DASH Diet: What You Need to Know

doctor taking patiets blood pressure
The Dash Diet is recommended for those attempting to control and lower blood pressure.
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Don't be scared by the name. The DASH diet is not one that tests how fast and often you can sprint, and it doesn't require you to dash away anytime you see food on a plate in front of you. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. So rather than incorporating a lot of running into your daily activity, the DASH diet advocates foods that help tame hypertension [source: Lyon].

Most likely, you know someone who suffers from high blood pressure. In fact, one-third of the United States' adult population is affected by high blood pressure. What's scarier is that elevated blood pressure can turn into a serious and dangerous problem if it's not diagnosed and treated early. Left to its own devices, it may increase your chances of stroke and heart disease [source: Lyon].


The DASH diet makes the claim that it will help you reduce your health risks and lower your blood pressure within the first two weeks of incorporating the diet into your life. When it comes to the DASH diet, there are two plans to choose from: the regular DASH diet and the DASH sodium diet. The diets are quite similar, and the only true difference is that people on the DASH sodium diet have to be more cautious of how much sodium they ingest [source: Stein].

The goal of the DASH diet is to get you to eat a variety of foods in the appropriate portions. By eating a mixture of foods, the diet will help you get the proper nutrients that your body needs [source: Mayo Clinic].

Now, the question is what kinds of foods can you eat while following the DASH diet? Click to the next page to find out what's for dinner.


DASH Diet Plan

The DASH diet plan is straightforward, especially if you are familiar with the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) newest food pyramid. Luckily, the DASH diet doesn't involve the same rigorous steps and restrictive demands as some other diets. And the "DASH Diet Action Plan" book is specifically designed to help you follow the plan by adding better foods to your refrigerator, providing recipes and helping you choose diet-friendly foods at restaurants [source: DASH Diet].

In order to follow the plan, you'll need to increase your intake of vegetables, fruits and certain dairy products. You're able to eat whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts on the DASH diet, but you should reduce your intake of fats, red meats and foods and drinks that might have too much sugar [source: NHLBI].


If you are on a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be aware of how much of each food group you should consume each day. For whole grain foods, you should eat somewhere between seven and eight servings per day for energy and fiber. For fruits and vegetables, you should eat eight to 10 servings per day. Fruits and vegetables are important because they contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and protein. And you should plan to have two to three servings of low fat or nonfat dairy products each day [source: Mayo Clinic].

Now that we know which food groups the DASH diet recommends that you get a healthy helping of, let's talk about the foods that'll require you to exercise a little more self-control. When it comes to meats, legumes, fats and sweets, the DASH diet suggests moderation. For meats, fish and poultry, you should incorporate two servings or less per day, but make sure the meat is lean. And when eating beans, nuts and seeds, the DASH diet plan suggests four to five servings per week. Foods that are rich in fats and oils are still essential, but only in small amounts. The DASH diet recommends that you cut back to two or three servings a day of this food group. And finally, deliciously sinful sweets should be limited to five servings or less per week [source: Mayo Clinic].

Read the next page to learn about the possible side effects you might encounter when you go on the DASH diet.


DASH Diet Side Effects

Unlike some other diets that might eliminate essential foods or have adverse side effects, the DASH diet doesn't have any known negative side effects [source: Lyon]. As a bonus, the DASH diet is very sustainable and is recommended for the rest of your life. Though any new diet might be challenging at the start, depending on your previous eating habits, the DASH diet does have many benefits that make it easier to follow.

First, the DASH diet is known to affect people's blood pressure within the first two weeks of beginning the diet. During studies, the greatest results were found in people who had moderately high blood pressure and pre-hypertension. Less dramatic results were seen in people who had severe hypertension, but the diet still helped to lower their blood pressure [source: DASH Diet]. DASH diet followers can also see a decrease in their LDL cholesterol, which is commonly known as bad cholesterol. The combination of lowering a person's blood pressure and lowering his LDL cholesterol is a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease [source: NHLBI].


Aside from helping your heart, the DASH diet can also help you lose weight. By following the DASH diet plan and incorporating more physical activity every day, some followers have seen significant weight loss [source: NHLBI]. Other positive effects of the DASH diet include a reduced risk of cancer, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis [source: Mayo Clinic]. It's a simple combination of healthful foods and good exercise that contributes to the overall health of the person on the DASH diet.

Now that you know what steps to take, it may be time to make a dash for the DASH diet. But as with any dietary program, it's a good idea to check with your physician first. Visit the links on the next page to learn more.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • DASH Diet. "The DASH Diet Eating Plan." Amidon Press. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://Dashdiet.org/
  • Lyon, Lindsay. "One More Reason to Try the DASH Diet." US News and World Report. 4/14/08. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/living-well-usn/2008/04/14/one-more-reason-to-try-the-Dash-diet--and-how.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure." 5/15/08. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/Dash-diet/HI00047
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure." (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH." 4/06. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/Dash/new_Dash.pdf
  • Stein, David. "DASH Diet for Hypertension." Web MD. 3/01/07. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/Dash-diet