The name of the DASH diet plan is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The goal of the DASH diet 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.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1/3 of Americans, more than 75 million people, have elevated or high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is a systolic reading below 120 and a diastolic below 80.
A major focus of the DASH diet plan is reducing sodium intake. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the DASH diet guidelines suggest that you should keep your sodium intake below 2300mg per day. The American Heart Association recommends reducing sodium even further, below 1500mg for lowering blood pressure.
The DASH diet has been so effective at lowering blood pressure because it recommends an easy to follow, heart healthy eating plan. Those on the DASH diet can get plenty of fiber and nutrients, such as potassium and magnesium from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Eating 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 6 servings of whole grains can help meet the recommended levels of 25 grams of fiber for women, and 38 grams of fiber for men.
Choose lean cuts of meat like fish, chicken, and turkey, instead of red meats, and no more than 6 to 8 ounces per day. Replace full fat dairy with low fat dairy to cut back on saturated fat and aim for 2 to 3 servings per day. Choose oils low in saturated fat, like olive oil or canola oil, and limit yourself to 2 to 3 tablespoons per day.
The DASH diet recommends reducing the amount of saturated fat in the diet from foods like red meat, cheese, butter, and coconut oil. In addition, trans fats found in foods like pastries, packaged cookies, and processed foods are especially harmful to heart health. Moderating alcohol intake to 1 drink a day for women and 2 for men is also important.
The DASH diet plan is not specifically intended for weight-loss, although some participants may experience a reduction in weight while on the plan. The plan is designed for someone who eats about 2,000 calories per day, but there are modifications available for people on 1,600-, 2,600- and 3,100-calorie diets.
A research study published in a 2011 issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that the DASH diet was successful for weight loss and maintaining weight loss. In addition, a 2003 article in "Hypertension," concluded that weight loss was necessary for the treatment and prevention of high blood pressure. This may be why the DASH diet has been ranked the number one diet out of 40 popular diets by U.S. News and World Report for 8 years in a row.
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 may be more effective than the 2,300mg salt limit at lowering blood pressure, but any limitation on sodium is helpful.
According to 2001 research published in "The New England Journal of Medicine," the DASH diet and lowering sodium to 1,500mg per day resulted in an average 11.5mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure in study participants who were previously diagnosed as hypertensive. Individuals saw a decrease in blood pressure within 30 days 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. Individuals 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 is also essential in reducing blood pressure.