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What is the DASH Diet and Why Should You Care?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 75 million Americans have high blood pressure or hypertension – that’s roughly 1 in 3 adults. Hypertension is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke, so you can see why that number is so significant. Furthermore, only about 54% of people who have hypertension have it under control[1].

While there are medications available to regulate blood pressure, natural remedies are often a better option than prescription drugs. One of the best ways to manage your blood sugar is through making healthy changes to your diet. In fact, there is a special diet developed by the American Heart Association specifically for this purpose – the DASH diet. Keep reading to learn more.

What is the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet is a simple and natural approach to reducing high blood pressure. The name of the diet is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it is designed to be a lifelong approach to healthy eating. In addition to eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, this diet advocates for reduced sodium intake to help lower blood pressure. In fact, by following the DASH diet for just two weeks, you could drop your systolic blood pressure by as much as 8 to 14 points. Not only that, but it can improve your overall health and significantly reduce your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

So, what exactly does the DASH diet look like? Here are some of the hallmarks of this eating plan[2]:

  • Monitor sodium intake – no more than 2,300 mg per day
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products
  • Aim for 6 to 8 servings per day of whole grains
  • Eat 4 to 5 servings per day of both fruits and vegetables
  • Limit your intake of meat, poultry, and fish to 6 servings a day or less
  • Eat nuts, seeds, and legumes 4 to 5 times per week
  • Limit your intake of red meat, sweets, and fats
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol, no more than one or two drinks a day

By following these DASH diet guidelines, you can significantly improve your hypertension and in less time than you might imagine. Not only that, but you may experience weight loss as an added benefit. The DASH diet is not specifically designed for weight loss, but following a healthier diet and limiting your intake of sugary, fatty, and processed foods may help you lose weight.

10 Tips for Getting Started on the DASH Diet

The DASH diet is intended to be a lifelong approach to healthy eating, not just a fad diet that you follow for a few weeks and then forget. This being the case, it is a good idea to transition yourself slowly onto the diet, so the recommended changes become easier to maintain. Any time you may major changes to your diet, it is a good idea to transition slowly to avoid any negative side effects. Here are some simple tips for getting started with the DASH diet:

  1. Switch to using fresh herbs, spices, and salt-free blends to flavor your food instead of table salt
  2. Avoid adding salt when cooking rice, pasta, or vegetables at home
  3. Rinse beans and other canned goods to remove excess salt before consuming
  4. Buy low-sodium or no-salt-added foods whenever possible
  5. Add an extra serving of fruit and vegetables to your lunches and dinners
  6. Swap out processed foods and refined carbs for whole-grain options
  7. Make vegetables the star of your meals rather than proteins or unhealthy fats
  8. Focus on lean proteins like poultry, fish, and seafood while eating less red meat
  9. Switch to low-fat dairy products like skim milk and reduced fat cheese
  10. Swap out unhealthy snacks for nuts, fresh fruit, or whole-grain cereal bars

Now that you have a better understanding of what the DASH diet is and how it might help you, talk to your doctor to see whether it might be the right diet for you. Even if you don’t suffer from hypertension right now, if you are at-risk for heart disease it never hurts to exercise a little extra caution. Plus, the DASH diet will help you improve your overall health and wellness too – what more could you ask for?

[1] “High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet.” CDC. <https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm>

[2] “DASH Diet: Healthy Eating to Lower Your Blood Pressure.” Mayo Clinic. <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456>

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