The full form of the DASH diet is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
One of the foremost recognized dietary strategies for lowering hypertension is the DASH diet, which significantly reduces blood pressure among hypertensive people. Additionally, DASH diet also helps to prevent hypertension in people with normal blood pressure.
Hypertension or High Blood Pressure, as it is commonly known is regarded as a silent killer. The fast pace of life, mental and physical pressure, environmental pollution all these have a role to play in the rise in blood pressure. According to the Joint National Committee 7(JNC7), normal blood pressure is a systolic BP < 120 mm Hg and diastolic BP < 80 mm Hg. But if you’ve got a systolic BP level of ≥140 mm Hg and/or diastolic BP level ≥ 90 mmHg, then you are a patient of high blood pressure or hypertension.
The gray area falling between 120–139 mmHg systolic BP and 80–89 mmHg diastolic BP is defined as “prehypertension”. Prehypertension isn’t considered as a medical condition in itself. However, people with prehypertension are at more risk of developing hypertension.
It is very important to keep your BP level under control since it can cause coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic renal disorder, and also dementia. (4)
However, you can reduce or control blood pressure by adopting some simple modification strategy in diet and, lifestyle. Dietary modification strategy is widely recommended these days for preventing hypertension as well as associated health problems. It advocates weight loss, reduced intake of dietary sodium, moderation in alcohol consumption, and intake of potassium supplementation as well.
Let’s check out what DASH diet is and how DASH diet can help you in lowering blood pressure.
What is DASH Diet
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) originated within the 1990s. It is a dietary approach that is based on nutrition to prevent and control high blood pressure. The diet has been tested in several clinical trials and shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and saturated fats too. Studies reported that only dietary modifications alone are capable of reducing systolic blood pressure by about 6 to 11 mm Hg.
DASH diet is a culmination of the traditional as well as modern system of dietary principles. It has been procured by scientists from certain olden food habits and modified to prevent or cure some of the leading killers of modern society. DASH has been promoted as the first-line medical therapy for hypertension along with lifestyle modification.
Healthy eating together with lifestyle modification is the most important feature of the DASH diet. Apart from that, patients should stop smoking, abstain from alcohol, and do some physical activity regularly.
What Does DASH Diet Include
DASH diet advocates the consumption of vegetables and fruits, lean meat, dairy products, and the addition of micronutrients in your daily menu.
It also suggests lowering the sodium intake in your diet to about 1500 mg/day. DASH also emphasizes on consumption of minimally processed and fresh foods.
A typical DASH diet serving guide is as follows:
- Vegetables: about five servings per day
- Fruits: about five meals per day
- Carbohydrates: about seven servings per day
- Low-fat dairy products: about two servings per day
- Lean meat products: about two or fewer servings per day
- Nuts and seeds: 2 to 3 times per week
Let’s take a closer look at these recommendations
Healthy starches or “carbs” need to be included in your regular diet, not only for the energy supply but also for the beneficial micro-nutrients. “Low carb” diets aren’t healthy as it may cause lower caloric intake than recommended. This in turn increases the consumption of unhealthy fats as a substitute.
Some healthy carbohydrates included under DASH are:
Vegetables: Asparagus, Avocado, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Eggplant, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Okra, Spinach, Summer squash, Zucchini, Turnips, Kale, Spinach, Collards, Mustard.
Whole grains: Barley, Rye, Bulgur, Rice, Wheat tortilla, Wheat pasta, Cracked wheat, Millets, Oats.
Low glycemic index fruits: Apples, Apricots, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Cranberries (raw), Grapefruit, Peaches, Pears, Prunes, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries.
Legumes and beans: Back eyed peas, Green beans, Chickpeas, Kidney beans, Pinto beans, Lentils.
Another essential nutrients to include in DASH diet plan is the good quality Fat. Good quality fats stop inflammation, supply essential fatty acids, and promote your overall health. These fats, when consumed in moderation, have shown an increase in good cholesterol (HDL) and lowering of bad cholesterol (LDL). Some of the sources of good fats included in DASH are:
- Olive oil
- Flax seeds
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Avoid consumption of margarine, vegetable shortenings, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils as these are all bad fats. These will cause an increase in LDL and promote atherogenesis.
Fats are a highly condensed source of energy and hence consume it moderately. The serving sizes must be smaller than other nutrients on the DASH recommendations.
DASH recommends more servings of plant proteins like legumes, soy products, nuts, and seeds.
Animal protein such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, eggs, and fish need to be included in the diet.
Processed and cured meats are not recommended as they have shown to contain carcinogens and aggravate hypertension.
DASH diet also recommends including certain foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium as these prevent coronary artery diseases, and smooth muscle relaxation. Here are some of the foods that are rich in these minerals.
Potassium: bananas, oranges, cucumber, and spinach.
Calcium: dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
Magnesium: whole grains, leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Other Benefits of DASH Diet
DASH diet plan has effects on multiple other lifestyle health disorders. These includes:
Several studies have shown that DASH diet helps lower blood glucose levels, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterols (bad cholesterol), and insulin resistance. DASH diet plan is a bonus for diabetics who also have hypertension, as many people do.
Another best point to adopt DASH diet is that it can lose your extra pounds. If you are obese, losing weight is the single most effective thing you can do to control your blood pressure naturally. It has also been recommended as the best diet if you like to maintain a healthy weight.
DASH diet has shown a reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer and proven helpful in chronic liver disease, colon disease, and celiac disease as well.
DASH diet is also important for the prevention of chronic heart failure and its management.
If you are serious about lowering your high blood pressure, the single most beneficial thing you can do is follow DASH diet plan. It can make your prescription medication more effective so that you can take less of it to achieve the same result. However, the importance of exercise, stress reduction and lifestyle habits should not be ignored.