The DASH Diet – #5 in the Best Eating Plan Series

“Your grandmother told you to drink your milk, eat your fruits and vegetables, and go outside and play.  It is still valuable nutrition advice.” 
– from the book The DASH Diet Action Plan.

What Is It?
D.A.S.H. stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.  

In the U.S. about 1 in every 3 adults have hypertension, and another 1 in every 3 adults has prehypertension (blood pressure numbers higher than normal, but not yet in the high blood pressure range), putting us at increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. 

The DASH plan alone has been shown in research to lower blood pressure as well as medication, proving once again that food can be medicine for the body.

What Foods Are Included?
The DASH plan includes the following foods daily: 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy or non-fat dairy, 7 to 8 servings of whole grains, 2 servings of lean meats such as fish, chicken, and turkey, 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and 5 servings per week of nuts and beans. 

It is moderate in protein and low in saturated fat and is a flexible plan that includes a variety of real, whole foods that can be individualized to fit into anyone’s lifestyle. 

You will not go hungry on the DASH plan, which I love.  Any diet that keeps you forever hungry and deprived is not one that will last.

Here is a typical day on a 1600 calorie DASH plan:
Breakfast: Southwestern egg white omelet with red pepper & onions, 1 slice whole wheat toast topped with 2 teaspoons raspberry jam, 1 cup mixed blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, 4 ounces juice, with a latte coffee with skim milk
Snack: 1 Tablespoon peanut butter with celery sticks
Lunch:  Grilled cheese with tomato on whole wheat bread, 1 slice cheese, 2 slices tomato, 3/4 cup cucumber topped with Italian dressing, 1 cup sliced peaches
Snack: 1 small banana and strawberry Greek yogurt
Dinner:  4 ounces roasted chicken breast, small sweet potato, asparagus, tomato spinach salad with olive oil based dressing

Sounds pretty tasty and filling, right? The plan is packed with fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or non-fat dairy, each providing key beneficial nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, known to lower blood pressure. It is all of these nutrients working in concert together that have the most positive effect on our health.  

What are the Health Benefits?
The DASH plan has been around for years, with a few changes along the way, and is consistently listed as one of the top diets for health. Although it is a plan that was developed originally to lower blood pressure through diet without the use of medications, it has been found, through numerous scientific studies, to have many other benefits too. 

The DASH plan has been shown to be helpful in reducing cholesterol; lowering risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, heart failure, kidney stones, and diabetes; improving insulin sensitivity; reducing inflammation; as well as promoting weight loss. 

Here are some of the results of ongoing research.

  • Lowered risk of heart failure by 22% in a study of 39,000 men aged 45-79 
  • Lowered risk of heart failure in women by 37%, in a study of 36,000 women over 7 years
  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes among both men and women
  • Preserved kidney function in women with early signs of impaired kidney function
  • Helped show improvements in LDL, HDL, triglycerides, fasting glucose, and blood pressure in patients with metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms including insulin resistance, low HDL, elevated blood pressure, and/or high triglycerides)
  • Reduced the risk of kidney stones in both men and women by 55% (this study followed 46,000 men for 18 years and 196,000 women for 14 to 18 years – making the results especially powerful)
  • Reduced the likelihood of women to develop estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer and lowered risk of colorectal cancer by 20% 

Tips On How To Incorporate It
1. Eat a Salad Everyday. Not a lover of all things leafy and green? Try to add tasty toppings that make it more appealing. Any variety of beans, a small handful of nuts, a colorful variety of veggies and/or fruit – like bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, apples, strawberries, peaches, apples, pears…to name a few.

2. Make Eating Healthy Convenient and Easy. Many people avoid eating healthy because they think it is difficult and complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. Make eating more fruits and veggies easier. Look for bagged ready-to-eat cut up veggies, like baby carrots, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage slaw, broccoli slaw, cauliflower tops, etc. 

Yogurt is a great simple, easy snack.  Throw in a few berries and almonds and you have fabulous DASH approved snack that takes less than a minute to put together.

3. Make Fresh Veggies the Center of Your Plate. This time of year is the perfect time to design your meals around produce. Have a couple of veggies as sides or include a starchy vegetable like corn or a sweet potato instead of a grain.  

4. Drink a Smoothie For Breakfast. Short on time in the morning? Smoothies are a perfect way to get your fruits, veggies, and low-fat or non-fat dairy to start your day off right. Berries are a staple in my freezer.  Throw some berries, a small banana, some skim milk and a Tablespoon of ground flax seed into the blender and you’ve got a healthy, balanced breakfast.

Want more information, meal ideas, and menus? The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution is a great resource for putting the plan into practice in your own life.