What is the DASH Diet?
The DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a low-sodium diet plan that was created to lower blood pressure and the risks of hypertension. It’s known as one of the best diets for managing high blood pressure, and it has been highly beneficial for individuals at risk for heart disease. The DASH diet plan is similar to low-carb diets in that it focuses on nutrient-rich foods that provide plenty of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which supports healthy blood pressure levels. DASH dieters often see improvements in their blood pressure within a few weeks, along with a wide range of health benefits that result from eating according to a hypertension diet plan.
Dietary Guidelines for the DASH Diet
Limiting sodium intake is the priority for DASH dieters. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but the average American consumes over 3,000 mg of sodium daily. The standard DASH diet follows the AHA’s 2,300 mg per day guidelines, while modified versions of the diet limit sodium to 1,500 mg per day.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension is a medical condition characterized by prolonged high blood pressure levels. A person whose blood pressure level is 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered to have high blood pressure—almost two-thirds of individuals over the age of 65 exceed these levels. High blood pressure levels are dangerous because they force the heart to work too hard and lead to hardening of the arteries. Ongoing stress, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and abnormal cholesterol are all factors that contribute to hypertension and prehypertension. If you experience elevated blood pressure consistently, a high blood pressure diet plan can reduce your blood pressure levels and preserve your cardiovascular health.
What Are the Dangers of Hypertension?
Hypertension is referred to as the “silent killer” because there aren’t any recognizable symptoms. Left untreated, hypertension can result in atherosclerosis, a formation of plaque that narrows the blood vessels, and cardiovascular issues such as heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes. It can also lead to kidney failure and neuropathy.
Can You Prevent Hypertension?
Yes, hypertension is almost always preventable. Even if you do not have hypertension, following the steps below can reduce your risk:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Engage in physical activity daily
- Follow a healthy eating plan
- Reduce intake of sodium
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Take prescriptions as directed by your doctor
What to Eat on the DASH Diet?
- Low-sodium foods: Consuming low-sodium foods is critical for keeping blood pressure levels at bay. Almost all foods contain sodium, as the body requires it to carry out critical functions, but the average person consumes double the amount of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association. Healthy adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, while those suffering from high blood pressure should consume about half of that amount or less.
- Whole foods rich in nutrients: A low-sodium diet should contain plenty of potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as they are all natural regulators of blood pressure. You’ll find these minerals in:
- Fresh produce, leafy greens, and whole grains: A healthy, low-sodium diet has an abundance of vegetables, fruits, beans, unsalted nuts, and legumes. Using a variety of seasoning options such as garlic and natural herbs can remove the desire for added table salt or sodium-based seasonings.
- High-fiber foods: Fiber is the key to a heart-healthy diet, as it lowers cholesterol and removes toxins from the body. Fiber-dense foods can help lower blood pressure as well.
- Lean meats, poultry, and fish: Steer clear of processed products like deli meats and sausage. Instead, opt for lean, high-quality meat to minimize your sodium intake.
- Low-fat dairy: Dairy provides the body with much-needed calcium, but certain dairy products have high amounts of saturated fat. Choose low-fat dairy options when eating according to a low-sodium diet plan.
- Heart-healthy oils: Olive, avocado, flaxseed, walnut, and hemp oils contain monounsaturated fats that have properties linked to lowering blood pressure.
- Seasonings and herbs: Garlic is one of the most effective foods for lowering blood pressure, followed by cayenne pepper and a variety of other natural herbs and seasonings.
Foods to Avoid on the DASH Diet
- Sugar: Limiting your sugar intake eliminates excess calories from your diet. Excess sugar is a top contributor to cardiovascular disease. You’ll want to dramatically limit (or eliminate) soda, artificial sweeteners, sugary juices, and sweet treats with added sugar.
- Canned foods: Canned foods are incredibly high in sodium due to their packaging process. Try to stick with fresh produce and avoid canned vegetables and soups.
- Alcohol: Too much alcohol can deplete your body of vital minerals, such as magnesium and potassium. Alcohol should be limited to no more than two to three drinks per week.
Benefits of the DASH Diet
High blood pressure and hypertension are associated with common health problems including heart attacks, heart failure, strokes, and kidney disease. The primary benefit of a low-sodium diet like the DASH diet is its ability to lower blood pressure while encouraging the consumption of nutrient-rich foods (absent of excess sodium and sugar). The increase in foods that are high in antioxidants can also help prevent or delay chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
In addition to lowering high blood pressure, the DASH diet can also be beneficial for weight loss. Following the DASH diet helps you increase metabolism, lower body fat, reduce caloric intake, and improve cardiovascular health and endurance. The DASH diet aids with weight loss by replacing unhealthy, salty, and sugary foods with nutrient-dense options high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The DASH diet also encourages healthy eating without the need for calorie counting, and studies show this is a more effective way to implement diets into our everyday lives for long-term weight maintenance.
How Can Diet Doc Help Me Stick to the DASH Diet?
Diet Doc offers doctor-supervised weight loss programs that are tailored to your unique needs and goals. With Diet Doc, you’ll have access to licensed doctors, weight loss coaches, and nutritionists who can implement strategies to lower your blood pressure and keep your weight under control based on your body composition, eating habits, and personal weight loss struggles. Diet Doc helps you lower your blood pressure and find a low-sodium diet plan that works for your lifestyle—contact us today to set up your free consultation!