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Understanding the DASH diet

The DASH diet is low in salt and rich in fruits, vegetable, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The diet was first created to help lower high blood pressure. It is also a healthy way to lose weight.

How it Works

The DASH diet helps you eat nutritious foods.

This is not just a traditional low-salt diet. The DASH diet emphasizes foods high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and fiber, which, when combined, help lower blood pressure.

To follow the DASH diet for weight loss, you eat plenty of:

  • Non-starchy vegetables and fruit

You eat moderate portions of:

  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains
  • Lean meats, poultry, beans, soy foods, legumes, and eggs and egg substitutes
  • Fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Heart-healthy fats, such as olive and canola oil or avocados

You should limit:

  • Sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Foods high in saturated fats such as full- fat dairy, fatty meals, tropical oils, and most packaged snacks
  • Alcohol intake

Your health care provider can help you figure out how many calories you need to eat each day. Your calorie needs are influenced by your age, gender, activity level, medical conditions, and whether or not you are trying to lose or maintain your weight. The "A Day With the DASH Eating Plan" helps you track how many servings of each type of food you can eat. There are plans for 1,200; 1,400; 1,600; 1,800; 2,000; 2,600; and 3,100 calories per day. DASH suggests smaller portions and healthy food swaps to aid weight loss.

You can follow an eating plan that allows for either 2,300 milligrams (mg) or 1,500 mg of salt (sodium) per day.

Off-Limit Foods

When following the DASH plan, you should limit how much you eat of these foods:

  • Foods with added salt (sodium) and adding salt to foods
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Foods high in saturated fats, such as whole fat dairy and deep-fried foods
  • Packaged snacks, which are often high in fat, salt, and sugar

Before you increase the potassium in your diet or use salt substitutes (which often contain potassium), check with your provider. People who have kidney problems or who take certain medicines must be careful about how much potassium they consume.

The Role of Exercise

DASH recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, most days of the week. The important thing is to total at least 2 hours and 30 minutes per week of activities at a moderate-intensity level. Do exercises that get your heart pumping. To help prevent weight gain, exercise for 60 minutes a day.

Health Benefits

The DASH diet has been widely studied and has many health benefits. Following this diet plan may help:

The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute helped develop the DASH diet. It is also recommended by:

  • The American Heart Association
  • The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
  • U.S. guidelines for treatment of high blood pressure

Possible Health Concerns

Following this diet will provide all the nutrients you need. It is safe for both adults and children. It is low in saturated fat and high in fiber, an eating style that is recommended for everyone.

If you have a health condition, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting this or any diet plan to lose weight.

On the DASH diet eating plan you will likely be eating a lot more of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are high in fiber and increasing your intake of fiber too quickly may cause GI discomfort. Slowly increase how much fiber you eat each day and be sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Ease of Use

In general, the diet is easy to follow and should leave you feeling satisfied. You will be buying more fruits and vegetables than before, which may be more expensive than prepared foods.

The diet is flexible enough to follow if you are vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free.

Where to Find More Information

You can get started by going to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute web page "What Is the DASH Eating Plan?" -- www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan.

You can also buy books about the DASH diet that include diet tips and recipes.

Alternative Names

Hypertension - DASH diet; Blood-pressure - DASH diet

References

Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Hinderliter A, et al. Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss on blood pressure and cardiovascular biomarkers in men and women with high blood pressure: the ENCORE study. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(2):126-135. PMID: 20101007 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20101007.

Lessens DM, Rakel D. The DASH diet. In: Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 89.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute website. DASH eating plan. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan. Accessed June 14, 2018.

Review Date 6/13/2018

Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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