The main aim of the DASH diet is not to lose weight but to reduce blood pressure. However, it can also help those who want to lose weight, lower cholesterol, and manage or prevent diabetes.
Important aspects include:
- portion size
- consuming a wide variety of healthful foods
- obtaining the proper balance of nutrients
DASH encourages a person to:
- eat less sodium (the key ingredient in salt)
- increase their intake of magnesium, calcium, and potassium
These strategies help lower blood pressure.
DASH is not a vegetarian diet, but it adds more fruits and vegetables, low or nonfat dairy foods, beans, nuts, and other nutritious items.
It provides suggestions about healthful alternatives to “junk food” and encourages people to avoid processed foods.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.
Experts who reviewed the DASH diet in 2017, 20 years after its launch, described it as an intervention that could considerably boost the health of the population.
According to the review, if people with high blood pressure followed the DASH diet precisely, this could prevent around 400,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease over 10 years.
Who can benefit?
According to an article from 2019, people who follow the DASH diet can reduce levels of:
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- triglycerides, or fat, in the blood
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol
- insulin resistance
These are all features of metabolic syndrome, a condition that also involves obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
A 2013 study looked at the impact of DASH on people with and without metabolic syndrome who followed the diet for 8 weeks.
Results showed that on average:
In people with metabolic syndrome, the systolic pressure fell by 4.9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and the diastolic fell by 1.9 mm HG.
In people without metabolic syndrome, the systolic pressure fell by 5.2 mm Hg, and the diastolic fell by 2.9 mm Hg.
In other words, DASH can be effective at lowering blood pressure in people with or without metabolic syndrome. There is also evidence that it may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and improve overall life expectancy.
The National Kidney Foundation recommend DASH for people with kidney disease.
Understanding blood pressure
Systolic pressure is the blood pressure while the heart is pumping blood, while diastolic is the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. A person with a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg will have a reading of 120/80 mm Hg.
Current guidelines from the American College of Cardiology describe blood pressure as follows:
Normal: Below 120/80 mm Hg.
Elevated: Systolic is 120–129, and diastolic is below 80.
Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic is 130–139, and diastolic is 80–89.
Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic is 140 or above; diastolic is 90 or above.
Hypertensive crisis: Systolic is over 180; diastolic is over 120.
Will I lose weight?
People can lose weight on the DASH diet, but they do not have to. If a person does wish to lose weight, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend reducing calories gradually.
Other tips for losing weight on DASH include:
- having small portions often during the day
- eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- choosing fruits or vegetables as a snack instead of candies or chips
- using the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)’s body weight planner
- using the calorie chart in the NHLBI’s DASH eating plan