What is the DASH Diet?

Is the DASH diet a new fad where you eat every meal in a hurry? Not so fast – DASH actually stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” Essentially, it’s a healthy eating plan that aims to prevent or manage hypertension, or high blood pressure, a condition that may lead to other serious health problems like heart disease or stroke1. Additionally, high blood pressure (BP) is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. These two conditions are so common together, 2 out of 3 people who have type 2 diabetes also have high blood pressure.2 Hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer”; it has no symptoms and while 1 in 3 Americans has it, 20% of living with the condition aren’t aware of it.3 A memory that still stands out to me over a decade later was screening hundreds of employees at an event –and finding so many who had no idea their BP was high. But the scariest part was sending a few people to the emergency room who we couldn’t believe were alive and walking around! Unbeknownst to them was a time-ticking cardiac event coming right up if not immediately treated.

Although hypertension is a dangerous condition linked to over 1000 deaths in the United States every day, the good news is there are easy ways to manage BP and protect your body from serious disease.3 In fact, people can successfully lower their BP by making simple changes to their diet and exercise habits. Of course, medication can have profound, life changing effects but one of the most effective weapons against high BP? You guessed it – the DASH diet.

Two Birds with One Stone: DASH for Diabetes and Blood Pressure

Here’s some good news – habits shown to reduce the risk of hypertension will also naturally help those who already have, or are at risk of developing, type 2 diabetes – now that’s a win-win! In fact, research shows that those who more closely adhere to a DASH eating pattern are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes!4 Another contributor to your risk is weight, as studies reveal that even modest weight gain is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes,3 and losing as little as 10-15 pounds can help prevent or manage the disease.5 Since the goal of the DASH Diet is to prevent hypertension, it does not specifically focus on weight loss. But have no fear, whether you are trying to shed a few pounds to improve your health or your figure (or perhaps both) DASH’s emphasis on plant-based foods, whole grains, and lean meats will certainly help you reach your goals.

DASH is a little different from your average diet because it is actually less of a “diet,” and more of a healthy eating pattern. Instead of eliminating everything you know and love from your plate, this healthful approach to food aims to help you make gradual shifts towards better eating habits. The plan does not require you to do anything crazy like stop eating cheese or never touch bread again or only eat kale for the rest of your life! Nope –DASH just encourages you to prioritize foods low in fat, especially saturated fat, and cholesterol by eating things instead that have been shown to provide some nourishing benefits.

The main components of the DASH eating pattern are:

  • Plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts
  • Whole grains including whole wheat bread, rice, and pasta
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products such as skim milk and part skim cheese
  • Lean meats and poultry such as lean beef, pork tenderloin, chicken breast, and turkey
  • Healthy fat sources including olive oil or other vegetable oils5
  • Focus on these foods, and you’ll be slashing your risk for chronic disease and DASH-ing into lower blood pressure!

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