Diet and Nutrition

What is the DASH diet?

What is the DASH diet?

DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a flexible eating plan developed by experts to lower blood pressure. Although the diet was developed for people with hypertension, it was found to be effective in losing weight, and also in reducing diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other health issues.

DASH diet is one of the most effective diets which has influenced millions of people in leading healthy and disease-free lives. It has created awareness among people on how reducing the intake of sodium in daily life has a positive change on the human body. The DASH diet was also found to be associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, kidney stones, and cancer.

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The DASH diet stresses on eating healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables and reducing the intake of sodium. The diet, if followed stringently, is supposed to reduce the blood pressure levels by a few points within a few weeks.

Since sodium is the main culprit in increasing blood pressure, this eating plan reduces the intake of sodium.

Basic Forms of the DASH Diet

There are two basic forms of this diet:

  • Standard DASH diet – In this plan, about 2,300 mg of sodium intake is allowed. This provides the daily dose of sodium as recommended by Dietary Guidelines.
  • Low sodium DASH diet – Sodium consumption in the plan is reduced to 1,500 mg. This meal plan is more useful for middle aged people and those who have high blood pressure.

A typical diet plan in DASH includes a lot of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, and poultry. The various food groups are taken based on the calorie need of the individual. The salt level is reduced gradually through weeks to allow the body to adjust to the change.

Major Components of the DASH Diet 

The major components of the diet are:

  • Grains – Foods like cereal, bread, rice and pasta are allowed about 6 to 8 servings in a day. Whole grain products containing more fiber and nutrients are preferred to the processed versions.
  • Vegetables – About four to five servings of different vegetables including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, greens and other vegetables are included in the plan. While choosing frozen vegetables, low-sodium version is preferred to salted products. 
  • Fruits – Like vegetables, a good blend of fruits is also included in about four to five servings. This helps to provide required amounts of fiber and minerals like magnesium and potassium.
  • Low-fat dairy products – To obtain the recommended amounts of calcium, protein and vitamin D, about two to three servings of low-fat dairy products are also included. Regular and fat-free cheeses that are high on sodium are avoided.
  • Lean meat, poultry and fish – These provide proteins, vitamin B and minerals like iron and zinc. But the portion sizes of these foods are kept low to reduce fat intake. Frying is avoided and instead poached, broiled and grilled versions are preferred.
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes – To provide the required amount of proteins, magnesium and potassium, about one to two servings of nuts and beans are included in the plan everyday.
  • Fats and oils – Calories obtained from these form just 30% or less. Focus of the diet plan is on healthy unsaturated fatty acids. In a day, only two to three servings of these are allowed.
  • Sweets – One is allowed to have one serving of sweets every day, but added sugar is avoided as much as possible.

DASH Diet and High Blood Pressure

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and most of the doctors recommend the DASH diet to their patients to reduce high blood pressure and to control it. The diet designed to control blood pressure or hypertension is a lifelong approach to healthy eating habits. It is also helps in reducing the effect of sodium in the diet and encourages people to eat a variety of food including various vegetables and fruits to get all essential minerals like potassium, calcium and magnesium.

The diet is simple to follow and very effective in helping you to remain healthy and free of disease. Follow the below given tips and bring positive changes in life.

  • You have to eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
  • Reduce food items that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats.
  • Make use of more whole-grain foods along with fish, poultry and nuts which are most effective.
  • You have to limit sodium and products such as sweets, sugary drinks and red meat as well.
  • Research conducted among patients suffering from blood pressure showed that patients who were on the DASH diet and were following the instructions clearly were able to control their blood pressure and lowered it to normal within 2 weeks.

DASH-Sodium Diet

Another form of the DASH diet called DASH-Sodium is mainly used for reducing sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day which is about 2/3 of a teaspoon. According to the observation, it is found that people on the DASH-Sodium plan lowered their blood pressure completely within a few days.

The DASH diet allows for a certain number of servings daily from various food groups, which may vary depending on how many calories you need per day.

If you find it difficult to limit your sodium intake to the exact amount as prescribed in the DASH diet, you can lessen it gradually. You can start limiting yourself to about 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day which is equal to about 1 teaspoon and once your body gets adjusted to the diet, cut back to 1,500 milligrams of sodium for a day which is 2/3 of a teaspoon. The specified amount of sodium is including both, the sodium in processed foods allowed in the diet and the sodium used in the food that is prepared.

DASH Diet Tips

  • You can have a serving of vegetables during lunch and also during dinner.
  • Add a serving of fruit to the meals or consume as snacks. Canned or dried fruits are easy to use, but make sure that they do not have added sugar.
  • Make use of only half of the typical serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing. Also, you can use low-fat or fat-free condiments.
  • You can drink low-fat or skim dairy products which are highly tasty and you can have them at any time and avoid drinks made of full-fat or cream.
  • Limit meat products to about 6 ounces for a day. Also, make use of vegetarian items in meals.
  • You can also have green vegetables and dry beans which add color and protein to your meal.
  • One should go for unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat and fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn with no butter, and raw vegetables. And you should avoid eating chips or sweets as snacks.
  • Always make a habit of reading the food labels which help you to choose the products which your prefer the most and you will know the exact calories so you can choose products low in sodium.

DASH Diet Plan

The suggested DASH diet which one should follow:

  • Grains: 7-8 daily servings
  • Green vegetables and other vegetables: 4-5 daily servings
  • Fruits: 4-5 daily servings
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 daily servings

Along with the diet, the person should remain active and the best way is to start doing simple exercises which can help to lower the blood pressure.

The other types of food products allowed are:

  • Meat, poultry, and fish: 2 or less daily servings
  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings
  • Sweets: try to limit to less than 5 servings per week

How much is one serving?

While following the diet, one should follow the instructions closely. You have to eat the particular quantity of particular foods.

Here is a guideline to one serving of some allowed foods:

  • 1/2 cup - cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 slice - bread
  • 1 cup - raw vegetables or fruit
  • 1/2 cup - cooked veggies or fruit
  • 8 ounces - milk
  • 1 teaspoon - olive oil or any other oil
  • 3 ounces - cooked meat
  • 3 ounces – tofu

The DASH diet mainly emphasizes on vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy products and moderate amount of grains, fish, poultry and nuts which is highly essential. Also along with the suggested diet, there is a lower sodium version of the diet which is extremely beneficial for people who wish to cut down on the use of sodium in their daily diet.

The purpose of the DASH diet is to reduce the percentage of sodium from the diet compared to a typical diet of a person in daily life where a person usually has nearly 3,500 milligrams of sodium in everyday life. The DASH diet follows the standard recommendations specified by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to keep the daily percentage of sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams a day.