASH diet, as noted above, makes it easy—and healthy—to incorporate more of those fruits and vegetables into your daily life.

Sources

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Your guide to lowering blood pressure. Accessed online at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/hbp_low.pdf on February 12, 2015.

Information sheet: promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world. World Health Organization. Accessed online on February 12, 2015.

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