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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 that fill you up without filling you out.

This is not just a traditional low-salt diet. The DASH diet emphasizes foods high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, 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, and egg and egg substitutes
  • Fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Heart-healthy fats, such as olive and canola
  • Avocados

You should limit:

  • Foods made with refined grains, such as white bread, and pastries
  • Sweets

The diet helps you figure out your daily calories based on how active you are. Then you track how many servings of each type of food you can eat. There are plans for 1,600, 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 avoid 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
  • Processed foods, 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 doctor. 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. Do exercises that get your heart pumping. To help prevent weight gain, exercise for 60 minutes a day. Exercise helps you lose weight and weight loss can help lower blood pressure.

Health Benefits

The DASH diet sets the standard for a healthy diet. It 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 2010 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 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.

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/health-topics/topics/dash

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

References

Blumenthal JA, Babyak MA, Hinderliter A, Watkins LL, Craighead L, Lin PH, Caccia C, Johnson J, Waugh R, Sherwood A. 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 Jan 25;170(2):126-35. PMID: 20101007 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20101007.

de Koning L, Chiuve SE, Fung TT, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Hu FB. Diet-quality scores and the risk of type 2 diabetes in men. Diabetes Care. 2011 May;34(5):1150-6. PMID: 21464460 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21464460.

Fung TT, Chiuve SE, McCullough ML, Rexrode KM, Logroscino G, Hu FB. Adherence to a DASH-style diet and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Apr 14;168(7):713-20. PMID: 18413553 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18413553.

Mahan KL, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL, Krause MV, eds. Krause's Food & the Nutrition Care Process. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2012.

Review Date 9/22/2014

Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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