Everything You Need to Know About the DASH Diet
The simple and delicious lifestyle changes to help you lower your blood pressure
Written by Liana Greenshields, Student in the Dietetics Specialization program at the University of Alberta and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
About 1 out of 5 Canadians will develop hypertension or high blood pressure in their lifetime, so how can you prevent this? The DASH diet is an easy lifestyle change that can help. Making small changes to your eating habits can have a large impact on your heart health by reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure.
“DASH” stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” In this post, we will outline the importance of the DASH diet and explain how to implement the diet into your everyday lifestyle, along with some DASH diet recipes to help you get started.
What exactly is the DASH diet?
Before delving into the details of the DASH diet, the term “diet” should first be defined. This word is often associated with weight loss and is frequently promoted as a “quick-fix” by encouraging unhealthy food intake which would be difficult to maintain for a lifetime. However, diet actually refers to the foods you eat on a day-to-day basis meaning it must be sustainable and long-term, unlike the “quick-fix” that it is often misinterpreted for. The DASH diet is therefore a lifestyle focused on the foods your body needs for a healthy heart and consequently reduces the risk of hypertension. This is achieved by making simple changes to the foods you eat and turning it into a sustainable, everyday lifestyle.
Who should follow the DASH diet?
The DASH diet does not have to be limited to any specific demographic. Incorporating heart-healthy foods into your diet should be an important aspect of everyone’s daily lives as they are great source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy macronutrients which help your body get through its daily activities.
With that being said, those who already have high blood pressure or are at risk of developing it may want to follow the DASH diet to prevent any further complications and can even help reduce their blood pressure. Making a change to your diet may seem daunting to some, but the rest of this article outlines some tips and general information to show how easy and maintainable the DASH diet is.
What foods should be limited on the DASH diet?
Sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure and thus increasing the risk for heart disease. The standard DASH diet aims to limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg a day. To put this into perspective, that is only 1 teaspoon of salt! Therefore, choosing lower salt foods and reducing the amount of salt that is added at the table and in recipes is a major factor in reducing sodium intake.
Other foods that should be limited are saturated fats and ultra-processed foods, which include butter, margarine, bacon, poultry skin, large amounts of higher-fat red meat and deep fried convenience foods. This also means that fast food products and restaurant meals (which can be high in saturated fat and sodium) are not advisable.
A standard DASH diet meal plan therefore typically limits foods from these categories. Health Canada provides excellent tips and information on cooking more and eating out less, which ultimately can help reduce your intake of sodium and saturated fats.
What foods should you focus on while following the DASH diet?
The DASH diet is rich in foods containing potassium, calcium and magnesium. Eating foods rich in these nutrients lowers blood pressure (while taking these as supplements doesn’t have the same effect as eating foods rich in these nutrients). Fruits, vegetables, fiber, lean meats, and low sodium foods are your best friend while on the DASH diet! Research has shown that people who center their diet around these foods tend to have lower blood pressure due to their lower sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar intake.
An appropriate DASH diet meal plan therefore typically revolves around whole grains for fiber, fruits and vegetables for fiber and vitamins, lean meats for protein, and limited servings of saturated fats and sodium. Think about aiming for half your plate vegetables, one-quarter protein and one-quarter grains/starchy foods to create a balanced plate.
Does the DASH diet mean that chocolate, candy, chips, and fries are off-limits?
Although the DASH diet seems to disregard so called “junk foods” such as sweets and treats, no diet should ever completely restrict any kind of food. Even if a type of food that you love contains high levels of saturated fats and added sugars, any sustainable diet should include a healthy balance between the foods your body wants and the foods you love. Restricting certain types of foods can lead to a poor relationship with food and take away from the lifestyle aspect of the DASH diet. Any changes you make to your diet should be sustainable and long-term, so do you think you’ll be able to cut out cake or French fries forever? Always remember, everything in moderation!
Helpful tips and DASH diet recipes to get you started
To start, make small changes to your everyday diet so you can make the DASH diet a part of your lifestyle for the long-term. For example, switch to whole grain food products for extra fiber, include a serving of fruit and/or vegetable at every meal, and choose lean meats instead of full-fat meats.
In terms of DASH diet recipes, almost any recipe can be adapted to fit the diet. Whether it be fajitas, pizza, muffins, or whatever your favourite meal is, click here to see the unlimited possibilities of recipes!
Adapting your lifestyle to follow the DASH diet is a great way to help reduce your risk of developing hypertension. These simple tips and aspects of the diet make it easy to follow and implement into your daily lifestyle by developing healthy habits to help make your heart healthy and happy! Regardless of your age, lifestyle, or health status, the healthy habits of the DASH diet contribute to an overall healthier body.
Want more personal help with your diet?
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For now, begin making the changes to your diet and make a difference in your heart health now with your newfound knowledge on the DASH diet!
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