High blood pressure is much more than just an annoying side effect of stress or physical exertion. For more than one billion people around the world, the condition - also known as hypertension - is a reality of daily life, and can cause dangerous or even life-threatening side effects.
Although heart disease is the main risk, elevated blood pressure can also increase the chances of kidney damage, stroke, ocular issues, bone loss and more.
Blood pressure is a measure of how forcefully the blood flows through the arteries. When that pressure is higher than normal, it puts more stress on the heart, increasing the risk of cardiac events or stroke.
The measurement includes the systolic pressure (blood pressure during contraction of the hear muscle) over the diastolic pressure (the pressure between heartbeats).
Diet is a big driver of high blood pressure, prompting many sufferers to seek alternate nutrition plans to help combat their condition. The DASH diet - which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension - was specifically designed to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
What is the DASH Diet?
Extensive research has shown that those who eat vegetarian or vegan diets are far less likely to develop high blood pressure, which is why the DASH diet is primarily comprised of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
This type of diet is chock full of calcium, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients that help to keep blood pressure within a lower, healthier range. DASHers get most of their protein from fish, chicken and beans, consuming only a minimum of red meat, fats and added sugars.
Sodium is also limited on the DASH diet. While the standard American consumes a staggering 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, the DASH diet recommends sticking to 2,300 mg (according to the standard version of the diet) or 1,500 mg on the lower-sodium version.
According to the official DASH diet website, below are the specific components of the diet:
|Type of Food||Number of Servings for 1600- to 3100-Calorie Diets||Servings on a 2000-Calorie Diet||Examples|
|Grains and grain products (include at least 3 whole grain foods each day)||6 - 12||7 - 8||Whole wheat or whole grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, whole grain breakfast cereals|
|Fruits||4 - 6||4 - 5||Bananas, blueberries, oranges, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, pears, pineapple, mangoes|
|Vegetables||4 - 6||4 - 5|
|Low fat or non-fat dairy foods||2 - 4||2 - 3||Skim milk, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese|
|Lean meats, fish, poultry||1.5 - 2.5||2 or less||Salmon, chicken, eggs, lean meats|
|Nuts, seeds, and legumes||3 - 6 per week||4 - 5 per week||Sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds, nut butter, hazelnuts, walnuts, flax seeds, kidney beans, lentils|
|Fats and sweets||2 - 4||limited||Margarine, olive oil, low-fat salad dressing, canola oil, 1 tablespoon of jelly or jam, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 cup of fruit juice|
Health Benefits of the DASH Diet
- Reduced blood pressure: The diet lives up to its name, effectively reducing hypertension by increasing intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium and reducing sodium levels.
- Lowered cholesterol levels: With its high amounts of whole grains, the DASH diet is naturally high in soluble fiber, which is one of the foods that can effectively lower cholesterol.
- Reduced risk of cancer: Some studies have linked the DASH diet to a lower prevalence of various types of cancers, although more research is needed.
- Decreased risk of heart disease: Research has found that adopting a DASH-like diet could significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Lower risk of diabetes: The DASH diet has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which reduces the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Potential weight loss: Although it wasn't originally intended as a weight loss program, the DASH diet's emphasis on whole, filling and nutrient-rich foods - and its avoidance of processed and high-sugar faretends to reduce overall calorie intake.
The Link Between the DASH Diet & Weight Loss
Although the original DASH diet was designed to reduce blood pressure, its reduction of sugars and fat tends to result in a lower calorie intake and subsequent weight loss. The connection makes sense, as research has shown that there is a causal relationship between high body weight and elevated blood pressure.
If a doctor advises a patient to reduce his or her hypertension, that most likely goes hand-in-hand with a recommendation to shed some pounds.
For those who want to accelerate the weight loss process, there is a separate version of the plan - called the DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution - that's designed to help you cut calories and eliminate cravings without depriving your body or feeling hungry.
How to Create Your Own DASH Diet
While some diets have rigorous meal plans that dictate exactly what you should and shouldn't eat, the DASH diet doesn't have strict guidelines. Instead, it offers general recommendations and then allows you to design your own meals around them. You don't necessarily have to give up your favorite weekend pizza or start forcing down a vegetable you hate in order to stick to the diet.
Below are some of the DASH guidelines that you can apply to your own current meal plan:
- Make fruits and vegetables the focal points of your meals
- Substitute whole grains for refined (bleached) grains
- Use fish, poultry and beans as the primary protein sources
- Limit consumption of added sugars, such a sugary soft drinks and sweets
- Steer clear of high levels of saturated fats
- Choose whole foods over processed varieties
- Limit beverages to water, tea and other low-calorie, low-sugar drinks
- Avoid alcoholic beverages
Have you tried the DASH diet, or would you be interested in trying it?