During my annual wellness visit with my doctor in March 2017, my doctor and I discussed the DASH diet as a way to lower my blood pressure. We talked about my plans to do the Whole30 program for 30 days to reset my eating habits. And then follow that with the DASH diet.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet) is a 20 year old diet helping people with hypertension and pre-hypertension lower blood pressure. Just like some medications. It has the potential to lower health-care costs and has been a component of the national dietary guidelines for over 10 years.
Hopefully, this article will provide enough information for people to consider the DASH diet to improve their health.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life. It focuses on foods rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium and calcium and low in saturated fat, sugar and salt. That translates to plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains and low-fat dairy, with fewer fatty meats and sweets. Although DASH is not a reduced-sodium diet, reducing highly processed foods enhances the diet’s effect.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is the best overall diet plan for 2017. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), helped develop the DASH diet.
The New England Journal of Medicine reported the original clinical trial of the DASH diet showed reductions in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive and pre-hypertensive patients. Further studies have found that adherence to the DASH diet lowered total and LDL cholesterol, reduced the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke even throughout several years of follow-up, and reduced bone turnover, improving bone health.
Who should use the DASH diet?
The NHLBI and American Heart Association recommend the DASH diet because of its blood-pressure-lowering effects for hypertensive adults. And i has been shown to be effective for pre-hypertensive patients. So if your blood pressure is elevated or you have been diagnosed with hypertension, discuss the DASH diet with your doctor. Especially if you are taking blood pressure medication.
But what if you don’t have high blood pressure? Are there benefits from following the DASH diet?
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say the model eating plan for all Americans includes the DASH diet, because it outlines a generally healthy diet from which anyone can benefit. Following the DASH diet’s principles will mean you’re eating a nutrient-rich yet not calorie-dense diet that has been shown to be helpful for promoting weight loss and maintenance.
An increasing amount of evidence suggests DASH is also helpful for managing diabetes, preventing cancer and improving kidney health.
Why aren’t more people following the DASH diet?
If the DASH diet is so beneficial and well studied, why isn’t everyone following it? Research shows only a small percentage of Americans following the DASH diet. Compare these numbers with the half of Americans who have high blood pressure, and we can say more people will benefit from the DASH diet.
Dori Steinberg, a research scholar at Duke University, says one of the reasons the DASH diet hasn’t taken off is that its recommended foods aren’t as accessible as fast food and processed foods. “It’s much easier to grab a fast-food burger and fries than it is to make a spinach salad with strawberries,” she says.
My wife and I are fortunate to have a family doctor who talks about the benefits of eating healthy and has referred me to see a dietitian in the past. I imagine most hypertensive patients would benefit from counseling about the DASH diet. It is something they should ask of their primary-care physicians.
The poor adherence to the DASH diet should be an alert for primary-care physicians to become more familiar with the diet and to refer patients to registered dietitians. The dietitians can provide the dietary counseling people need to put DASH into action.
Getting more people on the DASH diet
The key to helping people eat better is giving them the tools they need to put nutrition information into action.
It’s not enough to provide a list of guidelines; we need to give people recipes and support them in learning basic cooking skills to prepare healthier meals.
Note: Click here for a FREE “Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure” which includes information about the DASH diet.
Dietitians can share information with clients on how to shop for DASH-appropriate foods on a budget, such as canned beans and fish, and frozen vegetables and fruit. Any medical or health professional can give their patients and clients heart healthy information on the DASH diet from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website.
So why does the DASH diet’s following pale in comparison to other popular diets? It’s time DASH got a celebrity endorsement. Or a splashy website with some dramatic before-and-after photos!
Optimizing results on the DASH diet
The optimal benefit from following the DASH dietary recommendations in managing hypertension depends on the compliance. Follow the rules!
According to Dori Steinberg, a research scholar at Duke University, every two-point increase in a person’s DASH adherence score — a scale that rates a person’s compliance from zero to nine, with nine being fully compliant with the diet — leads to a reduction in blood pressure. “And improvements in blood pressure are seen in just two weeks,” she said.
So this is a diet where you can do your best and see results quickly rather than worry about following it perfectly. Unlike the Whole30 program.
If you have comments, any questions or wish to share your experience with the DASH diet, please share by leaving a comment below. Thanks!