DASH Diet: Eating to Fuel Your Heart

The DASH Diet is continually ranked #1 or #2 for Best Overall Diets according to the US News for over ten years, and there are many reasons for this. If you are interested in eating to support your heart health, consider changing your eating pattern to follow the DASH Diet.

What is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a healthy-eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). However, DASH doesn’t just improve hypertension, it also reduces overall risk of chronic diseases. When people have high blood pressure for a prolonged period of time without keeping it under control, some serious complications could develop including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney damage, eye damage, dementia, aneurysm, and others1,2.

It is commonly referred to as an eating plan rather than simply a diet, as it is not solely intended for weight loss, and is an overall lifestyle change. DASH is a great way to add flexibility and variety to your diet to improve your health!

DASH focuses on foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium as these nutrients help control blood pressure3. The diet limits foods that are higher in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.

DASH and Sodium:

The DASH diet is lower in sodium than a typical American diet, which can include a staggering 3,400 mg of sodium or more a day3.

The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day to follow the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans4.

Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks3. The diet can also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood. Both blood pressure and cholesterol levels can reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases.

How to start the DASH:

Giving reason to its high grades on US News, DASH does not restrict whole food groups, allowing flexibility to stick to the plan long-term. Incorporating DASH into your life does not have to be a drastic change all at once. Here are some simple tips to start:

  • Add one vegetable or fruit to each meal. Start with your favorites then slowly branch out. Aiming for a variety of colors (giving you a variety of vitamins and minerals).
  • Filling up on vegetables and fruit first during a meal or snack will allow you to eat less calorie dense foods.
  • Introduce one or two plant based meals or meals without meat each week.
  • Use herbs and spices without salt to flavor meals. Try adding garlic powder, black pepper, basil, or thyme to add flavor to food.
  • Set yourself up for success by having healthy snacks ready to eat. Choosing unsalted almonds or bell pepper and hummus over a bag of chips.
  • Try slowly adding exercise in by taking a 15-minute walk after lunch or dinner.
  • Choose plain fruits and vegetables that are fresh or frozen that do not have added sauces or flavorings.
  • Switch grains to whole wheat when possible. Try swapping white rice for brown rice, or regular pasta for whole wheat pasta.
  • Don’t worry about a slip-up. As you start this lifestyle change, remember that it is about small sustainable changes. Write down your goals to help stay on track.

DASH Recommendations:

Food group recommendations are based on your calorie goals. These recommendations are for a 2,000-calorie diet. Talk to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to find a calorie goal right for you!

Food Group

Number of Recommended Daily Servings

Grains (focusing on whole grains)

6-8

Meats, Poultry, Fish (focusing on lean protein)

6 or less

Vegetables

4-5

Fruit

4-5

Low-fat or Fat-free Dairy

2-3

Fats (focusing on monounsaturated fats)

2-3

Sodium

2,300 mg or less

 

Studies Supporting DASH:

Four National Heart Lung and Blood Institute funded studies tested the health benefits of the DASH diet by comparing the DASH diet with the typical American diet and by comparing different variations of the DASH diet.

Another NHLBI-funded study, the PREMIER clinical trial, measured the health benefits of following the DASH diet and increasing physical activity. The results of these studies showed that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol in the blood5. The studies showed that adherence to a DASH diet with increased fruit and vegetable intake, decreased sodium intake, and decreased saturated fat intake had the greatest results and improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure5.

Furthermore, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that men and women younger than 75 who most closely followed the DASH diet had a significantly lower risk of heart failure compared to study participants who did not follow the DASH diet6.

Lastly, in a meta-analysis conducted in 2020, 30 randomized controlled trials showed that adoption of the DASH diet was accompanied by significant blood pressure reduction in adults with and without hypertension. Compared with a control diet, the DASH diet significantly reduced both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure (difference in means: −3.2 mm Hg; 95% CI: −4.2, −2.3 mm Hg; P < 0.001, and −2.5 mm Hg; 95% CI: −3.5, −1.5 mm Hg; P < 0.001, respectively)7.

Main Takeaways

DASH is a flexible, safe, and healthy way to treat or reduce risk of heart disease, like hypertension. This diet can be a sustainable, long-term choice to improve your heart health.

DASH encourages fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein choices, while discourages foods with added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have more questions about starting this healthy eating plan.

Citations

  1. Diastole vs. Systole: Guide to Blood Pressure. Healthline. Published May 30, 2018. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/diastole-vs-systole
  2. High blood pressure (hypertension) - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410
  3. How to make the DASH diet work for you. Mayo Clinic. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456
  4. Home | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Accessed August 6, 2021. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
  5. DASH Eating Plan | NHLBI, NIH. Accessed August 5, 2021. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
  6. The DASH diet: A great way to eat foods that are healthy AND delicious - Harvard Health. Accessed August 10, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-dash-diet-a-great-way-to-eat-foods-that-are-healthy-and-delicious-2019072517326
  7. Filippou CD, Tsioufis CP, Thomopoulos CG, et al. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(5):1150-1160. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa041

 

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