The DASH diet: How does it work?

The main aim of the DASH diet is not to lose weight but to reduce blood pressure. However, it can also help those who want to lose weight, lower cholesterol, and manage or prevent diabetes.

Important aspects include:

• portion size

• consuming a wide variety of healthful foods

• obtaining the proper balance of nutrients

DASH encourages a person to eat less sodium (the key ingredient in salt) and increase their intake of magnesium, calcium, and potassium. These strategies help lower blood pressure.

DASH is not a vegetarian diet, but it adds more fruits and vegetables, low or nonfat dairy foods, beans, nuts, and other nutritious items.

It provides suggestions about healthful alternatives to “junk food” and encourages people to avoid processed foods.

Experts who reviewed the DASH diet in 2017, 20 years after its launch, described it as an intervention that could considerably boost the health of the population.

According to the review, if people with high blood pressure followed the DASH diet precisely, this could prevent around 400 000 deaths from cardiovascular disease over 10 years.

Will I lose weight?

People can lose weight on the DASH diet, but they do not have to. If a person does wish to lose weight, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend reducing calories gradually.

Other tips for losing weight on DASH include:

• having small portions often during the day

• eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

• choosing fruits or vegetables as a snack instead of candies or chips

Nutrition

The DASH diet aims to provide nutrients that can help reduce blood pressure. It focuses on dietary patterns, rather than single nutrients.

It emphasizes foods that are rich in antioxidants.

Foods should be:

• low in saturated and trans fats

• rich in fiber, protein, magnesium, calcium, and potassium

• low in sodium

Saturated fats mostly occur in fatty meat, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

The DASH diet focuses largely on plant-based foods, many of which are rich in antioxidants. Experts believe that antioxidants play a role in preventing various health issues, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Sodium

The DASH diet encourages people to eat less sodium. Sodium is the main ingredient in table salt, and it occurs naturally in a number of foods. The human body needs salt, but adding salt to the diet can make sodium levels too high. This can raise blood pressure in some people.

Two types of DASH diet which includes the Standard in which people consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium each day. In the Low Sodium DASH diet the maximum sodium intake is 1 500 mg each day.

In a clinical trial to assess the diet’s impact, experts found that combining the DASH diet with a low sodium intake has more impact on blood pressure than taking just one of these actions.

As people reduce their salt intake, they should also eat more foods that contain potassium. Potassium helps the blood vessels relax, and this can lower blood pressure. People should aim to consume 4,700 mg of potassium each day.

On a typical day on a 2,000 calorie-per-day DASH diet, a person might eat:

*Grains: 6 – 8 servings. Examples include pasta, rice, cereal, and bread. One serving could be a slice of whole wheat bread, a half-cup of cooked pasta, rice or cereal, or 1 ounce of dry cereal.

*Vegetables, including fiber- and vitamin-rich vegetables: 4 – 5 servings. Examples include broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, carrots, or tomatoes. One serving could be a half-cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or a cup of raw, green, leafy vegetables.

*Fruit: 4 – 5 servings. These are rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins, and other minerals. One serving may include a half-cup of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit, or one medium fresh fruit.

*Low-fat or fat-free dairy food: 2 – 3 servings: These provide calcium, protein, and vitamin D. One serving could include 1 cup of skim milk or milk that is 1% fat, 1.5 ounce of cheese, or 1 cup of yogurt.

*Fish, poultry, or lean meat: Up to six 1 ounce servings. Meats are rich in proteins, B vitamins, zinc, and other nutrients, but people following the DASH diet should limit their meat consumption and eat mostly fruits and vegetables. One serving may include 1 ounce of cooked, skinless poultry, lean meat or seafood, 1 egg, 1 ounce of tuna, packed in water, with no salt added.

*Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 – 5 servings. These provide protein, potassium, magnesium, fiber, phytochemicals, and other essential nutrients. Examples include sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, almonds, peanuts, and pistachios.

*Healthful fats and oils: 2 – 3 servings. Fat helps the body absorb essential vitamins and other nutrients and maintain the immune system, among other roles. One serving may include 1 teaspoon of margarine, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of light salad dressing.

*Sweets: Up to 5 servings a week. The DASH diet does not eliminate sweets but recommends limiting their intake. One serving could include 1 cup of lemonade, a half-cup of sorbet, 1 tablespoon of sugar, jam, or jelly.

The DASH diet recommends no more than two alcoholic drinks for men and one for women each day. The amount of food will also depend on the individual’s needs for energy, and this will depend on their age, sex, and activity levels.

General tips on getting started is making sure there is plenty of colour on the plate, include fruits, vegetables and non-fat or low-fat dairy foods, have at least two side dishes of vegetables, preparing fruit-based desserts rather than pastries as well as focusing on an overall eating plan, rather than specific dishes to get a variety of nutrients. It is recommended to switching to the DASH diet over a couple of days or weeks, gradually adding more vegetables and cutting down on fatty products so that it becomes part of the daily routine. – Source: MedicalNewsToday

Did you know?

Heart health

Foods that may benefit heart health include asparagus, flaxseeds, green tea, and lentils.

STATS

Breakfast food tips

• Eat fiber-rich foods

• Eat more protein

• Avoid high calorie options

• Eat whole foods

• Avoid sugary drinks

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