The DASH diet is an acronym for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” It was designed specifically to help adherents lower dangerously high blood pressure by specifically cutting salt out of their diets. Excessive salt intake can make hypertension worse, which can cause kidney disease, stroke, blindness, and heart failure when uncontrolled. Multiple studies using the DASH diet have shown dramatic results, often reducing participants’ blood pressure levels drastically within only a few weeks of beginning the diet. It can also be adapted for different purposes, by altering caloric intake to promote weight loss or substituting different foods for controlling insulin dependence in diabetics.
There are two versions of the DASH diet, the standard and the low-sodium version. The standard version limits a person’s daily sodium intake to the recommended levels, which is most often vastly different than what the average American actually consumes. The low sodium version is even more restrictive, and is especially helpful for those who are taking blood pressure medications or who have developed an illness related to hypertension. The low sodium version of the diet limits intake to 1,500mg daily, while the standard version allows up to 2,300mg daily. Both versions of the diet focus on cutting out foods with saturated fats and cholesterol, and on eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products. In addition, dieters following the DASH plan are encouraged to switch out red meat for fish or poultry more often.
The diet is not overly restrictive and gives general guidelines for food consumption. Sweets, fats or oils, caffeine, and alcohol should all be consumed in moderation. Dieters are encouraged to use zero calorie spices and herbs in their cooking rather than salt, butter, or oils, and to shop specifically for low sodium products. A typical meal plan for the DASH diet would include plenty of whole grains from bread and pasta, several servings of fruit and vegetables a day, and nuts and legumes with low fat dairy products and lean meats. Fish is encouraged, for the fact that it is low in fat and cholesterol while still providing omega 3 fatty acids essential to heart health.
Although the diet was not specifically designed for weight loss and is not touted as a way to lose weight, it can help in the short term by cutting water weight. Excessive salt causes the water retention associated with bloating, which can be a fluctuating problem for some, especially women. For DASH dieters who are looking to lose weight, it is advisable to reduce calorie consumption and participate in a regular exercise regimen. Weight control, exercise, and good stress management will all contribute to the diet’s ultimate success and to a healthier lifestyle.
The DASH diet is endorsed by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, who have recognized its many advantages and benefits. There are some disadvantages, however, particularly that the diet is much less structured than others. This may present a problem for some patients who don’t have adequate resources or guidelines to work from. When dieters are considering the DASH diet, they should always consult with a physician or dietician who can assess their needs and give them proper guidance. Joining a support group, in person or online, is also recommended.