The DASH diet plan was originally developed as a means to lower blood pressure without the use of medications. The research was sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The first DASH diet that was formulated, showed that it was possible to lower blood pressure as well as the first line blood pressure medications. This did not involve a drastic reduction in sodium consumption, in fact, the first diet makes it possible to reduce blood pressure with a sodium intake of 3300 mg/day.

Due to the almost ‘miraculous’ results, several studies were conducted to prove the effectiveness of the DASH diet and also to see what other benefits lie with it. Research showed that in addition to the significant reduction in blood pressure, DASH diet also reduces the risk of many diseases including some kinds of cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes. It has been proven to be an effective way to lose weight and become healthier at the same time.

DASH is not a low-cal diet, so are free to enjoy carbs in the form of pasta, spaghetti, and bread.

It’s no wonder that the DASH diet has been topping the charts since its inception and is currently Number #1 diet plan according to the US News & World Report , followed closely by the Mediterranean diet. Preventing and lowering high blood pressure may have been the main aim behind the DASH diet, it has been gaining popularity as it also helps in losing weight – a byproduct of a healthy eating pattern. Loaded with nutrients like potassium, calcium, protein and fibre, the DASH diet is fairly simple to follow and doesn’t require any drastic dietary changes. You just need to emphasize on the foods that you’ve always been told to eat ( fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy), while limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy foods and tropical oils, and sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets. Top it all off by cutting back on salt, and you have a healthy heart and a fabulous body!

Where Can I Get The DASH Diet?

Unlike many other commercial diets, the DASH diet is available for free. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which helped develop DASH, publishes free guides on the diet plan. One is a 20-page guide while the other another is a brief of six pages. Both take you through the process of determining your calorie intake for your age and activity level, a step-by-step diet chart and reminders to go easy on the salt.

What Are The Risks And Benefits?

There are no immediate health risks, but if you do suffer from a health condition, check with your doctor to be sure that you can follow the DASH diet. Like we previously mentioned, a reduction in blood pressure is one of the key benefits of the DASH diet. DASH itself stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – hypertension being the medical term for high blood pressure. It has also been known to increase good HDL cholesterol and decrease bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

A few studies also show favourable results when it comes to Type-2 diabetes, as the biggest risk factor associated with this health condition is being overweight and obese. DASH follows the same guidelines that are prescribed by the American Diabetes Association. Though not specifically designed for weight loss, the DASH diet will help you lose weight and keep it off. Combining DASH with calorie restriction has also been found to reduce the risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, which again increases the chances of developing diabetes and heart problems.

What Do You Eat On A DASH Diet?

Since this diet doesn’t involve cutting out any major food groups, you will get your share of lean meats, poultry, and fish along with whole grains; fruits and vegetables; dairy; legumes; nuts and seeds; a little fat; and even fewer sweets. The foods that are rich in calcium, potassium, protein, and fibre are emphasized in the DASH diet as they are crucial in fighting high blood pressure. The intake of foods with high salt levels, known to spike blood pressure is minimized.

Given the variety of foods you can incorporate, the DASH diet leaves lots of room for you to personalize your daily meals. The US News & World Report has given a sample menu, where the daily meal constitutes 2000 calories at 2,300 mg sodium level.

Breakfast

3/4 cup bran flakes cereal (3/4 cup shredded wheat cereal) with 1 medium banana and 1 cup low-fat milk

1 slice whole-wheat bread with 1 teaspoon unsalted margarine

1 cup orange juice

An easy to make breakfast! Just pour yourself a serving of bran flakes and milk. Add a fruit of your choice to meet your calorie requirements

Lunch

Sandwich:

  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread
  • 3/4 cup unsalted chicken salad
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon (regular) mustard

Salad:

  • 1/2 cup fresh cucumber slices
  • 1/2 cup tomato wedges
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
  • 1 teaspoon low-calorie Italian dressing
  • 1/2 cup fruit cocktail
A chicken salad with greens and berries will help you fight the afternoon slump

Dinner

3 ounces beef, eye of the round, with 2 tablespoon fat-free beef gravy

1 cup green beans, sauteed with 1/2 teaspoon canola oil

1 small baked potato topped with:

  • 1 tablespoon fat-free sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon grated, reduced-fat, natural (low-sodium) cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped scallions
  • 1 small whole-wheat roll with 1 teaspoon unsalted soft margarine
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 cup low-fat milk

Snacks

  • 1/3 cup almonds, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, no-sugar-added fruit yoghurt

Image Courtesy: US News

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