DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
Hypertension means high blood pressure so the DASH diet is using diet changes to help control blood pressure. The diet emphasises having lots of vegetables and fruit along with low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish and poultry and some nuts and seeds and limits refined sugars, red and processed meat along with high fat and saturated fat.
It has been proven to lower blood pressure within two weeks. It brings even better results if paired with a reduced salt intake. The DASH diet recommends how many servings of each food group to have each day or each week, which varies depending on your required daily calorie intake.
High blood pressure is very common with around one in four people in the UK suffering from it. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart problems, kidney problems and strokes, so keeping it under control is of the utmost importance to prevent these conditions.
The DASH diet can have other benefits including lowering your risk of certain cancers, along with your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Here's a detailed overview of the DASH diet principles and food recommendations:
The DASH diet encourages consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are high in essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim to include a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables in your meals and snacks, such as berries, leafy greens, citrus fruits, tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers.
Whole grains provide essential nutrients and dietary fibre, which can help promote heart health and regulate blood pressure. Choose whole grain options such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, oats, barley, and whole grain pasta instead of refined grains.
Opt for lean sources of protein, such as poultry, fish, seafood, beans, lentils, tofu, and nuts. Limit the intake of red meat, processed meats, and high-fat animal products, which are higher in saturated fats and cholesterol.
Include low-fat or fat-free dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as part of your diet. These foods provide essential nutrients like calcium, potassium, and vitamin D without the added saturated fats found in full-fat dairy products.
Choose heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, in moderation. These sources of unsaturated fats can help improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Reduce the intake of sodium by avoiding processed and packaged foods, which are often high in sodium. Instead, flavour your meals with herbs, spices, lemon juice, or vinegar, and choose low-sodium or no-added-salt versions of foods when possible.
Minimise the consumption of sugary beverages, sweets, and desserts, which can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of heart disease. Opt for naturally sweet foods like fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.
If you choose to consume alcohol, do so in moderation. Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
While the DASH diet focuses on promoting nutrient-rich foods, portion control is also emphasised to help manage calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight. Paying attention to serving sizes and avoiding oversized portions can contribute to better overall health and weight management.
One of the advantages of the DASH diet is its flexibility, allowing individuals to adapt the dietary principles to their personal preferences, cultural traditions, and food availability. It's not a strict, one-size-fits-all plan but rather a framework that can be tailored to suit individual needs and lifestyles.
Research has shown that following the DASH diet can lead to significant improvements in blood pressure control, cholesterol levels, and overall heart health. In addition to its immediate effects on cardiovascular health, the DASH diet may also reduce the risk of other chronic conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer when followed consistently over the long term.
Like any dietary approach, the key to success with the DASH diet lies in adherence and sustainability. Incorporating small, gradual changes into your eating habits and focusing on long-term behaviour modification rather than short-term fixes can lead to lasting improvements in health and well-being.
Planning and preparing meals in advance can help individuals adhere to the DASH diet guidelines and make healthier choices. Meal prepping can save time and effort during busy weekdays, ensuring that nutritious meals and snacks are readily available.
While the DASH diet primarily focuses on dietary factors, it's essential to complement it with regular physical activity for optimal health benefits. Engaging in regular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or strength training, can further enhance cardiovascular fitness, weight management, and overall well-being.
You should book a routine visit with your doctor if you are thinking of commencing the DASH diet.
The doctor will initially discuss your reasons for starting the DASH diet and check it is right for you. They can answer any questions you have. They will take initial health checks such as your blood pressure, check your pulse and may offer an up to date blood test to look at things like your current cholesterol level and diabetes.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor's practice will monitor your blood pressure at regular intervals to see if it is improving, and likely encourage you to continue with your new healthy eating regimen. If you are overweight, they will encourage weight loss. And if you’re on medication and the DASH diet brings great benefit to your blood pressure, they may consider reducing the dose or stopping these altogether.
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