Have you heard of the DASH Diet? It’s part of the US national dietary guidelines, has plenty of clinically proven benefits for hypertensive patients, and has been around for 20 years – but few people who could really benefit from it use it. Read on for a look at what the DASH diet is, who could benefit from it, and if more people should be following it!
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What is the DASH Diet?
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is just what the name suggests – a diet aimed at lowering blood pressure and stopping hypertension. It emphasizes foods rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt. On your plate, that looks like plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, fish, poultry, whole grains, and low fat dairy, with fewer fatty meats and sweets. While it’s not a reduced-sodium diet, lowering sodium intake by eating whole foods over processed foods enhances the diet’s effect.
The #DASHdiet is pretty healthy: produce, whole grains, #healthyfats, lean #protein. But why don’t more people follow it? #80twentynutrition @80twentyrule
The DASH diet has been proven to effectively lower hypertension for patients with hypertension and prehypertension time and time again since its creation 20 years ago. The original trial of the diet showed reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure across subgroups of gender, race/ethnicity, and in hypertensive and prehypertensive patients. Further studies found that adherence to the DASH diet lowered total and LDL cholesterol, reduced the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke even throughout several years of follow up, and reduced bone turnover, improving bone health.
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Who Should Follow the DASH Diet?
The DASH Diet is recommended by the American Heart Association for managing blood pressure and by the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute because of its blood pressure-lowering effects for hypertensive adults, and it’s also been shown effective for prehypertensive patients. So, if your blood pressure is elevated or you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension – the DASH diet is definitely for you.
Could we all benefit from following the #DASHdiet? It’s not just for people with high blood pressure or hypertension! #80TwentyNutrition @80twentyrule
But what about if you don’t have high blood pressure? Should you ignore DASH and be on your way?
Well, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that the model eating plan for all americans is the DASH diet, as it outlines a generally healthy diet that anyone can benefit from. Its principles lead to a nutrient rich, yet not calorie-dense diet that has been shown helpful in weight loss as well.
image source: Kajal Shah via Flickr
The DASH diet has been studied across gender, race/ethnicity, and disease state, and consistently shows improvements in blood pressure, heart health, and weight loss. In addition, it models what I consider to be a healthy diet – full of produce and whole foods, while limiting added sugars and sodium – making it a great healthy diet guideline for just about everyone.
Why Don’t More People Follow the DASH Diet – and What Can Change That?
If the DASH diet is so widely beneficial and well-studied, why isn’t everyone following it? Analyses of health and nutrition in the US ranging from 1988 to 2012 showed that less than 1% of the US population adhered to the DASH diet and only 20% met half of the recommended nutrient levels in DASH. Compare these numbers to the fact that about half of americans have high blood pressure and it’s easy to see that there’s plenty of work to be done in increasing adherence.
About 50% of Americans have high blood pressure – but only 1% follow the #DASHdiet! Why doesn’t the DASH diet get more love? @80twentyrule
How do we go about increasing adherence to the DASH diet, though? Well, first let’s look at why adherence is so poor: foods that are energy dense but nutrient deficient (“junk food”) is highly accessible and incredibly inexpensive – while fruits and vegetables are more expensive and less widely available in places like convenience stores and fast food restaurants. While the DASH diet can certainly be followed on a tight budget, changing the food environment that determines the accessibility of healthy food is a multi-faceted and daunting task involving community and policy changes. In addition, most hypertensive patients who would benefit from counseling on the DASH diet see primary care physicians exclusively – and therefore receive little nutrition counseling beyond suggestions of lowering sodium in the diet. The poor adherence presents a call to action for primary care physicians to become more familiar with the DASH diet and refer patients to registered dietitians, who are well suited to provide dietary counseling.
image: Travis Bigg via Flickr
The DASH diet presents a wide variety of health benefits, making it a great guideline for a generally healthy diet – and an important focus for clinicians and registered dietitians. Increasing awareness and evidence-based knowledge of the DASH diet could certainly increase adherence to the diet and provide numerous health benefits to those who follow it.
Have you ever heard of or followed the DASH diet?