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More than one billion people suffer from high blood pressure; the bad news is that figure is rising daily. Complications from high blood pressure, such as heart disease, strokes and kidney failure, continue to increase.
There is a reason it’s known as the silent killer…
As a result, scientists and nutritionists have been looking at finding a way forward to try to turn the tide on the ever-growing numbers.
One diet that has emerged is the DASH diet, a potential weight loss solution that will stem the issue of rising blood pressure.
But what is the DASH diet, does it work, and is there another way - let’s explore.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet was created in 1997 and has been heavily researched, with many public health organizations advocating it for individuals with high blood pressure.
It was designed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to help individuals living with high blood pressure.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s an approach to healthy eating focused on helping people reduce high blood pressure.
Unsurprisingly, the diet focuses on healthy choices such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, whole grains, starchy carbohydrates, low-fat dairy, lean meats and fish. In turn, it discourages the consumption of red and processed meats, sugar, salt and fat-rich food. It’s a low-fat diet that helps to lower saturated fat, salt, and cholesterol.
As diet plays a central role in causing the problem, scientists created a diet to help lower blood pressure and deal with the issue at ground zero.
How does the DASH diet work?
It works by eliminating some of the unhealthy options which help to cause hypertension, such as red meat, salt, and fat. One thing that has become apparent from scientific research is that those who follow a plant-based diet have much lower blood pressure.
The low salt content means that hypertension is far less likely, so it’s pretty clear that reducing salt intake is vital to a healthier lifestyle.
The national guidelines suggest that one teaspoon of salt per day should be your maximum intake, and this is primarily what the DASH diet is trying to achieve.
Even without the salt reduction, studies found that the diet reduced blood pressure, but when the salt was reduced, the blood pressure was reduced even further.
Is the DASH diet effective?
The DASH diet has been proven to do exactly what it was designed to lower blood pressure.
In doing so, it also helps to reduce the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Its success is attributed to high fruit and vegetable content and reduced sodium intake.
Of course, it depends on why you are doing the diet. It will only work as a weight loss solution if you consume a calorie deficit overall - it’s still possible to overeat on the DASH diet.
However, weight is just one indicator of health, and the underlying issues, such as hypertension, should be just as (if not more) important.
Should I try the DASH diet?
The dash diet is a healthy one from a nutritional perspective as it prioritizes healthy eating while minimizing the intake of unhealthy, processed foods, particularly those rich in salt and sugar.
While the diet was invented primarily to lower blood pressure, there is a reasonable chance that it will also aid weight loss, but to do so, you have to follow the usual calorie in/calorie out rules. In other words, your weight will reduce as long as you burn more calories than you consume (calorie deficit).
Eating healthily and cutting out unnecessary sugars and fats is a good starting point. The diet itself wasn’t created specifically for weight loss, but it can be described as a possible bonus. In following the DASH diet to lower your blood pressure, some may find that you also lose weight automatically, while others may need to exercise more to burn off the excess.
- Easy to implement- there are no complicated or hard-and-fast rules to follow.
- It is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of hypertension-related severe issues.
- You can change it according to your needs. If you are looking for a calorie-deficit diet, you can adjust it accordingly.
- It has an outstanding nutritional balance and contains most of the vitamins and nutrients required to help keep you healthy.
- It’s a long-term diet you can sustain to help maintain your general health.
- It may help with weight loss.
- If you want to continue the diet long-term, you may need more variety.
- You’ll need to keep track of your nutritional intake to ensure you continue eating the right food.
- It can help with weight loss, but it’s not specifically designed for that purpose.
- It won’t be suitable for everyone.
- It’s important to remember that this is not the only approach people can choose to improve their blood pressure; regular exercise is also essential.
- Reducing your salt intake can be good, but the body needs a certain amount, and eating too little salt may also be harmful.
- Most of the research has focused on individuals with pre-existing hypertension issues, and it is yet to be proved that the diet has any added beneficial effects on otherwise healthy individuals.
- The DASH diet effectively reduces blood pressure in the short term, but its long-term effects on human health are still unclear.
What should you do instead of the DASH diet?
The DASH diet lowers blood pressure and could reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and some cancers. It works particularly well for those with a high blood pressure level or a high salt intake.
However, it isn’t designed for weight loss, and those looking to lose weight on the DASH diet should ensure that they are burning more calories throughout the day than they are consuming and will need to adjust the diet accordingly.
If weight loss is your aim then you should consider a change to eating habits, and while the DASH diet may be effective, alone it will not be a solution.
Find out some of the best diets for weight loss as prescribed by a nutritionist here.