The name of the DASH diet plan is an acronym for dietary approaches to stop hypertension. The goal of the DASH diet plan is to reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure, in individuals who have it and to prevent elevations in blood pressure for people who are at risk. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, more than 1/3 of Americans, more than 65 million people, have blood pressure above the normal, healthy range.
A major focus of the DASH diet plan is a reduction in sodium intake. The plan has two options, one for individuals who want to reduce their sodium intake below 2,300mg a day and a second plan for those who want to reduce their intake of salt to 1,500mg daily or less.
In addition to salt reduction, the plan includes six to eight servings of whole grains, four to five servings of fruit, four to five servings of vegetables, four to five servings of nuts, seeds or legumes and two to three servings of dairy each day. Lean meat, including fish and poultry, is kept below six daily servings and fats should make up approximately 27 percent of daily calories spread between two to three servings.
The standard DASH diet plan is not specifically intended as a weight-loss plan, although some participants may experience a reduction in weight while on the plan. The plan is designed for someone who ingests about 2,000 calories per day, but there are modifications available for people on 1,600-, 2,600- and 3,100-calorie diets.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, studies on individuals following the DASH diet plan showed a significant reduction in blood pressure while on the plan. The 1,500mg salt limit is more effective than the 2,300mg salt limit at lowering blood pressure, but both have some effect on hypertension. According to the National Institutes of Health, the DASH diet version limiting salt to 1,500mg resulted in an average 11.5mmHg drop in blood pressure in study participants who were previously diagnosed as hypertensive. Individuals saw a decrease in blood pressure within two weeks of starting the DASH diet.
MayoClinic.com recommends that people trying the DASH diet begin gradually, adding healthy food and replacing poor food choices while slowly cutting back on sodium. Dieters may also be more successful if they find ways to reward adherence to the diet plan and get support from friends, family or their doctor. Adding physical activity to the DASH diet may help reduce blood pressure even more.