In this article, we will discuss what DASH means and what does it do. How come it can lower your blood pressure levels and how following it can improve your health journey? What portions does it suggest and how much servings should you take? How it manages blood pressure? We will also look into other health benefits of the DASH diet.
WHAT IS DASH?
DASH is the abbreviation for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”. As the name describes, the DASH diet helps a person to stop hypertension which can just be the start of other diseases one could ever be aware of. The DASH diet is actually a healthy lifestyle and encourages one to eat healthy which prevents problems of high blood pressure or hypertension. This is the safest and secure way to control one’s blood pressure without taking the doses of medications. It is designed to keep stress on lower levels. It is designed and approved by the National Institutes of Health.
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS:
The DASH diet’s main stress is on reducing the sodium levels from the diet which is the main cause of rising blood pressure. It also includes such food that is rich in nutrients and naturally helps reduce the blood pressure or maintain its uniformity. The nutrients that control the rise in blood pressure are potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
It is a combination of nutrients and minerals such that you can reduce your blood pressure by a few points in merely two weeks by following it. Systolic blood pressure can be reduced from eight to fourteen points in a month or two. With this drastic reduction in blood pressure, a healthy lifestyle can be enjoyed.
Apart from lowering blood pressure, other benefits are also achieved by adopting DASH as it is a healthy lifestyle and it is about making healthy choices. Not only these other benefits include prevention from cancer, heart diseases such as stroke or heart attack, etc, osteoporosis, sugar, and diabetes.
EFFECT OF DASH DIET ON SODIUM LEVELS:
The DASH diet focuses mainly on fruits, green leafy vegetables, fish, whole grains and fibers, nuts, poultry, and low-fat dairy products.
There are two types of DASH diets meal plans available. One is a “Standard DASH diet” which caters to people that has less danger to sodium or their blood pressure levels are not too high to risk disease. The second one is the “Lower Sodium DASH diet”, this version is for people with severe blood pressure issues and are at higher risks of heart stroke and other ailments. Your nutritionist considering your health reports suggests to you which type of DASH diet one needs to follow.
Standard DASH diet
It contains a standard amount of sodium intake throughout the day which any other diet plan follows which is up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day.
Lower sodium DASH diet
For a lower sodium DASH diet, the average consumption of up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day is recommended.
The basic aim of this diet is to control the intake of sodium levels so that blood pressure and other diseases connected to it are remained controlled. Normally a person takes sodium without counting its amount in mg through different sources such as salt and other packed and processed foods.
Normally the amount each person takes including the daily American style eating can make one consume 3400 mg plus sodium a day. The standard DASH diet recommends an individual to consume 2,300 mg a day and for people with blood, pressure issues are suggested to take as much as 1500 mg as an upper limit by the American Heart Association. The same amount is planned in the Lower sodium DASH diet.
This can either be suggested by your nutritionist on which DASH diet to adopt or otherwise you can see yourself which suits you according to your blood pressure and other disease condition.
WHAT TO EAT IN-DASH DIET?
In both categories of the DASH diet, whole grains such as oats, barley, wheat, and bran, fruits (excluding mango), vegetables (mostly green leafy vegetables), and low-fat dairy products are included. The DASH diet also includes some fish (fish with low mercury), poultry and legumes are encouraged to consume along with a handful of nuts and healthy seeds a few times a week.
You are not banned to eat red meat, sweets, and fats at all costs, however, it is suggested to take them in small amounts. The DASH diet is usually low in saturated fat, trans fat, and total fat.
For 2000 calories a day, the DASH diet servings of each type of food are as follows:
Grains: 6 servings a day
Grains include bran bread or brown pita bread, wheat/ oats/bran or barley cereals, brown rice, and pasta. By one serving of grains, it means that 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1-ounce dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta can be consumed. This amount can be taken six times a day if you feel hungry.
Taking whole grains is important because their nutrient count is better, they are more digestible and they are healthier for stomach functioning. Whereas the processed white grains are refined to an extent that they lose their nutrition count and make digestion slow. The more food is processed and away from its origin, the more it is difficult to digest. Go for options labeled “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat.”
Grains are naturally low in fat. Try to have them cooking in steam rather than frying or using oil.
Vegetables: As many servings a day As you want
YES! Whenever you are hungry grab a carrot, steamed broccoli, or beans to eat. When you prepare your meal, allot vegetables a large portion of a plate. They naturally have fibers that are best for building immunity and metabolism better, are packed with vitamins, and fuller for the tummy.
Vegetables such as Tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, and other vegetables are nutritious and have other minerals such as potassium and magnesium along with vitamins. Examples of one serving include 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables. These servings can be taken as much as one desires to. The more you intake the more benefits you will get. Not only it is a fat-free option but it also controls sugar levels and blood pressure in the body.
Don’t take vegetables as a side dish to added in a meal — a hearty blend of vegetables served over brown rice or whole-wheat pasta noodles can serve as the main dish for a meal.
Vegetables can be bought fresh or frozen from the market as they both are good options. When buying frozen and canned vegetables, choose those labeled as low sodium or without added salt.
To increase the number of servings you fit in daily, be creative. Avoid deep, shallow, or stir-fry, for a one-time meal, for instance, cut the amount of meat in half and double up on the vegetables.
Fruits: 2 to 3 servings a day
Fruits are healthy, nutritious, and fuller. The best part about them is one does not have to put in efforts to make it tasty as they are naturally flavorful. They are good and quick for snacking and can put in little effort to convert them into your meal. Fruits such as bananas are crucial selection because if one intends to shed pounds they need not have bananas yet it is a magical fruit for lowering blood pressure levels.
Examples of one serving include one medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, or 4 ounces of juice. However, it is suggested that one should avoid canned fruits and if fresh is available to them in their area, grab them. The canned fruits usually are packed with preservatives for longer life.
Fruits can be taken plain as it is, or with yogurt (low fat, considering within the dairy serving per day).
Leave on edible peels whenever possible. The peels of apples, pears, and most fruits add interesting texture to recipes and contain healthy nutrients and fiber.
Certain fruits, such as grapefruits and other citruses may interact with other medications you take, so get a consultation with the doctor before eating them
If you choose canned fruit or juice, make sure no sugar is added.
Dairy: 2 to 3 servings a day
Milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D, and protein. But these products come with a certain amount of fat too therefore, one needs to be sure to be buying them low-fat or fat-free because believe it or not, they can give you some extra pounds too. It is a source of saturated fat. You can also use skim milk to get the daily amount of vitamin D or coconut milk and almond milk are also good substitutes.
Examples of one serving include 1 cup skim or 1 percent milk, 1 cup low-fat yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces part-skim cheese.
Low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurts are yummier to eat especially in summers and boost immunity. It is a great source of stomach health and improves digestion. Yogurt can be eaten by adding dry fruits or berries to add taste. This way is not only fulfilling but also can be counted as a one-time meal.
If you have trouble digesting dairy products, that shows you are lactose intolerant. For that choose lactose-free products or consider taking an over-the-counter product that contains the enzyme lactase, which can reduce or prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Go easy on regular and even fat-free cheeses because they are typically high in sodium. Homemade cottage cheese is, however, the best source of protein and calcium. Do not add salt to make it sodium-free. It takes time to digest and makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
Lean Meat, Poultry, and Fish: 6 one-ounce servings or lesser a day
Meat is a rich source of protein, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. Choose lean varieties and try not to take more than 6 one-ounce servings a day. The better suggestion is to take less meat and more vegetables in each meal of a day. Avoid red meat as it can be harmful to high blood pressure.
One serving means 1 egg or 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish.
Make sure that you separate skin and fat from meat whenever you eat. Healthier options include baking, broiling, grilling, or roasting the meat instead of frying.
Eat heart-healthy fish, such as salmon, herring, and tuna. These types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury, which is healthy for your heart.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings a week
They’re also full of fiber and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that protect against some types of cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Serving sizes are small and are intended to be consumed only a few times a week because these are also higher in calories. Avoid red beans and others that are starchy.
One serving includes 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons seeds or nut butter, or 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.
Nuts sometimes are avoided in diets for their fat content, but they contain healthy types of fat — monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are high in calories, however, so do not overeat.
Soybean-based products, such as tofu and tempeh, can be a good alternative to meat because they contain all of the amino acids your body needs to make a complete protein, just like meat.
Fats and oils: 2 servings a day
Fat helps your body absorb essential vitamins and helps your body’s immune system. But too much fat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The DASH diet strives for a healthy balance by limiting total fat to less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat, with a focus on healthier monounsaturated fats.
Examples of one serving include 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons salad dressing.
Saturated fat and trans fat are the main dietary culprits in increasing your risk of coronary artery disease. DASH helps keep your daily saturated fat to less than 6 percent of your total calories by limiting the use of meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, cream, and eggs in your diet, along with foods made from lard, solid shortenings, and palm and coconut oils.
Avoid trans-fat, commonly found in such processed foods as crackers, baked goods, and fried items.
Read food labels on margarine and salad dressing so that you can choose foods that are lowest in saturated fat and free of trans fat.
Sweets: 2 servings or fewer a week
DASH diet does not demand you to stop eating sweets at all— just go easy on them. One serving includes 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet, or 1 cup lemonade.
Selecting sweets can be trickier. There were times when the market doesn’t have the options, but luckily now every superstore has fat-free, low-fat mentioned labels. Even chocolates have options of either being it dark or milk. One can easily opt for less sweet options to kill the cravings.
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) and sucralose (Splenda) may help satisfy your sweet tooth while sparing the sugar but aren’t healthy options. It’s better to go for more organic options, for instance, eating fruits fulfill your need for sweet, brown sugar instead of white or honey, maple syrup, and jaggery are better options.
Cut back on added sugar, which has no nutritional value but can pack on calories.
How much of Alcohol and caffeine can I take in the DASH Diet?
Believe it or not, alcohol raises blood pressure. You should go easy on that. As per recommendations by Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one should not take anymore than two drinks a day and for women, one drink or less is enough. Again, it depends on the level and frequency of blood pressure of a person.
The DASH diet doesn’t define caffeine consumption as we know caffeine helps blood flow better throughout the body, however, its hundred percent benefits or disadvantages are still unclear. One should know that caffeine interrupts in food absorption in the body and lower the digestion process which is enough to explain the fact that the intake should be on the lesser side. In some instances, the research does show that caffeine can be the reason for temporary high blood pressure.
One should consult their doctor or nutritionist about the consumption of caffeine as it may be different for different people.
Can I lose weight with the DASH diet? :
The DASH diet is not specifically meant for a weight-loss program, but it is the healthier lifestyle one needs to adapt by lowering their risk of disease because of high blood pressure. Not to forget, that adopting a healthy lifestyle will automatically shed some pounds as every intake is calculated and only good meals are taken.
The DASH diet is about taking 2,000 calories a day. An average obese person eats countless calories and does not consider how much is best for them, whereas in this diet program calories are stuck to 2000, however, if somebody’s body requirement is lesser as per their BMI they can reduce calories to 1500 or 1200 per day. This can be done by excluding extra calories you might be taking through dairy products or sweets per week. Several servings per day or number of calories per meal can be custom designed according to the BMI and risk of heart disease.
What are the Tips to cut back on sodium?
The foods that are included in the DASH diet are mainly low in sodium. Simply following the dash diet will naturally cut down your intake of sodium. Further tips on how one can control their sodium levels are as follows:
Choosing spices for your food that are sodium-free or flavorings that are less processed.
Developing taste of eating food especially kinds of pasta or rice without or less salt.
Rinsing canned foods properly to remove sodium content on it.
Buying foods labeled “no salt added,” “sodium-free,” “low sodium” or “very low sodium”
Replace white sea salt with pink rock salt as rock salt has more benefits than white salt. It has fewer sodium levels and is proven to maintain better blood pressure health.
One teaspoon of table salt has approximately 2200 - 2,325 mg of sodium.
Always read the label when purchasing processed or canned foods because the low-fat soup or canned vegetables you eat considering healthy might have hidden loads of sodium. It is surprising how much sodium ready to eat food contains.
The taste of low-sodium diets is often different from those high in sodium. One needs to develop the taste and once done it is easy to follow. Initially, the food may taste bland but with time tastes developed. Beverages have sodium too, so if you go for any beverage do read the nutritional value on the label it has.
Using salt-free seasoning blends or herbs and spices may also ease the transition. It can take several weeks for your taste buds to get used to less salty foods.
To conclude, we give you the following tips and tricks that will help you develop the habit of clean eating resulting in a healthier heart and an active lifestyle.
If you eat fewer fruits and vegetables in a day try adding more servings of it in every meal. Make your plate with a percentage for instance, if your plate has 40 percent vegetables and the rest are other portions, increase it to 60 percent and lower the carb or calorie portion. This way the size of the plate will be the same and your tummy will be filled but the intake of a type of food will change, which will be healthier, the 60 percent will be the carb and calorie free amount. This is a small yet very effective trick to transit your eating habits.
Similarly, if you do not like the taste of whole-grain and eats white flour, try adding whole grain flour to white flour initially. ADD 50 50 and prepare your daily bread with it. Gradually increase the amount of whole grain than white flour. This way without noticing drastic changes, you will convert yourself to brown grains. The change of addition of vegetables to your diet and whole grains to your bread would apparently be slow but drastically transforms you. You will be seeing the difference in your body weight, food absorption, and stomach functioning. It all will be improved.
Reward successes and be easy for yourself.
It is very essential for a person not to be hard on oneself especially at times of transition. This is a very tough stage when a person is changing for the better**. One should reward themselves with treats that are non-food for the accomplishments. For instance, shopping, a movie, or anything of interest. During the process, one should remember that transformation is a lengthy process and it may take time to change eating habits and food priorities so one can sometimes slip to a non-healthy option and it is totally okay to do in occasionally.
Add a physical activity.
Physical activity, especially in today’s sudatory lifestyle, is necessary. It is not only recommended to people who are interested in shedding pounds but also important for anyone having a non-active lifestyle. It is also good for heart health and maintaining blood pressure levels in the body. Combining physical activity with the DASH diet can bring wonders to people expecting change.
Get support if you need it.
If you’re having trouble sticking or maintaining the lifestyle of a DASH diet, you should consult your doctor or dietician/nutritionist about it. Maybe a little more encouragement could do wonders or you need a little push to be on a balanced diet. A doctor can give you better tips or explain to you about the health benefits you will achieve following the diet. A doctor can also recommend certain healthy eating options or recipes that would interest you to continue the diet.
Remember, this is about choosing healthy and better options for yourself to maintain your blood pressure, remove hypertension from life, and be on the safer side when it comes to heart diseases. Once you adopt it, it is easy to follow as it can be maintained by preparing yummy recipes for yourself and yet be on the diet or simply eat bland that creates boredom. The choice is yours!