What is a DASH Diet? Reveal the Benefits and Risks, Find Plans and Guidebooks.

What is a DASH diet?

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute which is a part of the NIH, a United States government organization, to control hypertension.

A DASH diet is based on strategies that have been used by the health professionals and patients for years to improve weight and health.

The basic principle of the DASH diet is to focus on eating more of the good foods and fewer of the bad. The DASH diet is actually a whole-foods, plant-based eating plan, which means you can enjoy lots of delicious, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

The food that you eat affects many things, including your body’s ability to process glucose and insulin, and the levels of key chemicals in the body that control inflammation.

The best part is that, thanks to the DASH diet, these principles are easy to achieve. By focusing on plant-based foods, you can still enjoy delicious meals that are nutritious, easy to prepare, and healthy.

Main Benefits of a DASH Diet

People who follow a DASH diet:

  • lower blood pressure
  • are less likely to get diabetes or stroke
  • may reduce their risk of heart disease
  • are more likely to feel better overall and to have improved cholesterol
  • can lose weight and keep it off

Typical Diet

A major feature of the DASH diet plan is limiting intake of sodium.

Just as important as the things you can eat, are the things that you can eliminate from your diet. According to the American Heart Association, nearly one in three adults have some form of cardiovascular disease. The DASH diet will help improve your cardiovascular health by focusing on the following:

  • Low-fat, plant-based foods – Instead of processed foods, choose whole plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds
  • Fresh, non-pasteurized dairy – Dairy products should be limited to organic, non-pasturized options, and consumed less often
  • Plant-based proteins – Enjoy beans, nuts, and seeds more often
  • High-fiber foods – Focus on whole grains, high-fiber vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains
  • Plant-based fats – Include avocado, nuts, seeds, olives, and olive oil

What to eat when on a DASH diet?

It also generally encourages the consumption of:

  • nuts,
  • whole grains,
  • fish,
  • poultry,
  • fruits and
  • vegetables

What to avoid when on a DASH diet?

While you are on a DASH diet, think of lowering the consumption of:

  • red meats,
  • sweets, and
  • sugar

What is the DASH diet based on?

The DASH diet is based on NIH studies that examined three dietary plans and their results. None of the plans were vegetarian, but the DASH plan incorporated more than the others studied:

  • fruits and vegetables,
  • low fat or nonfat dairy, beans, and nuts

The food should be rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.

What are the Risks of a DASH diet?

Some health problems may occur when you follow a DASH diet. For example, you may develop constipation, or diarrhea.

Low potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous levels can occur with DASH diet. Therefore, you should take a mineral supplement or consult a health care provider to make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of these important nutrients.

A lack of certain nutrients can affect your nervous system and mental health. Make sure your diet will not affect brain and will not cause mental health problems.

The DASH diet can make it harder to lose weight. It has been shown that this diet increases energy and reduces satiety. You should check with a doctor if you want to lose weight, and ask your doctor or dietitian before starting this diet. A DASH diet may increase your risk of gout. You should avoid foods that are high in purines.

The DASH diet may help control type 2 diabetes, but there is no evidence it will help people lose weight.

DASH Diet Plan

Not only does the DASH diet plan emphasizes good eating habits, but also suggests healthy alternatives to “junk food” and discourages the consumption of processed foods. Low-sodium alternatives of salty foods, along with proper hydration, are also important parts of the DASH diet plan. So, when choosing DASH diet plan meals and snacks, make sure you always opt in for foods and beverages that are low in sodium.

The DASH diet reduced systolic blood pressure by 6 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 3 mm Hg in patients with normal blood pressure. Those with hypertension dropped by 11 and 6, respectively.

Find out more about blood pressure

There are several eating plans included in the diet, with the daily caloric intake ranging from 1699 to 3100 dietary calories. In terms of total fat, the DASH recommends reducing intake to 20-30% of total daily calories, with the consumption of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while minimizing intake of saturated fat. The DASH diet plan recommends increasing intake of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, including walnuts, canola oil, flaxseed, soybeans, and nuts.

DASH Diet Guidebook

The NIH has published a Dash diet plan guidebook, “Your Guide to Lowering your Blood Pressure With DASH”, which details the nutrition facts of popular mainstream food items and their healthy alternatives.

The manual also provides samples of meal plans and proportions along with their associated nutritional information. The last pages of the manual provide a list of resources and how to obtain them.

The meal plans have also been published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and they are known for being healthy, easy to follow, nutritious and effective.