If you’re concerned about your general health, blood pressure or diabetes, DASH into the DASH eating plan! Let’s learn more about this healthful way to eat.
WHAT IS THE DASH DIET?
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” As the name implies, the eating plan originally was developed to reduce high blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. However, in the years since its creation, DASH has proven to be a great way for everyone to eat in order to maintain wellness.
The DASH eating plan focuses on reducing the amount of sodium (salt) you consume. Sodium is an essential nutrient, but many people eat excessive amounts of it. That’s because sodium “hides” in many products, such as processed meats, bagged snacks and even sports drinks. Consuming excessive amounts of sodium makes hypertension worse in people who have it, and some studies have concluded that eating large quantities of sodium may actually cause high blood pressure.
RISK FACTORS FOR HYPERTENSION
Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you might benefit from following the DASH diet. People who could benefit from adopting the DASH eating plan include those who:
- Have been diagnosed with high blood pressure
- Are overweight or obese
- Drink a lot of alcohol
- Have a family history of heart disease or hypertension
- Eat a poor diet, especially one that includes excessive amounts of sodium
- Are African-American
- Have diabetes or chronic kidney disease
- Are middle-aged or older, with or without hypertension
HOW DOES THE DASH DIET WORK?
The DASH eating plan emphasizes consuming a lot of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, beans, seeds and nuts. You won’t find a lot of red meat, chicken or pork in the DASH plan, nor will you find much sugar or foods/beverages with added sugar. DASH is about eating fresh, healthy foods that are naturally low in sodium.
A key feature of the DASH eating plan involves putting down the salt shaker. You should never add salt to the foods you prepare or consume on the DASH diet. You also should avoid salt “substitutes,” as these often contain potassium, which can cause an irregular heart rhythm in some people. If you are finding food flavorless without salt, use some of these natural flavorings to spice things up:
- Fresh lemon (especially good squeezed onto fish and vegetables)
- Salt-free spice blends
- Cayenne pepper (to add some heat)
- Onion, garlic and other strongly flavored accents
- Curry powder (salt-free)
Many stores today carry vast arrays of salt-free herb and spice blends. With a little time, you’re sure to find several that suit your tastebuds. You won’t even miss the salt!
HOW MUCH SODIUM IS TOO MUCH?
A small amount of sodium is necessary for the body to function properly. You should not try to eliminate salt from your diet entirely.
The DASH diet aims to limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Some physicians, diet groups and dieticians call for reducing sodium intake even more, to no more than 1,500mg per day. If your hypertension is uncontrolled, you certainly should aim for the lower figure.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a free booklet all about how to get started on the DASH diet. You can download a free copy from their website: