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What is the DASH Diet?

by Freya 5 minutes read

Last updated: 29 Aug, 2022

For many of those that are diagnosed with high blood pressure, their doctor may suggest they go on the DASH diet.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, it is designed to help lower blood pressure through foods that are high in potassium, calcium and magnesium, while avoiding foods that are high in sodium, added sugars and saturated fat.

Research has shown that the DASH diet can reduce blood pressure in just two weeks, they also suggest that it can lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the blood.

The DASH diet will usually limit the amount of sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day, which is around a tablespoon of salt according to the Mayo Clinic.

There is also a lower sodium intake version for those needing to be stricter, this includes 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

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Getting started

The DASH diet includes a certain amount of servings from different heart healthy food groups, so it is important to understand how much of each you need before getting started with your meal plan, but this may vary depending on your required calorie intake per day.

Daily servings of each food group

Vegetables: 4-5 servings

Grains: 6-8 servings

Fruits: 4-5 servings

Low fat/fat free dairy products: 2-3 servings

Meat and fish: 4 or less

Fats and oils: 2-3

Sodium: 2,300 mg or less

Weekly servings

Nuts, seeds, peas, dry beans: 4-5

Sweets: 5 or less

Food products will usually show how many grams or litres a serving is on the label, it can be helpful to note down what you are eating so you don't exceed the servings, the myfitnesspal app can be a helpful tool.

According to MedicalNewsToday, the amount of food you will need will depends on your ages, sex, and how active you are.

They suggest 1,600 calories for a 51-year old female who is not very active and 3,000 for a 25-year old male that is highly active.

The two types of DASH Diet:

The Standard DASH diet: Maximum sodium intake of 2,300 mg each day.

The Low Sodium DASH diet: Maximum sodium intake is 1,500 mg each day

In a clinical trial, experts found that the DASH diet combined with a low sodium intake has more impact on blood pressure than taking just one of these actions. They also found that reducing salt intake and increasing potassium intake can help lower blood pressure.

What to eat

As you know, it is important to keep your sodium intake low on a DASH diet, whether it is for high blood pressure or weight loss.

You should eat:

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Fat free or low dairy products

  • Fish

  • Poultry

  • Beans

  • Vegetable oils

  • Nuts and seeds

Foods you should avoid:

  • Fatty meats (e.g. bacon, ribs, sausage, ham)

  • Sugary drinks/sweetened drinks

  • Sweets and pastries

  • Full fat dairy

  • Crisps

  • Salted nuts

  • Cookies

  • Cake

  • Basically anything high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar!

In summary, your DASH eating plan should be considerate of the following:

  • Portion size / number of servings

  • Healthful foods

  • Balance of nutrients, mainly calcium, potassium, and magnesium - eat more bananas, beans, dried fruit, potato, orange juice

  • Avoid too much sodium intake

Helpful ways to reduce your sodium intake:

  • Read food labels to check how much sodium is included - look for reduced salt and low sodium labels

  • Choose plain fresh vegetables

  • Avoid adding salt when cooking

  • Choose fresh lean skinless meat

  • Use reduced salt or low sodium flavourings/seasonings

What are the benefits?

The DASH diet has a range of health benefits, of course the main being the reduction of high blood pressure but it can also reduce the levels of blood sugar, triglycerides (fat in the blood), bad cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

Usually having high levels of each of the above can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease - making it the best possible diet for those suffering with any of these.

Can it help you lose weight?

Often, people are looking at new ways to lose weight, this type of diet can be helpful as it means you are having smaller portions, eating less fatty meats, eating more fruit and vegetables, and overall usually eating less calories. Making it an effective way to lose weight if you are in a calorie deficit but still eating enough.

What are the downsides?

Although it has its benefits, the DASH diet can also have in negatives, nothing that will affect your health in a negative way but it can be a difficult diet to follow due to the following:

  • Hard to maintain

  • Strict food tracking

  • Not designed for weight loss

  • May not be right for you and your lifestyle

Tip: Talk to a doctor before starting the DASH diet to ensure it is right for you

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