The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet plan, was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help Americans lower their blood pressure.
One of the main ways DASH helps folks do this is by emphasizing a decrease in sodium intake. American men take in average 4,200 milligrams per day and American women take in around 3,300 milligrams per day—significantly higher than the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day for most people.
Two of the biggest reasons we eat so much salt are 1) processed foods, and 2) restaurants (the Sizzling Steak Fajitas at Applebee’s, for example, have a ridiculous 6,250 milligrams of sodium—more than three days’ worth for most people!).
The DASH diet plan includes two menus to help people reduce these numbers: one with a daily sodium maximum of 2,300 milligrams per day (for the general population) and one with a daily sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams per day (for people with hypertension, African-Americans, and middle-aged and older adults).
If you’d like to lower your blood pressure or just adopt healthier eating habits, here are some frequently asked questions about DASH that will help you determine if this diet is right for you.
What Foods Can I Eat on the DASH Diet Plan?
The DASH plan advocates eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and emphasizes fresh fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy products. Many fresh fruits and veggies are high in potassium, which can help counteract the negative effects of sodium.
The DASH diet also includes plenty of whole grains, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and limits consumption of sweets, added sugars, liquid calories, and red meats.
What Does Research Say About DASH?
DASH is supported by several clinical studies, particularly for its effectiveness at lowering blood pressure and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease.
One study found that changing our national health policy to promote a DASH-style diet plan “could have a significant impact on population health by reducing average blood pressure.”
Another clinical study found that combining exercise with the DASH diet resulted in heart healthy benefits.
The US News & World Report ranked the DASH diet plan number one for four years in a row (2011 – 2014).
What Are the Pros and Cons of the DASH Diet Plan?
The DASH diet plan is fairly easy to follow for people who are willing to cook their own food. DASH will require more time in the kitchen compared to other diets. It’s not a diet for people looking for a quick, easy solution.
However, DASH may be a good diet for people looking to lower their blood pressure.
It’s endorsed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic, and plenty of physicians. It’s empirically supported by solid research. And most importantly, it can help you create healthy habits that will lead to a longer, healthier life.
- National Institutes of Health: What Is the DASH Eating Plan?
- National Institutes of Health: Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH (a PDF Guide)
- National Institutes of Health:The DASH diet and blood pressure
- National Institutes of Health: DASH Diet Score and Distribution of Blood Pressure in Middle-Aged Men and Women
- National Institutes of Health: Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss
- US News: Best Diets Overall