What Is the DASH Diet?
Pretty much every time you walk into the doctor's office, the nurse or assistant straps a cuff around your arm—and for good reason. About one in three American adults has high blood pressure, or hypertension. And they face a dramatically increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other health issues.
If your blood pressure reading is on the high side, your MD may suggest the DASH diet (it's short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Long before low-carb and gluten-free reigned, the DASH diet plan debuted in the April 17, 1997, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The DASH plan cut blood pressure enough that if everyone adopted it, heart disease cases would decrease by 15 percent and strokes by about one-fourth, according to a group of researchers supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
The DASH diet plan stresses:
• Whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.
• Cutting back on sodium (2,300 mg per day if you're healthy, 1,500 mg per day if you're at-risk or already have heart issues).
• Getting 55 percent of your calories from high-quality carbs, 18 percent from protein, and 27 percent from fat.
"The DASH diet, year after year, is ranked as one of the best diets out there," says Gina DeVito, RD, certified dietitian-nutritionist for Forme Urgent Care and Wellness Center in White Plains, New York. A meta-analysis published this month in the British Journal of Nutrition found people who followed the DASH diet plan reduced their 10-year risk of heart problems by about 13 percent. And if you switch to DASH from a diet high in convenience foods, you'll likely lose weight as well as improve your health, DeVito says.
Dash Diet Food List
You don't need to adopt the entire DASH plan to net these perks. Merely focusing on whole foods can go a long way toward whittling your waist and reducing your blood pressure, DeVito says. Try these:
• Sweet potatoes. Their vitamin A and fiber further boosts blood vessel health.
• Beans. Any type works, but white beans shine brightest. Just rinse canned brands first to reduce sodium.
• Winter squash. Sub spaghetti squash for pasta to cut calories.
• Fish. Steak-like catches like halibut and cod boast the most potassium.
• Clams. Get them fresh, not canned, to skip salt and preservatives.
• Dairy. Look for low-fat yogurt, milk, and cheese.
• Fresh juice. Run carrots or oranges through your juicer (pre-packaged or concentrated varieties aren't always as nutrient-dense, DeVito points out).
• Bananas. America's favorite fruit provides about 13 percent of your daily potassium needs.