by Shayna Bryan, Intern & UAB Community Health & Human Services Student
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America. In addressing this national challenge, researchers created the DASH diet after following participants in a rigorous 5-year intervention called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study. Hypertension, also known as high-blood pressure, is a major risk factor for heart disease, but can be managed with a healthy diet. The DASH diet was designed to be a nutrition-based approach to address the high rates of hypertension and heart disease associated with the typical high-sodium American diet. Most studies on nutrition use dietary recalls, looking at past diet history. In contrast, the DASH study participants were provided with food and their sodium intake was carefully controlled and monitored. The results of the DASH Diet Study demonstrated that diet alone is effective at reducing blood pressure!
The CDC recommends the average adult consumes less than 2,300 mg sodium per day. The DASH diet sets this as the beginning maximum, but about 90% of Americans are consuming far more than this. The average sodium consumption per day is an astounding 3,400 mg for U.S. adults! Just lowering one’s daily salt intake down to the CDC recommendation will be a major improvement for most people and will result in blood pressure reduction in a matter of weeks. The even more ambitious low-sodium DASH diet aims to gradually reduce your intake to 1,500 mg per day.
Most of the sodium we consume comes in the form of salt, which is added to processed foods for preservation and flavor. We can drastically lower our salt intake by focusing on whole foods which are naturally low in sodium.
The DASH diet emphasis the consumption of:
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
- Low-Fat dairy
This combination is high in potassium, magnesium and calcium, and fiber, while low in saturated fats. All of these nutrients, particularly the potassium (which is abundant in vegetables) help naturally lower blood pressure and counteract the effects of excessive sodium. The DASH Diet also discourages foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat, as well as sugary beverages.
The DASH Diet is recommended by the American Heart Association and is ranked the best heart-healthy diet and second-best diet overall (it has often traded places with the very similar current #1 spot, the Mediterranean Diet, which you can read about here) by the U.S. News and World Report.
Gradual change is the key to success whenever making a positive change in life.
Here are some small changes you can make to ease yourself into DASH-style diet:
- Add one serving of vegetables to your existing meals
- Go meatless for 2+ days a week
- Switch out some of your grains to whole, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta
- Add more herbs and spices to your meals, instead of salt
- Snack on more whole foods, such as nuts or fruit
Below are some full meal plans designed by experts and more detailed resources.
DASH Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/dash-diet
Dash eating plan. (n.d.). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
How to make the dash diet work for you. (2019, May 08). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456
Sodium. (2020, September 08). Retrieved June 03, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/sodium.htm