The DASH Diet: A Comprehensive Guide

dash diet basics

If you’re amongst half of the American adults struggling with getting their high blood pressure under control, it’s time to start looking at the foods you eat on a regular basis. Making some simple dietary changes can be the most effective way to naturally reduce high blood pressure and maintain healthy levels to improve your overall health and wellness. But just as with any diet change, the process can be intimidating. The DASH diet is designed to help people develop a healthy eating plan that helps treat or prevent high blood pressure naturally.

What is the DASH Diet?

The DASH Diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension” and it is a healthy eating plan designed to reduce blood pressure naturally through simple changes in the diet. It’s based on clinical studies supporting the positive impacts of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lower amounts of cholesterol, saturated fat and total fat. In fact, a study was done on three different styles of eating, and the DASH diet had the greatest effects on blood pressure and was also able to reduce total cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol. Most compelling, these positive effects appeared within two weeks of starting the plan.

But what is the DASH diet, exactly?

The DASH diet encourages a person to consume less sodium and increase their intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium by focusing on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and some lean meats, such as fish, beans and chicken. The diet is low in red meat, added sugars, fat and of course, salt. There is also a strong emphasis on avoiding processed foods (which goes without saying, since these are usually packed with an abundance of salt and other harmful ingredients).

There are two different versions you can choose from:

  • The Standard DASH diet: Encourages no more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg) of sodium per day, which aligns with most national guidelines.
  • The Low Sodium DASH diet: Encourages no more than ¾ teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

Most Americans consume 3,600 mg of sodium or more each day, so both DASH diet plans reduce sodium consumption.

Who Can Benefit from the DASH Diet?

At first glance, you may think that the DASH diet is only for those struggling to control their blood pressure levels. After all, it was originally designed for people with or who want to prevent hypertension. However, many people can use the DASH diet to address a variety of their health concerns, as it’s been proven to reduce:

As such, the DASH diet can also be used to help manage metabolic syndrome. In fact, studies found that people with metabolic syndrome who ate a DASH diet saw a decrease in systolic pressure by 4.9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and a decrease in diastolic by 1.9 mm HG. It also found that people without metabolic syndrome were able to reduce systolic pressure by 5.2 mm Hg and diastolic by 2.9 mm Hg.

Put all of this together and the DASH diet can effectively lower blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome and without.  There is also evidence showing that this style of eating can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and can improve life expectancy. The DASH diet is recommended by the National Kidney Foundation for people with kidney disease.

Here’s a quick recap of who can benefit from the DASH diet:

  • People with hypertension
  • Anyone wanting to prevent high blood pressure
  • People with metabolic syndrome
  • People without metabolic syndrome
  • People with Gout
  • People with kidney disease
  • People at high risk of colorectal cancer
  • Anyone who wants to improve life expectancy

The Benefits That Make the DASH Diet So Powerful

Various research shows that following the DASH diet can help lower and prevent blood pressure, prevent the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, kidney disease, and gout, and so much more. So, whether you’re struggling to control your high blood pressure or already have optimal numbers and are considering the DASH diet for other reasons, let’s take a look at the many ways it can improve your health.

Reducing or Preventing Blood Pressure

Reducing blood pressure is certainly the main benefit of the DASH diet. After all, that’s what it has been designed to do. This is important, as uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to several complications, including heart attack, stroke, aneurysms, heart failure, eye problems, kidney problems, dementia and many more. So, not only are you able to reduce blood pressure but you can also reduce the risks associated with it.

Interestingly, the DASH diet produced beneficial results in people with and without high blood pressure. So, it can also be used as a preventative measure.

Promote Weight Loss

Weight loss is an additional benefit that most people receive when following this diet plan. Given that the diet consists of eating more fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and reducing sugary, high-fat foods, losing weight tends to follow.

Now, if you do have hypertension and are using the DASH diet to reduce your blood pressure, this benefit can further help you achieve your goal. This is because the more you weight, the higher your blood pressure will likely be. So, by reducing your weight, you can also lower your blood pressure.

Reduced Risk of Cancer

The DASH diet has been proven to be a powerful way to naturally decrease your risk of developing certain cancers, including colorectal and breast cancer.

Decrease Risk of Diabetes

By lowering your high blood pressure and adopting healthier habits in your diet, the DASH diet can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies have also found that it can improve insulin resistance as well.

Decrease Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

The DASH diet lowers the various features of metabolic syndrome, as mentioned above, making it a healthy option for people with metabolic syndrome. However, for people without metabolic syndrome, they can also benefit from this eating plan, as studies have found that it can reduce your risk of developing it by up to 81%.

Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

By reducing your blood pressure, you’re able to improve your heart health and even reduce your risk of heart disease. In fact, some studies found that the DASH diet can reduce your risk of heart disease by 20% and lower your risk of stroke by 29%

Tips For Starting the DASH Diet

Starting any new eating plan takes a little bit of determination, commitment and effort. While the health benefits are certainly an excellent dose of motivation, having a few extra helpful tips in your back pocket can also help.

Here are some tips for starting the DASH diet:

  • Explore the various options: The DASH diet allows for an abundance of variety. So, take some time to explore the delicious and nutritious recipes out there.
  • Purchase DASH cookbooks: While the internet can be an excellent place to find all of the recipes you could ever need, opting for a DASH-specific cookbook can be a stress-free option that saves you from sifting through websites.
  • Keep your plate colourful: Aim to fill your plate with an array of colors from fruits and vegetables.
  • Have two sides: While most people only have one side of veggies with their meals, you’ll want to try to have at least two sides of veggies on the DASH diet.
  • Enjoy fruits for desserts: Skip the pastries and use fruits and fruit-based desserts to curb your cravings.
  • Gradually make changes: If you’re struggling to make the jump right into the DASH diet, it’s recommended to make gradual changes over a couple days or weeks where you slowly add in more vegetables and cut down on unhealthy, fatty products
  • Make a plan: Deciding on the meals you’re going to be having for the upcoming week and making a grocery list of the ingredients you’ll need is a simple tip that can mean the difference between success and failure. 
  • Read the labels: You’ll be surprised at how much sodium is hidden in foods. Get in the habit of always reading the Nutrition Facts label before purchasing (or eating) a food product. You’ll want to look for foods that have 5% daily value or less of sodium per serving, but don’t forget to look at the fat content too.

Almost half of all American adults struggle with high blood pressure but making a few simple dietary changes can have a positive impact on those levels and your overall health. The DASH diet is a healthy eating pattern designed specifically to help people reduce or prevent high blood pressure and all of the risks that come with it.

Alternatively, you can also check out the Blood Pressure Program.

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