Blood pressure tells how hard the heart needs to work to pump blood through the body. This vital is measured with two figured, including diabolic and systolic blood pressure.
Chronic high blood pressure can lead to a condition known as hypertension. This condition causes an increased risk of heart disease and makes a person more likely to have a heart attack.
An estimated 29.0% of the US adult population has hypertension1. The prevalence of the condition significantly increased with age. Among the elderly, the prevalence is higher than 63%. The prevalence of hypertension is 7.5% among those aged between 18 and 39.
The DASH diet was developed as a treatment tool for people with hypertension. We take a look at how the DASH diet lowers blood pressure. We also consider other benefits and factors about the diet.
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What You Eat
The DASH eating plan focuses on helping a person experience a reduction in blood pressure. This is not a short-term diet, such as those often followed by people who are trying to lose weight.
Instead, DASH eating rather comprises of life-long lifestyle changes. A person is given knowledge and an opportunity to change the way they eat.
The DASH plan primarily involves an eating plan that focuses on a low-salt diet2. Sodium is the main point that is addressed with this particular diet. Sodium is a compound found in salt and salty foods. Many foods contain added sodium to enhance the taste. The problem is, sodium causes an increase in blood pressure.
Several studies have already provided evidence that sodium can cause a significant spike in blood pressure levels. In one study3, published in the Annals of Translational Medicine, researchers are provided evidence of the efficacy yielded by a low-salt control diet. In this study, a reduction in sodium intake was associated with a decline in blood pressure levels.
People need to understand what they should expect from this diet. Realizing the benefits, such as the ability to boost your metabolism, is also essential. In this section, we consider the specific foods that can be consumed when following this particular low-salt lifestyle.
How Often Can You Eat While On The DASH Diet?
The purpose of the DASH diet is to help people reduce their sodium intake. The program also provides several guidelines and recommendations. These guide a person to ensure they eat the right foods. Suggestions regarding how often a person should eat will also often be included in a DASH diet program.
Multiple servings of specific foods will often be advised each day. The program will not provide specific times during the day when a person may eat. By considering the number of servings, however, a person can develop their own schedule.
The maximum advised servings daily would be eight. With this taken into consideration, it is possible to divide time spent awake up appropriately. Meals can then be scheduled appropriately. It would also be a good idea to develop a plan where only two or three bigger meals are consumed each day. The remainder of the food suggestions can then be consumed as snacks between meals.
Here is an overview of the servings that people are advised to consume on a daily basis:
- Grains: A person can consume up to eight servings of grains on a daily basis. Note that this refers to sing servings – it is possible to include two servings in a single meal. An ounce of dry cereal refers to one serving. Half a cup of cooked pasta is a single serving too.
- Vegetables: A variety of vegetables should be consumed each day. Up to five servings of vegetables can be consumed on a day-to-day basis. Again, multiple servings of vegetables can be included in a single meal. An example would be half a cup of cooked mixed vegetables, along with a full cup of raw leafy greens.
- Fruits: Another major part of a DASH diet would be fruits. Half a cup of fresh fruit pieces equals a single serving. This is an excellent opportunity to pack a snack bag for lunch or when a person gets hungry during the day.
- Dairy: It is advisable for people to consume up to three servings of dairy each day. Low-fat dairy products can easily be mixed with some fruit pieces. This adds a healthy addition to dairy products. Dairy is important as it contributed to the consumption of vitamin D, protein, and calcium. These are all essential components in bone and muscle formation.
- Meat, Fish, and Poultry: Up to six servings of poultry, fish, and meat can be consumed each day. It is important to limit each serving to one ounce. A once-ounce piece of cooked meat or poultry can also be replaced by one egg if preferred. It is advised to cut excess fat off the meat. The meat should also not be fried in fat or oil. Instead, baking or grilling the meat is a much healthier option.
- Legumes, Seeds, and Nuts: A person should also consume up to five servings of legumes, nuts, and seeds per week. Note that this dietary recommendation account weekly instead of daily. Examples of foods include kidney beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, and peas. These food items are high in protein, healthy fats, potassium, magnesium, and other critical nutrients. Serving sizes for these products are significantly smaller compared to other foods. Half a cup of peas or beans is adequate for a single serving, for example.
- Oils and fats: Focus should be placed on healthy fats. This can help to improve nutrient absorption. It can also strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of certain health ailments. Up to three servings of fats and oils per day are adequate. People do need to avoid certain types of fats, if possible. This includes saturated fats, as well as trans fats.
Data presented above makes it clear that food is consumed every few hours on the DASH diet. It is important to follow these recommendations. Eating too frequently may still lead to weight gain. Many people are looking for a solution to weight loss when they adopt the DASH diet too.
There are two variants of the DASH diet. These depend on the risk factors in a person’s life. The standard DASH is what most people follow. Those with higher blood pressure levels may need to consider the Lower Sodium DASH Diet.
The standard DASH diet restricts sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. When following the Lower Sodium DASH diet, sodium is limited to less than 1,500mg per day.
What Foods And Drinks Should Be Avoided While Following A DASH Diet?
The DASH diet is relatively flexible in terms of the foods that a person can eat. It is a low-sodium diet. This means foods exceptionally high in sodium are eliminated from the person’s meal plan.
Some foods with sodium are only restricted. The idea is to provide a significant reduction in the amount of sodium consumed each day.
There are many foods that people also need to avoid. Unfortunately, a lot of individuals fail to realize just how many food types contain large amounts of sodium. Without being aware of these foods, it can be difficult to limit sodium. This leads to a lower likeliness of achieving a better balance in blood pressure levels.
- Canned chili and spam
- Canned ravioli
- Salted nuts
- Canned beans (with added salt)
- Frozen breaded dinners
- Frozen pizzas
- Frozen burritos
- Smoked meat
- Canned meat and fish
- Cold meats
- Canned anchovies
- Canned sardines
- Buttermilk and processed cheese
- Cheese sauces
- Cottage cheese
- Bread made from self-raising flour
- Waffle mixes
- Salted crackers
- Canned vegetables
- Pickled vegetables
- Frozen hash browns
- Frozen Tater Tots
- Commercial salsa and tomato sauce
Additionally, it is also important to avoid canned soups and broth. A person should rather prepare these themselves. The commercially available canned broth and soups have a lot of added sodium.
Apart from these, it is always important to consider the label of food before buying. A general overview of sodium levels will always be provided. This can help a person determine how much salt and sodium is found in the food.
With this in mind, it is easier to then compare the salt content to the person’s daily sodium allowance. If there is a lot of added sodium, then opting for an alternative food product is a better idea.
Sodium is often also found in some foods that people do not expect. Mustard and ketchup are two perfect examples, as well as soy sauce. Even instant cake and pudding mixes tend to be quite high in sodium.
There are some alternatives to these products available on the market. These products will usually have a label that specifically leads “low sodium” or “reduced sodium.”
Candy is also generally not recommended on the DASH diet plan. When the servings of candy are small, then a person can eat sweets a few times a week without problems.
The DASH eating plan has been linked to several potential health benefits. A high sodium intake causes hypertension. This is a concluded fact that a lot of people fail to consider. The reduced sodium’s primary aim is to reduce blood pressure. This offers heart health benefits4, as well as several other advantages.
We take a closer look at the benefits that a person can expect from the DASH diet in this section. To further enhance the benefits, some people would even consider combining the DASH and Mediterranean diet. This would, of course, yield even more benefits for the cardiovascular system.
Why Should You Try The DASH Diet?
The main reason why a person might want to try the DASH diet is the prevention of hypertension. High blood pressure has no immediate symptoms. This is what makes the condition so serious. High blood pressure causes damage to arteries. A person does not realize this until complications develop. At this point, damage may already have been done.
The reduction in blood pressure is not the only reason why a person might want to try this diet. Other benefits have been linked to the diet too.
First, this is not a short-term diet. By adopting the DASH diet, a person is making a life-long commitment to their own health. The program changes the way a person eats. It educates the person. It helps the person realize what foods cause an increase in blood pressure. It also helps the person learn what foods are bad for their heart.
The improved blood pressure control leads to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The person is less likely to suffer a heart attack or a stroke.
The foods included in the diet are also good for the body. It is possible to gain all of the most essential nutrients through the DASH diet. This can be a great way of restoring a nutritional balance in the body.
Other potential reasons for following the DASH diet include:
- The diet helps to strengthen the bones
- The diet may reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- The higher fiber intake improves digestive function
- There may be a reduced risk of certain cancers
- The risk of metabolic disorders may also be reduced
- There is a reduced risk of developing gout
Sample Meal Plans
Now that we have looked at the benefits, we should consider how a typical DASH eating plan would look like. There are a lot of foods that a person can eat on this diet. This gives a person more freedom when developing an eating plan.
At the same time, freedom can make it hard to set up a meal plan. It is important to focus on low-sodium foods when DASH eating, however.
Below, we share a sample meal plan. This meal plan provides 2,000 calories in a single day. It also limits sodium intake to 2,300mg on that day. The meals are all rich in minerals, vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients a person’s body would need. We exclude any foods to avoid in this meal plan to maximize the benefits.
- One cup of oatmeal
- A cup of skim or fat-free milk
- Half a cup of blueberries
- Half a cup of orange juice (fresh)
Snack (Between breakfast and lunch)
- A medium banana, or
- A medium orange, or
- A medium apple
- 85 grams of chicken, grilled (no oil used)
- A cup of vegetables, roasted
- One cup of couscous
Snack (Between lunch and dinner)
- A banana with a handful of almonds, or
- A cup of low-fat yogurt with half a cup of mixed berries, or
- A cup of fruit salad
- 85 grams port steak
- A cup of ratatouille
- A cup of brown rice
- Half a cup of lentils
- About 45 grams of low-fat cheese
How Can You Make The DASH Diet Tastier?
Some people may find that the reduction in sodium takes away from the taste of their food. Luckily, there are a few ways to enhance the flavor of food without adding too much salt.
It is important to realize that the DASH diet does not completely eliminate salt from the diet. Instead, it rather just limits the amount of salt a person would consume. Thus, it is possible to add a little salt to certain meals. It is crucial to consider sodium intake when doing so, however.
There are also a few ways to make the diet tastier in general. When eating bread, carefully consider the differences between butter or margarine5. Butter is a healthier choice. It also adds more flavor. Just be sure not to opt for salted butter, however.
When eating yogurt, it is always a good idea to add some fruit. This adds more flavor and even helps a person achieve an appropriate amount of servings for various food.
Experimenting with food is a great idea. Follow the “foods to eat” guide and then develop recipes based on these foods. There are also many recipes on the internet that are tasty and DASH-friendly.
How Do You Integrate The DASH Diet Into Your Lifestyle?
Some people find it hard to start following the DASH diet. With just a few tips, however, it can become part of a person’s lifestyle. Here are a few tips to help people get started:
- Start by eating more fruits and vegetables
- Choose lean sources of protein when eating meat
- Incorporate more beans into the diet
- Choose vegetable oils when cooking
- Limit the intake of soda, candy, and other foods high in sugar
- Reduce the consumption of saturated fats – palm oil, full-fat dairy, fatty meats
Several diets are available that focuses on improving health. The DASH diet particularly focuses on reducing blood pressure and treating hypertension.
The diet provides both a treatment and preventive tool against hypertension. This also reduces the risks associated with the condition. We looked at what a person can eat on the DASH diet. We also considered the benefits of this eating style and provided a few sample m