More than a billion people in the world are affected by high blood pressure and that number continues to rise. This is a concern since high blood pressure is a serious health issue that is associated with increased risk of heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke. In fact, 7.6 million deaths each year are linked to raised blood pressure. This is where the DASH diet comes into the picture.
It is believed that diet plays a vital role in either the improvement or the worsening of blood pressure. That’s why there are specific diet plans and eating strategies created to help curb it.
The diet plan we will discuss in this article is the DASH diet, specifically engineered to fight high blood pressure, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease.
What is the DASH Diet?
DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a diet designed to help regulate and prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). This diet plan encourages the consumption of food rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium and limits food high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.
After it was noticed that high blood pressure is less common in people who followed plant-based diets, the DASH diet was tailored to fit and treat people with hypertension. That’s why this particular diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein like chicken, fish, and beans. Under the DASH diet, red meat, salt, added sugar, and fat are limited and highly discouraged.
Potential Benefits of the DASH Diet
Specifically designed to lower blood pressure, the DASH diet comes with a good number of health benefits.
However, don’t rely on the DASH diet if you solely want to lose weight. Remember, that it was created to lower blood pressure and so weight loss is only a perk that comes with it.
High blood pressure increases the risks of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. The DASH diet helps prevent all of these.
In addition, it also affects other health issues such as:
- Decreasing risk of cancer
- Lowers metabolic syndrome risk
- Lowers risk for diabetes
- Decreases risks for heart diseases
What to Eat
The DASH diet does not list what specific food to eat but these are recommended and highly encouraged.
Grains. 6-8 servings a day of whole grains, like whole-wheat or whole-grain bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal. One serving could a slice of whole wheat bread or a half-cup of cooked pasta.
Vegetables. Veggies rich in fiber and vitamins are ideal and are recommended for 4-5 servings a day. This includes broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, carrots, or tomatoes.
Fruit. Recommended for 4-5 servings are fruits rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins, and other essential minerals.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy food. Skim milk, cheese, and yogurt provide calcium, protein, and vitamin D that is vital to our body. It is recommended for 2-3 servings.
Fish, poultry, or lean meat. Recommended for six 1-oz servings. When eaten in moderation, meat contains one of the basic needs of the body, like protein, B vitamins, zinc, and more. However, take note that people who are following the DASH diet have to limit their meat consumption and instead focus on intaking mostly fruits and vegetables.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes. Food like sunflower seeds, beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts are recommended for 4-5 servings since these have protein, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and other vital nutrients.
What to avoid
The DASH diet highly discourages consumption of food that consists of high sugar, high fat, and food high in salt. These could be:
- Candies, cookies, chips
- Salted nuts
- Sodas, sugary beverages
- Meat dishes
- Prepacked pasta and rice dishes
- Pizza, salad dressings
Tips to Succeed with the DASH Diet
- Always add a serving of vegetables for lunch and for dinner
- Add fruits to your meals and eat fruits as a snack. You can eat canned and dried fruits, as long as they don’t have added sugar
- Half your usual serving of butter, margarin, and salad dressing. If possible, use low-fat and fat-free condiments
- Drink low-fat or skim dairy products instead of full-fat or cream
- Focus on plant-based meals and limit meat consumption
- Make it a habit to read food labels and always choose products that are lower in sodium.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are thinking of following the DASH diet, you might have a few questions in mind regarding your lifestyle. Read on below to know the commonly asked questions.
Is it okay to drink coffee on the DASH diet?
The DASH diet doesn’t have much to say about coffee intake. But, since it’s a caffeinated drink, some people worry that it might trigger a spike in their blood pressure.
Caffeine can cause a short-term blood pressure increase. And for people who have existing issues with high blood pressure, this can be quite a concern. However, it is claimed that coffee doesn’t have a long-term effect on blood pressure or heart diseases.
For healthy people with normal blood pressure, 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day is a green light and is considered safe.
Is exercise needed for the DASH diet?
Yes! The DASH diet is more effective in helping lower blood pressure with physical activities. Exercise alone has tons of health benefits.
For those on the DASH diet, moderate exercises for 30 minutes a day can go a long way. This include:
- Brisk walking
- Swimming laps
- Housework (Yes! Your daily household chores are healthy for you!)
Alcoholic drinks while on the DASH diet.
Alcoholic drinks can increase your blood pressure so it is not recommended, especially if your blood pressure is already high.