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To be honest, the DASH diet is not as popular as some other diets like keto and paleo. The chances that you might have heard about the DASH diet before today are slim.

Someone who is not familiar with it might easily mistake it as just another diet trend that was quickly forgotten. I know this because that’s what I thought.

But trust me, that’s not what the DASH diet is. It may not be suitable for everyone, but it certainly is not “just another diet fad”.

The DASH diet is backed by scientific research and made been tailor-made for people with hypertension (high blood pressure). If you are one of these people, you’ll be glad you found this diet. However, even if you don’t suffer from high blood pressure, this diet could be really beneficial for you. 

So What Is The DASH Diet?

DASH is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Though it’s called a diet, the DASH diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. What makes it different from most diets is that it does not require you to eat any special foods, which makes it easier to sustain over time.

Most diets restrict you from eating certain types of foods, but the DASH diet does not do that. Instead, it provides daily and weekly nutritional goals for you to follow.

These are the aspects that you need to take care of when you are on a DASH diet:

  • Consuming a variety of healthy foods
  • Maintaining a proper balance of nutrients in your diet.
  • Size of portions you consumer for each meal
  • Amount of sodium consumed (found in salt)
  • Increased intake of magnesium, calcium, and potassium

These five strategies are the only thing you need to lower your blood pressure.

That’s what the DASH diet is all about. It provides you with healthy alternatives to processed foods, thus making it easier for you to avoid junk food.

If you love eating meat, don’t worry, the DASH diet is not a vegetarian diet. It merely adds more fruits, non-fat dairy foods, beans, nuts, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods to your diet.

I’ve already told you that the DASH diet does not require you to eat any special foods. But what makes it really special compared to everything else that’s out there is that it does not limit your daily caloric intake. So, you can eat as much as you want.

Depending on what your dietary goals are (weight loss or weight maintenance), you can choose a DASH diet plan that provides 1200 calories per day, or even go up to a diet plan providing 3100 calories a day.

Benefits of the DASH Diet

The primary benefit of the DASH diet is reduced blood pressure, but it also offers many other health benefits like weight loss and reduced risk of certain types of cancers.

However, you should bear in mind that the DASH diet was designed to lower blood pressure. Weight loss and all its other benefits are just added perks. Fundamentally, this is not a weight loss diet.

But what you need to understand is that reduced blood impacts your body positively in several ways. Therefore, the DASH diet has more hidden benefits than what you can see on the face of it.

So, here are some of the most significant health benefits offered by the DASH diet:

Lowers Blood Pressure

For every single action you perform, your body needs energy. Where does this energy come from? It comes from the food you eat. But how does it reach different parts of your body? Your blood supplies this energy to your muscles and organs as it flows throughout your body.

Blood pressure is simply the force that your blood exerts on your blood vessels and organs as it passes through them. It is measured by these two metrics:

  • Systolic pressure – This is a measure of the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is beating and pumping blood.
  • Diastolic pressure – This is a measure of the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is at rest (between heartbeats).

A healthy adult should have a systolic pressure below 120mmHg and a diastolic pressure below 80mmHg. You may see this written in your health reports in the form 120/80.

Anyone with a blood pressure greater than 140/90 is said to have high blood pressure. A high blood pressure may have several adverse effects on your health. But remember, you could suffer negative health consequences even if your blood pressure is too low.

The DASH diet has been shown to considerably reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.

But here’s the interesting part, the diet also reduced blood pressure in healthy people with normal blood pressure.

Generally, a decreased blood pressure directly translates to a reduced risk of heart disease. However, this may not hold true in all cases.

But regardless of whether you have high blood pressure or not, the DASH diet is a great way to improve your overall health.

Improves Bone Strength

The DASH diet recommends an increased calcium intake in your diet. A high-calcium diet can significantly improve your bone strength. Not only will this increase your overall bone strength, but it will also prevent bone diseases like osteoporosis.

Decreases Risk of Cancer

The high intake of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables in the DASH diet has been linked to a lower risk of certain types of cancer. Studies have shown that people who are on the DASH diet have a lower risk of developing colorectal and breast cancer (1).

Reduced Risk of Metabolic Disorders

On a DASH diet, you have a balanced nutrient intake, and your fat consumption is reduced. As a result, your risk of developing metabolic disorders is decreased drastically. Some studies have shown that it reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome by up to 81% (2).

Lowers Risk of Diabetes

There exists conclusive evidence from past studies that link this diet to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (3). It has also been demonstrated to increase insulin resistance.

Decreased Risk of Heart Disease

The link between a healthy blood pressure and the risk of heart disease is discussed heavily in medical circles. It has been established that if you have a normal blood pressure, your risk your developing heart disease is relatively low.

A recent study found that a group of adult women following the DASH diet had a 20% lower risk of heart disease and a 29% lower risk of stroke (4).

In conclusion, the health benefits offered by the DASH diet go far beyond just reducing your blood pressure. It reduces your risk of several chronic diseases and drastically improves your overall health.

The DASH Diet For Weight Loss

By now, you know that the DASH diet can regulate your blood pressure to healthy levels, and also significantly reduce the various chronic diseases and disorders. All of this is amazing! But you might be wondering if this diet can also help you lose weight.

Yes, absolutely! Even though this diet has been designed primarily to regulate blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure, it can also help you lose weight.

How does it help you reduce weight? 

That’s easy. The only reason this diet helps people reduce their blood pressure is because it promotes the consumption of whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and reduces the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats in your diet. So, naturally, it will also help you reduce your weight.

The entire concept of the DASH diet is founded on credible nutritional advice, and it does not require you to exclude certain food groups from your diet or make extreme calorie backs, which makes the diet easier to follow and stick to over a period of time.

Therefore, the DASH diet is one of the most sustainable long-term strategies for weight loss.

How Safe Is The DASH Diet?

Clearly, the most significant benefit that the DASH diet offers is a reduction in blood pressure, which is achieved by reducing salt intake. But it was also observed that individuals with the lowest salt intake experienced the greatest reductions in blood pressure.

The level of salt you consume is directly correlated to your blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, reducing your salt intake will drastically affect your blood pressure. But if you already have normal blood pressure, the effects will be smaller (5).

The scientific evidence regarding the benefits of salt restriction on health and lifespan are not conclusive. Still, most people who have tried the DASH diet have seen positive effects on their blood pressure, weight, and overall health.

Getting Started: What Do You Eat On A DASH Diet?

The best thing about the DASH diet is that it does not require you to eat any special foods. So, you can continue eating pretty much whatever you are eating right now, as long as it is within the recommended DASH diet guidelines.

The diet recommends that you eat specific servings of different food groups. I have prepared an example to show you what a day of eating on the DASH diet looks like.

The food portions mentioned here are based on a 2000-calorie diet, the daily calorie intake for a healthy adult, as recommended by WHO (67).

Here are some DASH diet foods that you can eat while you are on the diet. 

Whole Grains – 6-8 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is about 1 ounce (28 grams) of cereal and 1 cup (95 grams) of rice or pasta.

• What you can eat – Whole-grain bread, cereals, brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, and oatmeal

Fruits – 4-5 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is about ½ cup (30 grams) of fruit

• What you can eat – Apples, peaches, berries, pineapples, and mangoes

Vegetables – 4-5 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is about 1 cup (30 grams) for leafy vegetables and ½ cup (45 grams) for sliced, or cooked vegetables

• What you can eat – Nutrient-rich leafy vegetables like spinach or kale, and sliced vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, cucumber, and carrots.

Meat, Lean Chicken and Fish – Less Than 6 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is 1 ounce (28 grams) of cooked chicken, fish or meat.

• What you can eat – On the DASH diet, you can eat meat every day if you want to, but choose lean cuts of meat, and try not to eat red meat more than twice a week.

Dairy Products – 2-3 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is 1 cup of low-fat milk or yogurt, and 1 ounce (28 grams) of low-fat cheese.

• What you can eat – It is okay to consume any dairy product on this diet, as long as it is low-fat.

Nuts and Seeds – 4-5 Servings Per Day

• Ideal serving size – A serving is ⅓ cup (50 grams), 2 tablespoons (16 grams) of seeds, or ½ cup (40 grams) of cooked legumes/pulses

• What you can eat – Peanuts, almond, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, lentils, and chickpeas

Fats and Oils – 2-3 Servings Per Day

• Ideal Serving Size – A serving is 1 teaspoon of margarine, vegetable oil, or 2 tablespoons (30ml) of salad dressing

• What you can eat – You should consume a healthy amount of fats and oils on the DASH diet, but it recommends vegetable oils such as margarine, canola, olive, or safflower, over other oils. Mayonnaise or salad dressing can be consumed, but only purchase low-fat products

Added Sugars – Less Than 5 Servings Per Week

• Ideal Serving Size – A serving is 1 tablespoon of sugar or jam

• What you can eat – The DASH diet recommends a minimal intake of added sugars. You should also avoid artificial sweeteners and keep your consumption of sugar, chocolates, candy, and soda to a minimum.

On A DASH Diet? Stay AWAY From These Foods!

I’ve said this before; the DASH diet is not a restrictive diet. However, if you are on this diet, your main goal is to reduce your blood pressure. So, it only makes sense to cut these foods out of your diet. 

Let’s talk about what food you can not eat on the DASH diet.

Salt

The bulk of sodium in our diet comes from salt. High sodium intake is directly correlated with high blood pressure. Having low levels of sodium in your blood will help your body relax its blood vessels and reduce blood pressure (8).

This diet requires you to cut down on your daily sodium intake significantly. But since it is done in two separate stages, it makes the task seem far less daunting. 

Stage 1 requires you to about 1 teaspoon per day (2300 mg).

In Stage 2, this limit is further reduced to about ⅔ teaspoon (1500 mg).

Due to lifestyle choices and excessive consumption of packaged and processed foods, people already get more sodium than the recommended amount. 

But by the time they reach the second stage of salt restriction in the DASH diet, they would be able to bring it down healthy levels. It might take a while, but eventually, you will be able to avoid adding salt to food altogether. 

Coffee

For many people (myself included), coffee is the thing that helps you get out of bed and get started with your day. The reason coffee is so effective in waking you up is that it contains caffeine, which is known to cause a short term (1-3 hours) increase in blood pressure.

For people with normal blood pressure, coffee causes a slight increase in blood pressure (5-10 mm Hg). For them, 3 cups regular cups of coffee per day is considered safe (9).

However, this increase is greater in people who already have high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, then you need to be more careful with your coffee consumption. It is not recommended to drink more than one cup of coffee a day.

Alcohol

Having a drink or two can calm your nerves down and feel very relaxing. But what you might not have known about drinking alcohol is that it doesn’t actually relax your body.

The pleasant feeling that it creates is due to chemical changes in your brain, but these effects wear off really fast.  

In fact, drinking more than three drinks in a sitting can increase your blood pressure temporarily (10). Regular consumption of 3 drinks per day has been linked to a long-term increase in blood pressure and a greater risk of heart disease.  

On the DASH diet, you must drink alcohol in moderation. The official guidelines recommend not more than two drinks per day for men, and one or fewer for women.

If your first reaction after reading about the foods you can not eat on the DASH diet was “I can’t live without coffee and alcohol!”, don’t worry. That’s where most DASH diet champions start. Remember, this diet does not require you to go cold turkey on all the things you love.

You can even drink alcohol and coffee, but the key here is moderation. Reduce your consumption of these foods gradually, and within no time, you too will become a DASH diet champion.

Important DASH Diet Guidelines

Now you’re all set to get started on your DASH diet journey, but before we part, I’ve got some last-minute tips for you.

Take it slow – If you are not used to eating the amount of fruits or whole grains recommended in the DASH diet, you don’t have to make the switch all at once. Suddenly increasing the about of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet, can cause bloating and diarrhea.

This happens because your body is not used to the increased amount of fiber you have introduced into your diet. Start by adding one or two servings of fruits and whole grains to your regular meals.

Combine It With Exercise – Combining the DASH diet with exercise will help you lower your blood pressure even more. Consider following a regular exercise routine in addition to following the DASH diet. It will definitely help you boost your results from the diet.

Reward yourself – Set short-term goals for your DASH diet journey and reward yourself with a non-food treat when you reach a goal. Rent out that movie you wanted to watch or that book you wanted to read so badly.

Accept that slip-ups are part of the journey. It’s not possible to change your lifestyle in a day. It’s a long-term process. But it’s essential to identify what triggered your slip-up. After that, take what you’ve learnt with you and just pick up where you left off.  

The DASH diet is structured in a way that makes it quite easy to follow, but if you’re having any trouble sticking to it, talk to your doctor or nutritionist for some tips to help you stick to the diet.

If you enjoyed this article or have any questions for us, please leave them in the comment section below!

I wish you all the best for your DASH diet journey!

Is the DASH Diet Healthy For Weight Loss?
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