Trying Out The DASH Diet? Here are 7 Things You Must Know

Bowl of fruit with white background and dash diet eating plan
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I’ve been reading up on how high blood pressure, or hypertension, affects so many people.

CDC states that nearly half of all Americans, around 116 million, have hypertension, and shockingly, only one in four has it under control.

You should know that making lifestyle changes like exercising more and eating better can really help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.

One effective approach I found is the DASH eating plan.

dash diet - eating plan

It’s designed specifically to combat high blood pressure by limiting sugars, saturated fats, and sodium, and focusing on foods that are good for the heart like fresh fruits and lean proteins.

It’s highly recommended and was even ranked as the second-best diet in 2023 by the US News and World Report, just after the Mediterranean diet.

I’m going to break down now some of its benefits.

1. Potential Weight Loss

DASH diet promotes weight loss by restricting sugars, trans fats, saturated fats, and sodium

The DASH diet signififcantly contributes to weight loss.[1]

This effect could stem from its restrictions on sugars, trans fats, saturated fats, and sodium.

Additionally, adhering to a daily calorie target and eliminating certain foods from your diet can naturally lead to a reduction in calorie intake, which may further support weight loss efforts.

2. Good For Type 2 Diabetes

A research from 2017 indicates that nearly two-thirds of individuals with diabetes also suffer from high blood pressure.[2]

Given that the DASH diet is tailored for those with hypertension, it naturally extends benefits to those who have both diabetes and high blood pressure.

Studuies have shown that the DASH diet can positively impact blood pressure, blood lipids, and even reduce A1C levels, which measure blood glucose over the previous three months.[3]

A follow-up study highlighted that fruits and vegetables were particularly effective in lowering blood pressure among individuals with type 2 diabetes.[4]

3. Good for Blood Pressure and Overall Health

The DASH diet can positively impact reducing blood pressure

Comparing the typical American diet, an American diet enhanced with fruits and vegetables, and the DASH diet revealed that participants following the DASH plan experienced lower blood pressure than those on the other diets.[1]

Further research from this trial indicated that DASH dieters not only reduced their blood pressure but also achieved lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.[1]

The DASH diet’s restriction on salt intake leads to decreased plasma sodium levels, which are associated with lower blood pressure.

Recent findings suggest that adhering to the DASH diet may also lower all-cause mortality, particularly deaths related to heart diseases caused by high blood pressure and cholesterol.[5]

4. Foods You Should Limit on DASH Diet

Foods You Should Decrease While on the DASH Diet

In my experience, it’s been important to cut down on sodium and to steer clear of saturated and trans fats.

Here are some of the foods I try to limit:[2]

  • Fatty meats like ham, bacon, sausage, and steak
  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Sugary drinks
  • Candies and other sweets
  • High-sodium items, such as canned foods, packaged snacks, microwavable meals, deli meats, and certain condiments

5. Go-To Foods

Illustration of Foods You Can Eat on the DASH Diet

This diet doesn’t lock you into eating specific foods daily or restrict entire food groups like the Atkins diet does.

What I appreciate about it is its flexibility, provided you stick to the recommended serving sizes.

Here are the types of foods I focus on in my DASH diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetable oils

When it comes to drinks, most are okay, but I make sure to steer clear of sugary beverages to keep in line with the diet’s guidelines.

6. How Should You Follow the DASH Diet

Starting the DASH diet was pretty straightforward for me. It mainly involves four things:

  1. Figuring out how many calories I need each day
  2. Following suggested serving sizes
  3. Eating the right foods
  4. Getting regular exercise

First, I calculate my daily calorie needs. I take my current weight, age, gender, height into account, and how active I am.

I also considered my goal weight, but since I’m not looking to lose weight with DASH, I used my current weight. There are plenty of tools online where you can input these details to get your daily calorie needs.

Once I had my calorie target, I looked at the recommended servings from different food groups for my plan, which is about 2,000 calories a day.

I came across a detailed plan some months ago and here’s what I aim for:[6]

  • Grains: 6-8 servings a day
  • Meats, poultry, fish: No more than 6 servings a day
  • Vegetables: 4-5 servings a day
  • Fruits: 4-5 servings a day
  • Low-fat dairy: 2-3 servings a day
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 servings a day
  • Sodium: I keep it between 1,500 to 2,300 mg a day
  • Nuts, seeds, beans, and peas: 4 to 5 times a week
  • Sweets: I limit these to about 5 times a week

Recommended Servings on a 2,000-Calorie DASH Diet

For exercise, I make sure to get at least 30 minutes most days, aiming for about 2.5 hours of moderate activity weekly.

If I were trying to lose weight, I’d push for about 60 minutes daily. The routine has helped me manage my diet and stay active.

7. Is It For You?

Nutrition expert MS. RD. Melissa Mitri says that this diet would benefit most people’s health, especially those with high blood pressure since too much salt can worsen this condition.

While this may not be the case in every person with high blood pressure, a good percentage of those with high blood pressure would benefit from a lower sodium diet.

The only cases where this diet may not be appropriate are those with high potassium levels, such as people with kidney disease who have trouble filtering potassium out of their blood.

Since this diet is high in potassium, it could raise potassium levels further and cause further kidney damage.

Pros Cons
Evidence-based health benefits Hard to maintain
Accessible No convenience foods
Flexible No organized support
Nutritional balance Requires substantial food tracking
Designed for lifelong wellness Not designed for weight loss
Backed by major health organizations May not be appropriate for everyone

REFERENCES

  1. Conlin PR. The dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) clinical trial: implications for lifestyle modifications in the treatment of hypertensive patients. Cardiol Rev. 1999 Sep-Oct;7(5):284-8. doi: 10.1097/00045415-199909000-00013. PMID: 11208239.
  2. Campbell AP. DASH Eating Plan: An Eating Pattern for Diabetes Management. Diabetes Spectr. 2017 May;30(2):76-81. doi: 10.2337/ds16-0084. PMID: 28588372; PMCID: PMC5439361.
  3. Azadbakht L, Fard NR, Karimi M, Baghaei MH, Surkan PJ, Rahimi M, Esmaillzadeh A, Willett WC. Effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan on cardiovascular risks among type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized crossover clinical trial. Diabetes Care. 2011 Jan;34(1):55-7. doi: 10.2337/dc10-0676. Epub 2010 Sep 15. PMID: 20843978; PMCID: PMC3005461.
  4. de Paula TP, Steemburgo T, de Almeida JC, Dall’Alba V, Gross JL, de Azevedo MJ. The role of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet food groups in blood pressure in type 2 diabetes. Br J Nutr. 2012 Jul 14;108(1):155-62. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511005381. Epub 2011 Dec 6. PMID: 22142820.
  5. Soltani S, Arablou T, Jayedi A, Salehi-Abargouei A. Adherence to the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet in relation to all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Nutr J. 2020 Apr 22;19(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s12937-020-00554-8. PMID: 32321528; PMCID: PMC7178992.
  6. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2021, December 29). DASH eating plan. NHLBI, NIH. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/education/dash-eating-plan

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