What’s the DASH Diet and Why Doctors Call It the Best Diet

High blood pressure affects more than a billion people worldwide — and that number is rising.

In fact, the number of people with high blood pressure has doubled in the last 40 years — a serious health concern, as high blood pressure is linked to a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, kidney failure and stroke (12).

As diet is thought to play a major role in the development of high blood pressure, scientists and policymakers have engineered specific dietary strategies to help reduce it (34).

This article examines the DASH diet, which was designed to combat high blood pressure and reduce people’s risk of heart disease.

What Is the DASH Diet?

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, is a diet recommended for people who want to prevent or treat hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — and reduce their risk of heart disease.

The DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.

The diet was created after researchers noticed that high blood pressure was much less common in people who followed a plant-based diet, such as vegans and vegetarians (56).

That’s why the DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables while containing some lean proteinsources like chicken, fish and beans. The diet is low in red meat, salt, added sugars and fat.

Scientists believe that one of the main reasons people with high blood pressure can benefit from this diet is because it reduces salt intake.

The regular DASH diet program encourages no more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg) of sodium per day, which is in line with most national guidelines.

The lower-salt version recommends no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

Potential Benefits

Beyond reducing blood pressure, the DASH diet offers a number of potential benefits, including weight loss and reduced cancer risk.

However, you shouldn’t expect DASH to help you shed weight on its own — as it was designed fundamentally to lower blood pressure. Weight loss may simply be an added perk.

The diet impacts your body in several ways.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force put on your blood vessels and organs as your blood passes through them. It’s counted in two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels between heartbeats, when your heart is at rest.

Normal blood pressure for adults is a systolic pressure below 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mmHg. This is normally written with the systolic blood pressure above the diastolic pressure, like this: 120/80.

People with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 are considered to have high blood pressure.

Interestingly, the DASH diet demonstrably lowers blood pressure in both healthy people and those with high blood pressure.

In studies, people on the DASH diet still experienced lower blood pressure even if they didn’t lose weight or restrict salt intake (78).

However, when sodium intake was restricted, the DASH diet lowered blood pressure even further. In fact, the greatest reductions in blood pressure were seen in people with the lowest salt consumption (9).

These low-salt DASH diet results were most impressive in people who already had high blood pressure, reducing systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg (5).

In people with normal blood pressure, it reduced systolic blood pressure by 4 mmHg and diastolic by 2 mmHg (5).

This is in line with other studies which reveal that restricting salt intake can reduce blood pressure — especially in those who have high blood pressure (10).

Keep in mind that a decrease in blood pressure does not always translate to a decreased risk of heart disease (11).

May Aid Weight Loss

You will likely experience lower blood pressure on the DASH diet whether or not you lose weight.

However, if you already have high blood pressure, chances are you have been advised to lose weight.

This is because the more you weigh, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be (121314).

Additionally, losing weight has been shown to lower blood pressure (1516).

Some studies suggest that people can lose weight on the DASH diet (171819).

However, those who have lost weight on the DASH diet have been in a controlled calorie deficit — meaning they were told to eat fewer calories than they were expending.

Given that the DASH diet cuts out a lot of high-fat, sugary foods, people may find that they automatically reduce their calorie intake and lose weight. Other people may have to consciously restrict their intake (20).

Either way, if you want to lose weight on the DASH diet, you’ll still need to go on a calorie-reduced diet.

Original source: https://www.healthline.com

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