The Proven Effects Of The DASH Diet
For yet another year, the DASH diet has been among the best-valued in the US News & World Report ranking. Why does this eating plan devised by the “National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute” to treat hypertension sneak in among the best diets? What is the DASH diet?
DASH is the acronym for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”, which we would translate as “ dietary approaches to stop hypertension ”. The purpose of this dietary plan is to reduce and keep high blood pressure under control through diet, and not only that but it has also been seen that following this type of diet can also benefit other types of pathologies.
What Is The DASH Diet?
It consists of following an eating pattern that seeks to reduce blood pressure by promoting the consumption of foods that provide us with potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, accompanied by a reduction in sodium in the diet. The combination of foods with these nutrients, together with a sodium reduction, seems to be the most effective solution when it comes to lowering blood pressure.
Goal: lower blood pressure
The first step when following the DASH diet will be to change habits and improve our diet, promoting the following foods: whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products. The combination of these foods will provide us with potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, beneficial nutrients when it comes to reducing blood pressure.
Second step: reducing sodium in the diet
The second step will be to reduce the sodium in our diet until reaching a maximum sodium intake of 2300mg per day, which is equivalent to approximately 5g of salt or 1 dessertspoonful of salt per day. This amount would be in line with the current recommendation for maximum daily sodium intake recommended by the World Health Organization for the general population.
In the case that sodium consumption is reduced to this amount and it is not enough to keep blood pressure at bay, the DASH diet proposes a variant. the so-called “ low-sodium DASH diet ”, which consists of lowering sodium intake even further, reaching a consumption of 1500mg/day (approximately 2/3 of a dessert spoon of salt).
It is important to emphasize that this type of diet, being rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, may be contraindicated in patients with kidney problems or who, for whatever reason, must control these minerals in their diet. In this case, the patient would have to assess with his doctor and dietitian-nutritionist the follow-up of said diet.
Effects Of The DASH Diet On Blood Pressure
The supposed benefits of the DASH diet are not something new, in one of the first studies that were carried out (1999), it could already be observed that simple dietary changes in the diet of people by themselves, without the need to reduce consumption sodium, favored the reduction of blood pressure.
In this study, 459 adults were followed, grouped into 3 different groups (typical American diet, typical American diet with more fruits and vegetables, and DASH diet rich in whole grains, legumes, greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products); with a daily sodium intake in all guidelines of 3000mg (approximately 1.5 teaspoons of salt). After 8 weeks of follow-up, it was observed that the participants who followed the DASH diet had the greatest blood pressure-lowering effect.
Given this, it seemed that by simply making changes in the person’s diet towards a healthier eating pattern, positive aspects are already obtained in the management and reduction of blood pressure.
But the DASH diet goes further, it was not just about making changes in our diet as such, but, as we have already explained, this diet also proposes accompanying these changes with a reduction in salt intake to a maximum of 2300mg of sodium per day. day (approximately 1 dessert spoon), and depending on the case, and as long as there is follow-up by a doctor together with a dietitian-nutritionist, a maximum sodium intake of 1500mg per day can be considered.
In 2001, a study was conducted comparing the effect on blood pressure of a typical American diet with a high (3,300mg), medium (2,300mg), or low (1,500mg) sodium intake versus a DASH diet with a high (3300mg), medium (2300mg) or low (1500mg) sodium intake. In this study, among other results, it was observed that:
- Reducing sodium intake on either diet was associated with a reduction in blood pressure.
- The lowest sodium DASH diet (1500mg) had the greatest reduction in blood pressure.
- Following the DASH diet along with reducing sodium is more beneficial in lowering blood pressure than following the DASH diet alone or reducing salt alone.
From this, it was possible to conclude that following a DASH diet, rich in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products, accompanied by a reduction in sodium (2300mg and depending on which cases, being able to reach a reduction of 1500mg, always assess with a doctor or qualified dietitian-nutritionist) produces a greater reduction in blood pressure compared to a diet only low in sodium or a DASH diet without sodium restriction.
Other Beneficial Effects Of The DASH Diet
The DASH diet is considered one of the best diets because, although its primary goal is to prevent and/or stop hypertension or high blood pressure, the DASH diet has been found in several studies to be associated with better control, reduction, or prevention of :
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Type 2 diabetes
DASH Diet And Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) include coronary heart disease (narrowing and hardening of the arteries leading to the heart), cerebrovascular disease (Stroke), and peripheral vascular disease (narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels outside the heart). All of them are the most common non-communicable diseases worldwide.
The main cause of CVD is atherosclerosis, a progressive accumulation of cholesterol, fat, blood cells, and other substances in the blood that progressively and over time create plaque in the arteries. This plaque ends up clogging and stiffening the arteries, preventing the normal passage of blood flow.
Diet is a key point for the treatment of atherosclerosis and in the prevention of CVD.
It has been observed that dietary patterns in which foods of plant origin (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole carbohydrates) are enhanced, as is enhanced in a DASH-type diet or in other eating patterns such as, the Mediterranean diet, are beneficial for reducing blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as reducing triglyceride levels and reducing LDL or bad cholesterol.
DASH Diet And Type 2 Diabetes
It seems that following a dietary pattern such as the one proposed in the DASH diet is related to a lower incidence of diabetes and better glycemic control.
These results are mainly attributed to the fact that it is a dietary pattern that emphasizes the consumption of foods of plant origin. Once again, it appears that dietary fiber is responsible for these results. The role played by dietary fiber obtained from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts in improving blood glucose control is well documented.
Also, in recent studies, this hypothesis is supported where a 16% reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes has been observed when comparing higher fiber intakes with lower fiber intakes.
DASH Diet And Weight Loss
Following the DASH diet has also been shown to have positive effects in reducing body weight. This weight reduction that has been possible is related to several factors.
One of the causes of weight reduction is the increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. A higher intake of fiber can contribute to weight loss since foods rich in fiber will require more time to chew and favor abdominal distension (when the stomach fills up, in this case with food, and increases in volume). Both chewing and abdominal distension will trigger a series of signals that will favor a feeling of fullness and satiety.
On the other hand, it has also been observed that the consumption of legumes in the diet can help reduce body weight given its satiating effect.
Another factor that can affect weight loss is sodium reduction since high sodium intakes are related to a greater increase in thirst and appetite. The increase in thirst would not be a negative aspect of weight loss. Whether we are in a period of weight loss or not, the main source of hydration in our day to day has to be water.
The problem arises when we replace water with another drink such as soft drinks, sweetened or not, natural juices or not, sugary shakes or alcoholic beverages. This substitution can greatly increase our energy intake.
For example, if I consume a lot of salt in food, perhaps throughout the afternoon I feel more thirsty. If I opt for water, it will not affect us when it comes to losing weight, but if I opt for a soft drink, for example, and I do it regularly, it can have an impact on weight loss.
All these factors are beneficial, interesting and to take into account when following a diet focused on weight loss, since they will favor achieving the necessary caloric deficit for weight loss to occur, without the need to go hungry and ensuring a fully balanced and healthy diet.
Is The DASH Diet A Good Option?
In conclusion, the dietary pattern that is followed in the DASH diet is a healthy and effective dietary pattern for the control of blood pressure, apart from preventing or helping to better manage other types of pathologies.
It should not be forgotten that the DASH diet is a dietary pattern very similar to that followed by the Mediterranean diet, both of which are fully recommended to treat the pathologies that have been discussed above and that, therefore, may be a good strategy depending on the geographical area. in which you are. For all these reasons, this diet, together with the Mediterranean diet, has been awarded as one of the best diets according to the latest ranking by US News.