High blood pressure is defined as BP readings higher than 130/80. This is called the silent killer and is often responsible for strokes and heart attacks. It is also rampant in today’s world due to our lifestyles.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a healthy-eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). It was conceptualised in April 1997 when researchers studied over 400 individuals with high blood pressure and found that the eating plan could substantially lower blood pressure. Similar studies over the years have consistently yielded the same results.
The DASH diet includes foods that are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium. These nutrients help control blood pressure. The diet recommends limiting foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. Why does this work so well against hypertension? It’s actually the combination of foods in the diet that work together to bring blood pressure down.
DASH diet has been known to Additionally, it can also lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood.
DASH diet and sodium
The DASH diet is lower in sodium than a typical diet, which can include a whopping 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium or more a day.
The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day. It meets the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines to keep daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day. That’s roughly the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of table salt.
A lower sodium version of DASH restricts sodium to 1,500 mg a day.
The diet is simple:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
- Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
- Eat more whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts
- Limit sodium, sweets, sugary drinks, and red meats
- Choose foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fibre and protein
You can further reduce sodium by:
- Using sodium-free spices or flavourings instead of salt
- Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
- Choosing plain fresh, frozen or canned vegetables
- Choosing fresh or frozen skinless poultry, fish, and lean cuts of meat
- Reading food labels and choosing low-sodium or no-salt-added options
It may be difficult for one to adjust to the taste of a low-sodium diet but your palate will soon get acclimatised and it can, in fact, become a way of life for you.
What to Eat when you are on the DASH Diet?
Here are the foods to include in your DASH diet meal plan, including how many servings to aim for based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet, per the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Fruits and Vegetables (4 to 5 Servings Each Per Day)
Since the DASH diet is heavy on fruit and vegetables, try your hardest to get the NHLBI-recommended five servings of each every day, including produce like:
Whole Grains (6 to 8 Servings Per Day)
Get enough fibre and other nutrients by eating plenty of whole grains, such as:
- Brown rice
- Whole-wheat bread and pasta
Unsalted Nuts/Seeds/Legumes (4 to 5 Servings Per Week)
You should aim to eat nuts, seeds and legumes (unsalted or lightly salted) four to five times per week, including:
- Lentils like beans, peas and lentils
Lean Proteins (6 or Fewer Servings Per Day)
Limit your saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Cutting back on red meat is a great idea, and instead, prioritize these sources of lean protein:
- Chicken breast
- Lean pork
- Turkey Breast
Other recommendations to consider are:
- Choose low-fat dairy to keep your saturated fat down, and aim for two servings each day.
- Limit your alcohol to no more than one drink per day for people assigned female at birth and two for people assigned male at birth.
- Finally, stay away from highly processed foods, refined sugars and fried foods.
Potential benefits of the DASH diet
Apart from providing you with plenty of nutrients from whole foods, DASH diet benefits include:
It can lower blood pressure
Research suggests that following the DASH diet can lower your blood pressure, whether or not you have hypertension, to begin with.
It may support weight loss
The DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables while decreasing salt intake from processed foods, all of which can contribute to weight loss. People lose an average of about eight pounds while following the eating plan.
It can lower blood sugar and cholesterol
The National Center for Biotechnology Information also indicates that the DASH diet can help you control your blood sugar and lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
It may lower your risk for certain diseases
Sustained adherence to the DASH diet may also benefit your long-term well-being. That’s because lowering your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides can promote heart health, which can lower your risk for conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Breast cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Metabolic syndrome, which raises your risk for type 2 diabetes
Risks of the DASH diet
For the majority of those with high blood pressure, the DASH diet is a safe eating plan that may help improve health. But there are some drawbacks to keep in mind, including:
It may not be safe if you have kidney problems
The high amounts of potassium in this diet may not be appropriate for you if you have any kidney issues.
It may cause (temporary) digestive symptoms
A DASH diet menu is typically full of nutritious, fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This may result in more normal bowel movements and healthy gut functioning. So, if you’re new to a high-fibre eating plan, you may experience digestive symptoms at first while your body adjusts.
Hypertension is a lifestyle-driven disease in most cases. It can be easily reduced and controlled by lifestyle modifications that include diet, exercise, stress reduction, and good sleep among, other things. The DASH diet is a time-tested diet modification that has significantly reduced hypertension in people and is a scientifically proven method to improve your health and reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.
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