The DASH Diet was developed by the NIH in response to a series of studies they performed in the 1990s (the DASH and DASH-sodium trials) to explore the relationship between diet and blood pressure. These studies were conducted as a response to the growing prevalence of hypertension in the United States. The results demonstrated that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, but limited in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol can effectively decrease blood pressure.
This research was further expanded upon by the OmniHeart Collaborative Research Group and in a premier clinical trial by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) which determined that the DASH Diet could also be used to reduce LDL blood cholesterol levels, assist weight loss, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The DASH Diet emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy, but still allows for a moderate intake of lean meat, poultry, fish, and nuts. It is limited in total fat (especially saturated fat and cholesterol), red meat, sweets, and alcohol. Click here for a more detailed look at the program, including the recommended daily intake of each food group. These guidelines provided by the DASH Diet serve to reduce overall sodium intake to below 2300 mg, saturated fat to under 6% of daily caloric intake, and cholesterol to under 150 mg per day.
What makes the DASH Diet unique is that no foods are off limits. Certain foods are discouraged, but nothing is forbidden. This makes the diet easily adaptable to different lifestyles and preferences. It is also make it a healthful diet for people of all ages.
New studies are continuously being done on the DASH Diet and its effectiveness, but three main studies were responsible for the initial popularization of the diet. All were funded by the NHLBI (part of the NIH).
DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Randomized Clinical Trial: This review of the DASH Diet demonstrated that, compared to both a typical American diet and a typical American diet containing above average amounts of fruits and vegetables, the DASH Diet is the most effective for lowering blood pressure.
DASH Diet, Sodium Intake, and Blood Pressure Trial (DASH-sodium): This DASH Diet review showed that the greater the reduction of sodium in the diet, the greater the decrease in blood pressure, even when on the inherently lower-sodium DASH Diet. This study did not focus on weight loss specifically, but demonstrated that the DASH Diet is beneficial for individuals with hypertension who need to lose weight.
Effects of Comprehensive Lifestyle Modification on Blood Pressure Control (PREMIER clinical trial): In reviewing the effectiveness of the DASH Diet on blood pressure, this study demonstrated the health benefits of combining the DASH Diet with increased physical activity.
The DASH Diet is recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association (AHA), Mayo Clinic, and the USDA. The January 2018 U.S. News & World Report reviewed the DASH Diet and ranked it number 1 for “Best Diets Overall,” “For Healthy Eating,” and “Best Heart Healthy Diet” and number 2 “For Diabetes” in its comparison of popular diets. This is the 8th year in a row that the DASH Diet has achieved this ranking. The DASH Diet is safe for everyone and has been proven again and again to provide a variety of different health benefits.
Because it is a whole foods diet that discourages the consumption of processed foods, meal prepping and cooking might take up more of your time. Luckily, there are now a number of apps to help make the meal prep process even faster and easier.
The DASH Diet is nutritionally balanced, emphasizes whole foods, and does not focus on restriction (calorie or otherwise). This makes it healthful for all people (including children) and more sustainable in the long run. It has also been extensively researched and there is strong evidence supporting its effectiveness in improving health and encouraging weight loss.
Additionally, there are numerous recipes that fit into the DASH Diet and many cookbooks that are tailored to the DASH Diet specifications. Although it may be challenging to reduce overall sodium intake to below 2300 mg while relying on processed foods, all the DASH recommended foods are naturally low in sodium. This means that, by constructing your diet around low-fat whole foods, you will easily meet all the DASH Diet recommendations without having to worry about performing tricky calculations.
The consumption of sweets and alcohol is highly discouraged in the DASH Diet. You are only allowed 5 servings of sweets per week! This includes things like jam and sweetened fruit juices such as lemonade. MealEnders can help you combat sugar cravings as you adjust to eating this way.
Since alcohol consumption is also discouraged, you can pop a MealEnder in your mouth at social events after you’ve had your first beverage. This will help you avoid ordering multiple drinks and falling off track.
Diet Weight Loss Solution: A useful guide book by Marla Heller, MS, RD to help you understand and master the DASH Diet. Also includes recipes, shopping lists, and more.
The DASH Diet Younger You: Marla Heller’s second release, highlighting the age-defying effects of antioxidant dense superfoods, plant based meals, and foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome.
The Complete DASH Diet for Beginners: A beautiful cookbook including guidance about how to kickstart your lifestyle transition, two 7-day DASH meal plans, and 75 easy recipes.