The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is an eating plan based on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and choosing lean proteins, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils, while limiting sweets and foods high in saturated fats.
A recent study published the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that men and women younger than 75 who most closely followed the DASH diet had a significantly lower risk of heart failure compared to study participants who did not follow the DASH diet. Currently, about 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure, and about half of those who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.
The DASH diet and heart health
This latest study adds to established research linking the DASH diet with heart health. For example, the original DASH trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, found that the DASH diet reduced blood pressure in adults with borderline high blood pressure (hypertension). Importantly, the DASH trial represented a broad spectrum of men and women, including racial and ethnic minorities from a variety of socioeconomic levels.
In a second study, researchers added a low-sodium modification to the DASH diet. In this trial, participants following a DASH diet were randomized to receive 3,000, 2,300, or 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. The study found that the low-sodium (1,500 mg/day) DASH diet was as effective for lowering blood pressure as a first-line blood pressure-lowering medication. This is significant because, according to the American Heart Association, an estimated 103 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure, defined as a reading of 130/80 mm Hg or greater.
Why does the DASH diet work?
The DASH diet
- is low in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol
- is low in sodium (if following the low-sodium version)
- is rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber
- emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy
- includes whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts
- limits red meat, sweets, and sugary beverages.
These components seem to work synergistically to reduce risk factors for heart disease.
Getting started on the DASH diet
If you’d like to try the DASH diet, follow these guidelines, which are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
||Examples of one serving
||1 slice bread; 1/2 cup cooked rice; pasta; 1 ounce dry cereal
||1 cup raw, leafy vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked vegetable
||1 medium apple; 1 cup melon
||1 cup milk or yogurt; 1 1/2 ounces cheese
|Lean meat, poultry, fish
||6 or less
||1 ounce cooked lean meat, fish, poultry; 1 egg
|Nuts, legumes, seeds
||4–5 per week
||1/3 cup nuts; 2 tablespoons peanut butter; 1/2 cup cooked legumes
|Fats and oils
||1 teaspoon healthy oil (olive); 2 tablespoons salad dressing
||5 or less per week
||1 tablespoon sugar; 1 cup soda; 1/2 cup sorbet
|Adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health
Here are some tips for incorporating the DASH diet throughout your day.
Fruits and vegetables
- Start loading up on fruits and vegetables with your first meal of the day. Try an egg white omelet, cooked in olive oil. Add spinach, mushrooms, and yellow and orange peppers. Or make a quick smoothie using strawberries, blueberries, greens, and low-fat yogurt or low-fat milk.
- Assemble a marvelous salad for lunch with fresh salad greens, your favorite fruits and veggies, a healthy protein like beans, tuna, chicken, or tofu, a sprinkling of nuts or seeds, some whole grains like farro or quinoa, and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon.
- Make a stir-fry for dinner. Start with a healthy oil (olive or peanut), add some garlic, and load up with onions, peppers, baby bok choy, broccoli, mushrooms, asparagus, and any other vegetables you may have. Frozen vegetables are fine too. Make a little space in the wok to cook some chicken, shrimp, or tofu. Don’t forget to add some spices for flavor!
Dairy and whole grains
- Try a whole-grain cold cereal with low-fat milk or old-fashioned oats prepared using milk.
- Use low-fat cottage cheese and add some fresh chives. Serve on a few whole-grain crackers.
- Make a whole-wheat pasta and add some low-fat feta or goat cheese. Include a few peas and cherry tomatoes. Top with some extra virgin olive oil or a little pesto.
- For a healthy dressing, mix 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil to 1/3 cup vinegar, add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a dash of salt, and some ground pepper.
- Use olive oil when preparing roasted, stir-fried, or grilled vegetables.
- Try avocado toast — a slice of whole-grain bread with 1/2 an avocado sliced thin. Squeeze some fresh lemon over, and top with a teaspoon of sesame seeds.
Nuts, legumes, and seeds
- Add some nuts to your oatmeal or plain yogurt.
- Add pumpkin or sunflower seeds to salads.
- Have a small package of nuts or seeds on hand as a late afternoon snack.
- Make a vegetarian chili with black or red beans, chopped onions, canned tomatoes, minced garlic, cumin, and chili powder. If you use canned beans, rinse and drain them or buy the low-sodium version.
Fish, poultry, or lean meat
- Use lean protein as a part of the meal, not as the focus or the only food on your plate.
- Add chicken, fish, and occasionally lean meat to soups and salads where vegetables, whole grains, herbs, and nuts can take center stage.
- Try fish or chicken kabobs on the grill with chunks of red onion, portobello mushrooms, and yellow, red, and green peppers.
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