There are many diets out there that claim to help people lose weight and become healthier. We’ve even reviewed a few of them, like the CICO and Mediterranean diets. Some are a hit or miss depending on your health circumstances. There may be ones that seem like a magic pill, but we’ve always maintained that the best diets have more to do with making healthier choices than sticking to highly restrictive selections of foods. This leads us to the topic of today’s article — the DASH diet.
While not as well-known as the other diets we’ve previously discussed, the DASH diet promises to be a simple-to-follow diet with a highly focused outcome that many in the United States could be interested in.
A Brief History on the DASH Diet
The DASH diet traces its roots back to the 1990s, when the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded studies into dietary ways to prevent or decrease hypertension. These findings would later influence and become the DASH diet. Since then, it has routinely been considered one of the best overall diets out there. In fact, in 2020, it tied for second with the Flexitarian Diet in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings on Best Overall Diets, behind only the Mediterranean diet. The experts that ranked it there found that the DASH diet was extremely healthy and easy to follow. It only fell short in terms of weight loss, though it was still considered above average in that category.
What Are the Health Benefits?
The D, A, S, and H in the DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. That sums up what you can expect from this diet; it focuses on lowering your blood pressure in healthy and easily maintainable ways. Prior to endorsing the diet (which they call the “DASH Eating Plan”), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) conducted four studies to test its benefits. What they found was enough to make them comfortable promoting the diet. These NHLBI studies concluded that the diet helped to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and overall blood pressure levels throughout the course of the studies. These results were fairly consistent under differing circumstances, such as comparisons to normal American diets and methods of assistance. They also noted that higher LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels are primary causes of heart disease, making the DASH diet an effective way to lower your risk of that.
That said, the primary focus and benefit of the DASH diet is heart health, which it is certainly effective at promoting.
Beyond heart health, the diet has also been shown to potentially help followers lose weight. These results were seen in conjunction with other healthy choices, however, like calorie reduction and healthier eating. That said, while weight loss is a positive outcome for many on the DASH diet, studies found that even if you don’t lose weight or lower your salt intake, you’ll still likely lower your blood pressure. There are also some additional benefits that have been linked to the DASH diet, like reduced risk of certain cancers and metabolic syndrome, though more studies are required on these subjects. That said, the primary focus and benefit of the DASH diet is heart health, which it is certainly effective at promoting.
How to Get Started on the DASH Diet
Okay, so we know how highly thought of the DASH diet is and the benefits, but what if you’re interested in trying it out? The NHLBI has numerous thorough guides out there that are freely available to anybody looking to get started. As you can see, it’s a pretty flexible diet that focuses on sodium reduction and increasing the number of nutrients one consumes that are heart healthy, like potassium and fiber.
If you’re looking for guidance on the DASH diet, the NHLBI offers free planners based on your daily suggested caloric intake.
By focusing on fruits and vegetables, as well as fiber-rich whole grains, the DASH diet offers low-fat, nutrient-packed solutions for your heart health concerns. This means you have plenty of options for dishes and snacks that can lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health. Depending on your suggested daily caloric intake, the diet may recommend anywhere from six to 11 servings of grains and three to six servings of vegetables. That may sound like a lot of grains, but considering one slice of bread is a serving, it adds up quickly. If you’re unsure of where to start or looking for guidance on the DASH diet, the NHLBI offers free planners based on your daily suggested caloric intake — 1,200 calories, 1,400 to 1,600 calories, 1,800 to 2,000 calories, and up to 2,600 calories.
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At the end of the day, the DASH diet is one of those that has the scientific research to back up the health claims it makes. One thing to keep in mind is that, while the DASH diet should help you achieve the goals set forth by the diet, those goals are fairly limited, which is why it’s so successful. Its focus on heart health, instead of wild claims of acting as some sort of panacea, makes it that much more likely to achieve. So, if you have hypertension or want to improve your heart health, talk to your doctor about the DASH diet and if it’s the right fit for you!