The DASH Diet
“The DASH Diet – an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – is one of the most popular diets in the US and is frequently recommended by doctors and dietitians for those dealing with high blood pressure. It was developed in the late 1990s and has a number of bestselling books and cookbooks behind it, although it’s less well known in the UK. Interestingly, information on the DASH Diet is scarce in the UK and isn’t available on the NHS or the British Heart Foundation websites. Nonetheless, consistent evidence shows it has promising results in reducing the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in those at risk.” – Dominique Ludwig, nutritional therapist
What can you eat?
“On the DASH Diet, you’re encouraged to include plenty of fruit and vegetables, fat-free and low-fat dairy, wholegrains, lean meats, poultry and fish, as well as unsalted nuts and seeds. Like the Mediterranean diet, you should also eat plenty of legumes (beans and lentils), shellfish and healthier oils. The diet discourages processed food, alcohol, sugar and refined carbs, instead encouraging natural foods that have increased levels of potassium, magnesium and calcium – nutrients that can help lower blood pressure.” – Dominique
Is cutting back on salt always a good idea?
“Salt plays an important role in the development of high blood pressure, but you do need some salt in the diet. While less is better for most people, those living in hot climates who sweat more, or those who exercise heavily, may need more. The body requires sodium as an electrolyte – it keeps us hydrated and is important for our nerves and muscles. Plus, some people are more sensitive to the effects of salt than others, and salt isn’t the only reason why someone may have high blood pressure. A number of genes are known to have an effect on sodium sensitivity, which means lowering sodium may be more effective on one person than on another.” – Dominique
The bottom line?
“If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the DASH Diet is certainly something to look into but remember that, when we eat a healthier diet, it’s as much about what we give up as well as what we are eating. The DASH Diet contains plenty of nutrient-dense foods, although whether it’s more beneficial than a healthy, colourful Mediterranean diet hasn’t been proven. From my experience in clinic, most people see a reduction in blood pressure when they incorporate a lower-carb, Mediterranean-style diet into their lifestyle. Reducing excess visceral fat and eliminating processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates can also have a positive effect on all aspects of health, including our cardiovascular health. When we reduce processed foods from our diet, the diet is often automatically lower in salt.
“However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the DASH Diet is exactly that, a ‘diet’, and countless studies show diets are hard to stick to. The 80/20 rule is arguably a more realistic approach, with a focus on food freedom and an abundance of healthy foods. At the same time, high blood pressure is just one risk factor in cardiovascular disease. It’s important to focus on other aspects too, such as the quality of the oils and fats you’re eating, the impact of carbs on your blood sugar and the amount of fibre you’re eating. All of these can impact your weight, which should also be a priority when tackling high blood pressure.” – Dominique