Guide to the DASH Diet for hypertension & weight loss

Diet
Coach Kannan
March 03,2023

5-point Summary

  • About a billion people globally are affected by hypertension (high blood pressure or BP), making hypertension a major health problem. A high BP increases the risk of a heart attack, kidney malfunction, and other conditions. Diet plays a crucial role, both as a cause of BP as well as in controlling it. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is a dietary system designed for hypertension patients.
  • The diet is not a specific diet but a set of guidelines that lists the foods to eat and foods to avoid for hypertension.
  • The main foods groups to eat as per the diet are whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean proteins, heart-friendly oils, low-fat milk products, fresh fruits and low-fat sweets.
  • The main foods groups to avoid as per the diet are high-salt foods, red meat, saturated fats and sugars.
  • The DASH diet has been shown to be effective in managing hypertension as well as for weight loss. The positive effect on weight loss should not surprising as the diet prescribes what any good weight loss diet plan should – lots of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains while controlling sugar and processed foods. These are always good principles to follow, whether you have hypertension or not. But do not follow this diet blindly. If you do not have hypertension, restricting your salt intake too much is not advisable. Therefore please seek the advice of a doctor or nutritionist before embarking on any dietary change

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Introduction

About a billion people globally are affected by hypertension (high blood pressure or BP), making hypertension a major health problem. A high BP increases the risk of a heart attack, kidney malfunction, and other conditions. Diet has a crucial role, so a specific diet plan called DASH has been designed for hypertension patients. It is a low-sodium diet especially launched for hypertension. However, it helps in regulating other body systems also. The diet focuses on eating more plant-based, fresh, and low-fat content and avoiding high-fat and processed foods. This article will explain in detail what the DASH diet is, its benefits and how you can follow it’s principles for better health.

What is a DASH diet?

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as the DASH diet, is a set of mostly plant-based diet choices that assist control of high blood pressure, promote a healthy heart, and lose weight following nutritive eating patterns. The key aspect of this diet is the consumption of low sodium, red meat, sugars, and fats. The diet is helpful for weight loss as it is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins.

According to studies, less salt intake makes the DASH diet for hypertension an excellent option. Unlike a conventional low-sodium diet, one can take only 3/4 to 1 teaspoon /day of salt during the DASH diet plan. The diet also stresses a higher intake of calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fibers. The combined effect of these nutrients controls blood pressure.

DASH diet plan – What to eat and what to avoid?

What to eat?

Here is a detail of what foods and how much one should take when following a DASH diet plan.

1۔ Whole grains

Whole grains are unprocessed cereals containing pericarps, germ, and endosperm grains. Whole wheat bread and pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, and corn are examples of whole grains. Hypertension is one of the multiple ailments that these grains prevent. That is why the DASH diet chart includes 6-8 servings daily of whole grains for a healthy and fuller meal that controls blood pressure. These servings can be divided over the day to form an easily followable regime. You can take whole grain cereal for breakfast, oatmeal for brunch, brown rice, or pasta for lunch and dinner.

2۔ Vegetables

The favorite food set of healthy food enthusiasts is vegetables. The DASH diet benefits can be maximized by taking vegetables 5 to 6 times daily in different portions by making soups and mixed vegetable salads. Vegetables that help balance your diet and are included in the DASH diet for hypertension include cabbage, carrots, peas, potatoes, leafy vegetables, and broccoli.

3۔ Dried Nuts, Edible Seeds, and Legumes

Seeds and dried nuts are the healthiest sources of necessary fats. The legumes provide plant-based fiber-rich proteins. The DASH diet chart should have the dried nuts and legumes column checked 4-5 times weekly. The DASH diet encourages high fiber intake for healthier weight loss. Multiple crucial vitamins like B6, and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, selenium, and potassium etc. are present in them too. The dried nuts and seeds have a thermic effect which leads to more calorie consumption for their digestion and thus makes the DASH diet helpful for weight loss. However, it’s better to consume nuts & seeds in small quantities only as they are rich in fats. Sunflower seeds, peanut butter, red beans, and all lentils are widely available elements from this group.

4۔ Lean proteins

Lean proteins are protein-rich foods that have a low amount of saturated fats. Although the DASH diet plan is mainly plant-based, including some meat or protein-rich foods like eggs is crucial for a healthy body. The DASH diet notes an intake of about 6 servings daily of lean protein through any source of choice. Poultry and fish are good options to meet your requirements. Vegetarians can have tofu or paneer. Eggs are also a good option.

Also Read: A Complete Guide To Healthy Food And Junk Food

5۔ Heart friendly oils

The DASH diet takes its roots from the Mediterranean plan, which is rich in health-promoting fats. So, the diet stresses the use of heart friendly fats. It specifies that one should consume heart-friendly oils like olive, canola, and safflower oil twice or thrice a day.

6۔ Low-fat milk products

As the DASH diet benefits involve maintaining a healthy weight so one must avoid the high consumption of saturated fats found in dairy products. However, dairy products are vital for many body functions, so one should consume low-fat or fat-free dairy products twice or thrice daily. Skimmed milk, low-fat yogurt and cheese are a few options.

7۔ Fresh fruits

Fruits are an important part of a healthy diet. Similarly, the DASH diet plan encourages taking them all. There is not much scientific evidence to support the idea that natural fruit sugar can cause any harm. The DASH diet specifies 4 to 5 servings of fruit a day.

8۔ Low-fat sweets

Diet plans are mostly sugar-free, and here the DASH diet is one of its kind as it allows one to treat oneself occasionally. It specifies that sweets can be had five times or less per week.

A DASH diet chart of daily and weekly servings is attached below for ease[1]:

Food Groups Daily servings Food Groups Weekly servings
Whole grains 6 to 8 Nuts, beans & seeds 4 to 5
Lean meat, chicken, and fish ≤6 Sweets ≤5
Vegetables 4 to 5
Fresh fruit 4 to 5
Low or no-fat dairy products 2 to 3
Fats and oils 2 to 3
Salt 1 teaspoon

 

What to avoid?

Your DASH diet chart should not contain foods that taint heart performance and elevate blood pressure. In this context, the following are the foods that one should limit:

1۔ Sodium-rich foods

According to studies, consuming a drastically lower quantity of salt is helpful in keeping blood pressure normal and reducing the risk of heart disease. The most challenging step in the diet is not to add too much salt in the food. Not only salt but the foods that are usually rich in salt, like fast food, packaged and processed meat, and food, must be avoided.

2۔ Red meat

The DASH diet for hypertension focuses on fish and poultry meat consumption over red meat, including beef, lamb, veal, and pork. Red meat is not rigidly prohibited in the DASH diet, but one should limit its consumption as it is rich in fats and cholesterol.

3۔ Saturated fats

There is some evidence that fats may influence heart health. So as a precaution, one should reduce the intake of saturated fat-rich foods. These include cheese, meat fats, chicken with skin, pork fat, cream, butter, and full-fat milk. Also, the DASH diet for weight loss emphasizes reducing fat content.

Also Read: Plant-based Vegan Diet Plan For Weight Loss

4۔ Sugars

The most important of the DASH diet benefits is that you’ll be cautious of packaged and processed food ingredients and stop adding too much sugar in your diet. There isn’t ample evidence available on sugar and high blood pressure, but some studies suggest that sugar may elevate hypertension. Also, sugar has no nutritional value, so if you are following the DASH diet for weight loss avoiding sugar may benefit you. You must stop taking simple sugar, sweets, dressings, and junk containing sugar.Following is the DASH diet plan of what to eat and avoid[2]. 

Foods to Eat Foods to Avoid
Vegetables High fat meat
Whole grains Full-fat dairy
Fresh Fruits Sugar and beverages
Low and fat-free dairy Sweets
Fish Salts
Chicken
Beans
Dried nuts & seeds
Heart friendly oils

Is the DASH diet for everyone?

All the DASH diet benefits make people curious about it, and they want to know if they can follow it. The American diet guidelines define this diet as an eating model for people who wish to stay healthy. It can provide additional benefits by controlling weight and regulating the heart. However, the actual purpose of this diet plan was to help people with high blood pressure problems. Severe salt restriction as required in the DASH diet may not be that helpful for those with normal or low blood pressure.

DASH diet: Potential Health Benefits

Apart from maintaining blood pressure, this diet helps lose weight and lessen the risk of heart disease. The potential DASH diets benefits are discussed in brief below:

DASH diet for hypertension

Blood pressure (BP) is the force exerted on vessels when the heart pumps blood toward them. For an adult, the normal BP is 120/80 mmHg. Pressure more than this is considered hypertension. Studies found that in the DASH diet, a lower BP was experienced. The link between salt intake and blood pressure was that the lesser the consumption, the lower the pressure. The DASH diet was most favorable for people suffering from hypertension. As their blood pressure is reduced by 12/5 mmHg. In people with normal BP, the DASH diet reduced the pressure by 4/2 mmHg

DASH diet for weight loss

With the DASH diet, you’ll have lower blood pressure. If you have hypertension, you must reduce or control your weight because obese people are more prone to have high blood pressure. Here is where the DASH diet can help. The diet relies on healthy food options like fruits and vegetables. It reduces the consumption of fat-rich and sugar-based foods, and therefore can help with weight reduction.

DASH diet for cancer prevention

This diet is mainly a plant-based, high-grain, and low-junk diet. Such eating patterns are helpful in cancer prevention. According to studies, DASH regime followers have a lower chance of colon and breast cancer.

Also Read: Indian Diet Plan for Healthy Life

Prevention of metabolic syndrome with the DASH diet

The metabolic syndrome, a combination of hypertension, elevated body sugar, unnecessary belly waist fat, and high cholesterol levels, can be prevented by this diet. If not managed immediately, this syndrome can result in heart problems and other serious health conditions. Studies suggest that the diet can help in a big way to lower the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Lowering the risk of diabetes

The DASH diet benefits also include a lesser chance of getting diabetes. Evidence suggests that it can enhance the insulin breakdown mechanism of the body.

Regulating heart health

The high fruit and vegetable content in the diet is potent in maintaining a healthy heart. In a review, women with a DASH diet have 20% lesser chances of a heart attack and 29% fewer chances of a stroke.

Conclusion

The DASH diet is a low-salt diet. It plan is specifically helpful for hypertension but provides multiple health benefits. Apart from lower salt intake, it encourages the use of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, low-fat milk, and dried nuts. When on this diet, it is necessary to minimize the intake of sugars, high-fat meat, dairy, and salt. Following the DASH diet chart religiously is helpful in the fight against high blood pressure, cancers, kidney ailments, liver diseases, diabetes, controlling weight, and maintaining heart health. In many cases, this diet has delivered desirable results for weight loss . However, this diet is not for everyone, especially for people with a medical condition who must consult their doctor before following any regime.

Also, if you do not have hypertension, restricting your salt intake too much is not advisable. Therefore please seek the advice of a doctor or nutritionist before embarking on any dietary change.

About the Author

Coach Kannan
Kannan is a Precision Nutrition & ISSA Certified Nutrition Coach and a ACE-Certified Behavior Change Specialist. Kannan focuses on ideas that are scientific and also work in the real world. He is allergic to advice that is unscientific or not practical.

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