DASH History and Meaning
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The main focus of the diet is to reduce overall sodium intake. This diet was created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (which is part of the National Institutes of Health.) A study was conducted to test the effects of a low sodium diet on hypertension. Results proved lower sodium intake is beneficial to improving hypertension. The DASH diet has two daily sodium level options: 2300mg and 1500mg. Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140mmHg and/or diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.
DASH Diet Nutrient Goals
The following nutrient goals were determined for a 2100kcal diet during the DASH studies.
- Total fat – 27% of calories
- Saturated fat – 6% of calories
- Protein – 18% of calories
- Carbohydrates – 55% of calories
- Cholesterol – 150mg or lower
- Sodium – 2300mg (or 1500mg depending on diet choice)
- Potassium – 4700mg
- Calcium – 1250mg
- Magnesium – 500mg
- Fiber – 30g
These nutrient recommendations promote overall heart health. Saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to poor heart health, while calcium, potassium and magnesium promote good heart health.
DASH Diet Food Group Recommendations
Since it may be difficult to determine what percent of your diet is fat, carbohydrate, etc. Try these food group guidelines to follow the DASH diet.
- Grains – 6-8 servings
- Vegetables – 4-5 servings
- Fruits – 4-5 servings
- Low fat dairy – 2-3 servings
- Lean meats – 6 or less oz
- Nuts, seeds, legumes – 4-5 per week
- Fats and oils – 2-3 servings
- Sweets – 5 or less per week
Overall the DASH eating plan encourages whole grains, lean meats and dairy sources, high intake of fruits and vegetables, and replacement of saturated fats with unsaturated fats.
Why does the DASH Diet Work for High Blood Pressure?
Plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. High sodium intake increases blood pressure because it causes the body to retain water, which increases blood volume. Higher blood volume creates more work for the heart and increased blood pressure. Low potassium intake (resulting from low intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.) also causes water retention. The kidneys work hard to maintain regular potassium levels and low intake causes the body to hang on to as much potassium as it can (since it’s required for regular heart function.) Retention of potassium causes retention of water, increasing blood pressure again. The DASH diet promotes low sodium and high potassium based on these normal body functions.
For more information please consult the DASH diet handbook distributed by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Image credit to creative commons user zen