The DASH diet — D ietary A pproaches to S top H ypertension — is a nutrition plan that promotes heart-healthy foods. Similar to the Mediterranean Diet, the plan recommends eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with sources of lean protein, such as fish and poultry, and healthier fats like beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. It also recommends the consumption of fat-free or low-fat dairy options.
One of the goals of the diet is to limit the intake of foods with significant amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. Ideally, less than 10% of your daily caloric intake should be allotted for each. The primary goal of the DASH diet is to help lower high blood pressure.
Recommendations for the DASH Diet
Here’s what a day following the DASH diet, based on a 2,000-calorie plan would look like:
- 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
- 4 to 5 servings of fruits
- 6 to 8 servings of whole grains
- 2 to 3 servings of dairy
- 6 or fewer servings of lean meats, poultry or fish — 1 ounce per serving
- 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils — healthy options for fats include avocados, low-fat cheese, and yogurt, dark chocolate, nuts, olive oil.
The following amounts are suggested per week:
- 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes
- 5 or fewer servings of sweets
What about alcohol and caffeine you ask? The diet doesn’t mention caffeine due to the lack of evidence on the effect of caffeine on blood pressure. But, alcohol consumption should be done in moderation.
Why DASH? Research Shows It’s Effectiveness
People adopt the DASH diet because it can reduce hypertension or high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the risk factors of Type 2 diabetes. However, the DASH diet’s benefits aren’t singular to hypertension. When you eat this diet, you’re also consuming nutrient-rich foods in calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
It can also improve blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), and promote weight loss — all of which decrease the risks of Type 2 diabetes and are conducive to diabetes management.
Several studies show the effectiveness of the DASH diet in regards to Type 2 diabetes, whether it’s to possibly prevent it from occurring or reducing the risk of health complications in those who already have it. While there is not one diet, in particular, that is specifically recommended for the prevention of Type 2 diabetes, the DASH diet has been associated with a 20% reduced risk for being diagnosed with Type 2 in the future. For those who already have diabetes, DASH has been cited to help increase insulin sensitivity, especially in conjunction with exercise and weight loss.
Pros and Cons of the DASH Diet
Easy to Begin – No special, particularly expensive, or hard to access foods or supplements are required to partake in the DASH diet
Flexibility – Easy to sustain and there are no real restrictions, but rather it’s recommended to eat small amounts of things like red meat, sweets, and fats
Healthy and Nutritious – This diet promotes the consumption of nutrient-dense foods filled with an array of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients we need for optimal health. It doesn’t call for the restriction of whole grains, fruits, or legumes. Though the diet promotes a healthy way of eating, it doesn’t specifically prohibit indulgences such as sweets, however, it does advise limited consumption of them.
Clinically-Supported – Supporting research shows this diet has can prevent Type 2 diabetes, help manage it better, and reduce the risks of high blood pressure. These factors reduce the chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. It’s also endorsed by major health institutions such as the American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the USDA.
Convenience – This isn’t a commercialize diet, meaning, you can’t find a meal service specifically for this diet. However, you can find DASH-diet friendly meal services that promote low-sodium meals.
Weight Loss – This diet isn’t designed specifically for quick and dramatic weight loss, but it can result in weight loss over time when combined with exercise and a diet that promotes a deficit in calories.
Support Groups – Unlike national centralized support groups like Weight Watchers, there isn’t an equivalent for the DASH diet. However, there are online groups on social media that can provide peer support.
Overall, there are no true negatives to this diet health-wise, it is a diet that promotes choosing the healthiest food when presented with options, it is also a diet that is absolutely fit for the whole family, not just those with diabetes. Some people regularly eat within the DASH specifications without realizing it.