The Dashing Dash Diet
The letters D.A.S.H. actually stand for ‘Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’. It was a team of medical specialists from the National Institutes of Health (nih) that began a study of dietary factors in order to address the increasing problem of Hypertension (high blood pressure) amongst US citizens.
The specific and main aim of the Dash eating plan is to lower blood pressure through diet. The DASH studies began in earnest in 1993 and finished around 1997. However, as studies began, an appealing side effect was identified and this was … wait for it … weight loss.
Why is hypertension such a health issue?
According to statistics from the centers for disease control and prevention (cdc) around 1 in 3 Americans have high blood pressure that is about 70 million adults. A further 1 in 3 have prehypertension which is a pre-cursor to hypertension.
Over half of those Americans with high blood pressure are not aware of it and do not have it under control. Shockingly over 360,000 Americans died from conditions associated with high blood pressure in 2013. The estimated cost of high blood pressure to the US is a whopping $46 billion a year.
Different Versions of the Dash eating plan
Due to the huge success of the original Dash diet, there are now several newer versions that were developed for various health reasons. These are:-
- The Original Dash Diet: A 2,000 calories a day eating plan. Sodium allowance of 2,300 mg per day. Interestingly, the average American will eat in excess of 3,400 mg of sodium in their diet daily, so cutting down to 2,300 mg is a good start.
- The Lower Sodium Dash diet: Reduces sodium intake to the recommended dose of 1,500 mg per day. According to the American Heart Association eating less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day helps to lower blood pressure.
- The Dash Diet for Weight Loss: Follow the same eating plan but cut the calories down to around 1,600 per day.
- The Dash Diet for a Younger You: This version of the Dash eating plan has more emphasis on increasing natural, plant-based foods in the diet.
- The Vegetarian Dash Diet: Obviously based on the same principles, but without the meat.
The above Dash diets all follow very similar principles. However there are variations in the principles that cater for health goals on an individual basis.
So what can we eat on the Dash Diet?
The dash diet plan is actually very similar to the Mediterranean diet and is a heart-healthy diet for life. Healthy foods from the original version of the Dash diet include:-
Fruits and Vegetables in Abundance
The Dash diet is based around eating 8 – 10 servings of healthy fruit and vegetables throughout the day. Yes, 4 -5 servings of vegetables and 4 – 5 servings of fruit. There are no restrictions and a huge choice. This recommendation is double that of the famous ‘5 a day‘campaign advocated by many countries. Why restrict yourself to only 5 a day?
Taking a diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables has all sorts of health benefits. Vegetables are a nutrient-rich and relatively low-calorie food and contain NO cholesterol and very little fat. Fruit and vegetables contain essential nutrients particularly fiber, potassium magnesium, vitamins A and C and magnesium. The vegetable group of beans, peas and lentils, collectively known as ‘legumes’ are one of the top sources of plant-based protein and rich in iron and folic acid too.
Scientific research has shown that the humble fruit and vegetable may also help reduce the risk of diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Plants contain phytochemical compounds (also known as antioxidants) in abundance and therefore are a natural health food. A 2014 medical meta-analysis examined 16 studies over a period of 4.6 to 26 years and included a whopping 833,234 participants. The study concluded that:-
“This meta-analysis provides further evidence that a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality”
When we speak of grains we are mainly referring to rice, pasta, bread and cereals. The Dash diet recommends 7 -8 servings a day. The important thing to remember here is to avoid refined carbohydrates. These are processed grains that have had the bran and germ removed from the grain. An easy tip is to avoid ‘white’ foods.
Switching to whole grain foods such as brown rice, brown bread and whole-wheat pasta can actually help weight loss. Research from 2008 compared two groups; one group avoided whole-grain products and the other group had all whole-grain foods with their diet. The caloric intake was the same for both groups. The group that ate whole-grain significantly decreased their risk of cardiovascular disease and had a greater percentage of body fat loss. Furthermore the whole-grain munchers lost belly fat.
…and here comes the protein: Lean meats, fish and poultry.
The key here is lean meat and fish. The recommended servings per day on the original Dash diet is 2 or less and these should not exceed 170 grams a day allowing more room for healthy vegetables. A good rule is to eat more fish and poultry than red meat. Choose non-fatty cuts of meat.
Both fish and meat are high in protein . Fish is one of the top sources of Omega-3 fatty acid. This super compound has been proven to play a role in the healthy functioning of the body and the brain. Furthermore scientific studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acid reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Fish that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids include tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon and bluefish.
Darling Dairy Products
Low-fat dairy products are allowed on the Dash diet (2 to 3 servings a day to be exact). So you will need to shop carefully and look for low-fat milk or fat-free milk, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese such as Feta, Mozzarella, Goat’s cheese and ricotta. Dairy products are full of essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, fatty acids, Vitamins A, D and B12 and potassium.
Furthermore, a medical study from 2009 examined 76 college students and found that those students who ate a larger amount of low-fat dairy foods:-
- gained less body weight
- ate a better quality diet in general
- had reductions in waist circumference measurements
- had a lower total body fat percentage
The study concluded that:-
….nutritional experts should promote low-fat dairy intake as part of a healthful lifestyle.
Fats and oils
Two to three servings a day are permitted on the Dash Diet. This could be taken as 2 tablespoons of salad dressing or a teaspoon of butter… but choose your fats carefully.
There is a huge debate raging in the medical world of research regarding low-fat diets and health. Not all fats are bad for you and fats play an essential role in health and well-being.
The Dash diet recommends 2 to 3 servings a day. Despite all the bad press over the years, one huge meta-analysis examined 21 medical studies that included over 350,000 participants. This study concluded that there is not a link between saturated fat and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A little bit more about Fats
Saturated fat is solid and found in dairy and meat products, cheese and coconut oil amongst others. Non-saturated fats are liquid fats and there are two types; monounsaturated fats, know as healthy fats (liquid at room temperature) and found in such foods as olive oil, avocado and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils and fish. Now, the fats to be avoided at all times are trans-fats which are found in processed foods such as chips, margarine, cakes and biscuits. Trans-fats are mainly artificial fats that are made by a hydrogenation process.
Nuts and Seeds
The dash diet allows 4 to 5 (small servings) of nuts and seeds per week.
Nuts have had a bad press in the past because of their high calorie and fat content but nuts contain healthy fats. Nuts contain alpha-linolenic acid, one of the important healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.
Seeds are also nutrient-dense and are readily available. Experiment with sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Seeds are great sprinkled on top of salads for flavour, but they make a tasty snack too.
Health Benefits of the Dash Diet
…and there’s more …
- Short and long-term weight loss: The results of a 2011 study indicated that an increase in fruits vegetables and low-fat dairy, such as the Dash diet, help both achieve and maintain weight loss. This means that you can achieve both your long-term and short-term goals.
- Improvements in Insulin Sensitivity: Insulin sensitivity refers to how sensitive the body is to insulin. Improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin can mean lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. Several studies have shown that the Dash diet combined with exercise can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
- Reduced risk of Cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease: A 2014 study examined the effect of both the Dash diet and the Mediterranean diet on 826 elderly participants. Interestingly, according to the study, both the eating regimes are associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline in older people.
What do you think of the Dash Diet Doc?
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- Craddick SR, Elmer PJ, Obarzanek E, Vollmer WM, Svetkey LP, Swain MC.(2003) The DASH diet and blood pressure. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2003 Nov;5(6):484-91. (Retrieved July 11th 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14525682
- Siervo M, Lara J, Chowdhury S, Ashor A, Oggioni C, Mathers JC.(2015) Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2015 Jan;113(1):1-15. (Retrieved July 11th 2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25430608