The DASH Diet: A Beginner’s Guide

High blood pressure can be easily controlled with the right diet. The DASH diet is an excellent way to lower blood pressure in the long term. This article will tell you what the DASH diet is, how it works and how you can get started easily.

The DASH diet has declared war on the biggest risk factor for heart attack and stroke, high blood pressure. High blood pressure remains undetected in about half of all those affected and thus causes massive damage to the body unhindered. The reason: One cannot feel the blood pressure, one can only measure it. DASH is the abbreviation for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. So this is about nutrition strategies against high blood pressure.

DASH – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

What is the DASH diet?

Many people with high blood pressure usually feel well for a long time before they recover from the consequences of their illness. The list of consequences of high blood pressure is long. These include heart failure, stroke, blindness as well as heart attack and many others (1). These consequences are caused by vascular damage, which can affect the entire body.

In addition to some uninfluenceable factors such as age, sex and hereditary factors, nutrition plays a decisive role in the development of high blood pressure. At the same time, high blood pressure can be treated very well with the right diet. This is exactly where the DASH diet comes into play.

The aim of the DASH diet is primarily to lower the blood pressure of hypertension patients and not the loss of body fat, as is the case with many other “diets”. Of course, some patients still lose their pounds due to a healthy diet. Since obesity is one of the causes of hypertension, this desirable side effect plays into the cards of many patients.

A current study, which provided in expert circles for revolt, shows: Already after four weeks DASH Di?t plus small salt admission the systolische blood pressure of study participants sank around up to 9 mm Hg (2). The average blood pressure of the participants was over 150 mm Hg. In order to achieve an uncritical blood pressure of 135 mm Hg, the participants would have had to lose more than 15 units. In the short study alone, the participants covered almost two thirds of the target. They were able to do this only through a healthy diet and without additional medication.

NOTE!

The DASH diet is intended to combat high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

How does the DASH diet work?

Within the framework of the DASH diet, fruit, vegetables, whole grains and whole grain products as well as small amounts of lean fish and meat are consumed in abundance. Fatty meat and dairy products, sweetened foods and salty dishes are avoided.

The DASH diet was born out of the realization that a plant-based diet, as practiced by many vegetarians and vegans, is associated with healthy blood pressure (3).

For this reason, vegetables should be an essential part of every meal. Healthy energy sources are whole grain cereals such as rye, spelt or whole grain rice, but also starchy vegetables such as potatoes, carrots or sweet potatoes. The protein sources on the menu are lean meat, fish and pulses.

An essential component of the DASH diet is a low salt content. Not more than one teaspoon of salt (2.3 mg sodium) should be consumed daily. Low salt consumption appears to lower blood pressure in both healthy people and high blood pressure patients (4).

If you’re afraid of a boring meal forever, you can rest assured. Already after a few weeks the sense of taste adapts to the low salt consumption. The result: even with a little salt the food tastes well seasoned. If one would spice again for test purposes, as in old times, the food would taste oversalted. We can only suggest this self-experiment to you. For one month, do without all added salt, bake salt-free bread at home and season with fresh and dried herbs.

NOTE!

The DASH diet is rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as well as lean meat and fish. Salt is used very sparingly.

You should refrain from eating these foods

In the DASH diet, the following foods should be avoided as far as possible:

  • Red meat
  • Processed meat (e.g. ham, bacon and other sausages)
  • High fat meat (e.g. chicken legs or roast pork)
  • High-fat dairy products (e.g. cheese)
  • Fast food (e.g. pizza, fries, burgers and Co.)
  • Salted snacks (e.g. peanuts and salt sticks)
  • Finished products (e.g. instant meals for the microwave or from the can)
  • Salted food
  • sweets

You can eat these foods without any concerns

As part of the DASH diet, the following foods should make up a large part of your diet. One portion here corresponds to about a handful (5).

6-8 servings per day:

  • Wholemeal (e.g. oat flakes, wholemeal pasta, low-salt wholemeal bread)
  • Pulses (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, beans)

4-5 servings per day:

  • Vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, carrots, onions)
  • Fruits (e.g. apple, kiwi, orange)
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts and linseed)

2-3 servings per day:

  • low-fat dairy products and vegetable alternatives (e.g. yoghurt, quark, soy yoghurt, vegetable drinks)
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g. walnuts and linseed)

1-2 times a week:

  • Lean meat and fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, chicken breast)

How to make the right start

  • Start your DASH diet by replacing table salt with fresh and dried herbs. Give your sense of taste three weeks to get used to the missing salt. In the beginning, your meals will certainly seem dull. After some time, however, you will have become accustomed to the low salt content.
  • Now concentrate on gradually implementing our nutritional recommendations. You can easily eat more whole grain products and vegetables by switching from white bread to whole grain bread, eating oatmeal breakfast in the morning and filling half the plate with fresh vegetables at lunch and dinner.
  • Don’t buy snacks and sweets anymore. Try to cook as much as possible yourself. In restaurants and finished products, a lot of salt and fat is often used.
  • Give yourself enough time. Old habits cannot be changed within a month. But you can rest assured. Even if you have hardly eaten any vegetables at this time, don’t like whole grains and like it hearty and salty – after a few months of gradual change you will find your new food delicious and your new lifestyle more pleasant.
    After all, the positive changes also begin after the first changeover phase. You will most likely lose weight, have more energy and a better mood. In addition to the increased quality of life, you will also gain years of life in the long term.

NOTE!

Take your time to change your diet. Gradual changes facilitate the change enormously.

Advantages and disadvantages of the diet

The DASH diet offers significant benefits in terms of lowering high blood pressure. Those who eat low-salt and plant-based foods can bring their blood pressure under control. In addition, the diet is rich in numerous nutrients and complex carbohydrates. The body is thus optimally supplied and remains efficient for longer.

A diet that is rich in fibre from fruit, vegetables and whole grain products also satiates very well. One possible effect: fewer calories are consumed throughout the day. Thus, the DASH diet could have a long-term positive effect on body weight without having to count calories. 

Of course, it is often not easy to follow the DASH diet. Those who travel a lot and cannot prepare their own meals often have problems finding unprocessed and low-salt foods and dishes. Active athletes should also take care not to restrict their consumption of salt too much. The DASH diet is also aimed primarily at but hypertension patients. If you do not suffer from high blood pressure or lose a lot of salt through increased sweating, you should ensure that you consume sufficient salt.

The essential nutritional aspects correspond to the general recommendations of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) and create the perfect basis for a healthy organism.

NOTE!

High blood pressure is effectively combated with the help of the DASH diet. Healthy people and athletes, on the other hand, should consume small amounts of salt.

Who is the DASH diet suitable for?

The DASH diet is particularly suitable for high blood pressure patients. Adults who already have a slightly elevated blood pressure due to an unhealthy lifestyle or genetic predisposition can prevent high blood pressure with the help of the DASH diet.

The DASH diet is not suitable for competitive athletes or children. People with low blood pressure and pregnant women should consult a doctor before starting the DASH diet.

NOTE!

People with high blood pressure and a predisposition to hypertension benefit from the DASH diet.

Smart tips for everyday life

  • Use fresh and dried herbs instead of salt
  • Steam vegetables with water and do not use oil
  • Introduce complete vegetarian and vegan weekdays
  • Change from white bread to low-salt wholemeal bread
  • If you suffer from cravings, drink carbonated water and eat fresh vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly and exercise daily to lower your blood pressure.

Frequently Asked Questions

While reading this article some questions may have occurred to you. In the following we clarify the most frequently asked questions about the DASH diet.

Can I drink alcohol during the DASH diet?

People who drink alcohol regularly raise their blood pressure. Worldwide, the contribution of alcohol consumption to high blood pressure is 16 percent. For every 10 grams of alcohol consumed regularly, blood pressure rises by 1 mm Hg (6). This corresponds, for example, to a daily quantity of 250 ml of beer or 100 ml of sparkling wine (7). Not a really big crowd, is it?

In order to control your high blood pressure and do something good for your health, you should either avoid alcohol altogether or limit your consumption to one or two glasses a weekend.

Can I drink coffee during the DASH diet?

Caffeine from coffee and tea can increase blood pressure for a short time. Anyone who regularly consumes large amounts of caffeine and suffers from high blood pressure should therefore be careful (8).

Recent studies have suggested that regular caffeine use can help people with normal blood pressure to get used to caffeine. Although the caffeine causes a short increase in blood pressure, it quickly drops back to a normal level. In patients with high blood pressure, this familiarisation effect does not seem to be present to the same extent. In addition, the increase in blood pressure is about 30 percent more pronounced than in healthy people (9).

A moderate consumption of caffeine is therefore advisable. There is nothing wrong with 1-2 cups of coffee or tea a day. Care should be taken, however, with very high intakes, especially when there is too much stress.

NOTE!

Alcohol raises blood pressure. Coffee has the same effect, although less pronounced. Moderate consumption is acceptable, but here too the premise applies: the less, the better.

Conclusion

The DASH diet is a nutritional strategy against high blood pressure. Salty and fatty foods are avoided. At the same time, vegetable foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds as well as whole grains and pulses are eaten abundantly. Lean animal products such as poultry and low-fat dairy products also regularly end up on the table.

The diet is similar in many respects to the nutritional recommendations of the German Nutrition Society. It is easy to implement and not only offers a suitable approach to lowering blood pressure, but also generally represents a healthy form of nutrition with which you can stay fit and healthy in the long term and achieve the desired results.

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