It has been 25 years since the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was designed but it’s still relevant and effective for those looking to get their high blood pressure or hypertension under control, in addition to other benefits.
Hypertension is one of the most important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, kidney ailments and eye damage. According to studies, four out of ten adults over 45 years of age in India are not aware of their hypertensive condition. Of those who are aware, 73% are currently taking medication, and only 10% of these have their hypertension under control.
A person is hypertensive if the systolic BP is 140 or more and diastolic BP is 90 or more.
It is well known that if corrective measures are not taken to control high BP, it can be dangerous. Apart from medication, hypertension can be managed by diet and lifestyle changes. So, if you have been diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, DASH diet is just for you.
What is DASH diet
“DASH is nothing but a healthy eating plan to either treat hypertension or to prevent it. Since, it is a healthy meal plan, it can benefit those who follow it diligently,” says Sheela Krishnaswamy, nutrition and wellness consultant and former president of the Indian Dietetic Association.
DASH diet recommendations are about limiting saturated and trans-fat, while increasing the consumption of foods rich in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fibre. These are found in fruits, vegetables, low fat -dairy, whole grains, fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts.
It is about having a balanced diet in a holistic manner, which is prescribed to those having high blood pressure says Anita Jatana, Chief Dietician at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital. Men are more prone to hypertension than women, however, post-menopausal women are also equally pre-disposed to hypertension, she says.
High BP can be managed with modifiable changes in our lifestyle. Diet and exercise are modifiable changes that will help treat hypertension, Jatana says.
Pros and Cons of DASH diet
DASH diet is easy to follow as it doesn’t prescribe major deviations from existing dietary patterns or high reduction in calories. It contains all the ingredients for a healthy life and it can be followed by all, including children.
“I have been prescribing DASH diet to treat high blood pressure,” says Dr Namita Nadar, a nutritionist in Noida. “We prescribe all the components of DASH to hypertensive people but we don’t call it DASH,” she says. According to her, most of the people who need DASH diet are above 40 and it has really helped in bringing down the blood pressure.
However, the benefits from following the DASH diet are not restricted to just lowering the blood pressure but there are plenty of other advantages.
This healthy meal plan could also help to control blood glucose and blood lipid levels, Krishnaswamy says.
Weight loss is another by-product of following this nutrient-rich diet. While following DASH diet there is very low or no intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets and unhealthy fats, all of which helps to reduce weight.
Besides, the healthy dietary intake in DASH helps in preventing stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes, kidney diseases, gout, cancer and kidney disease.
The cons of the DASH diet are not so serious that they can’t be taken care of. “These (DASH) are only guidelines and one meal-plan may not suit every individual,” says Krishnaswamy.
Experts say that everyone would have a different meal-plan based on their health status and requirement.
Some people may experience bloating and gas issues initially when they go on a DASH diet because of the high fibre content of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, this is taken care of by making changes in the helpings, portions and frequency of high fibre foods in their diet plan.
Some people may find adherence to this diet tedious but then that is true for any diet.
DASH diet daily servings
For someone looking to adopt the DASH diet, nutritionists and dieticians recommend the following foods that are rich in in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, fibre and omega-3 acids.
Whole grains: 7-8 servings daily. One can have wheat, rice and millets in bread, pasta, cereals and oatmeal.
Vegetables: 4-5 servings daily, which include leafy vegetables like spinach, beetroot, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers etc.
Fruit: 4-5 servings daily. All seasonal fruits can be included.
Low-fat /fat-free dairy products: 2 -3 servings per day, which will include curd, milk, cheese, yogurt etc.
Meat, poultry and fish: 1 or 2 servings daily or 4 per week. Chicken, fish and lean meats will be good.
Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4-5 servings per week. Have almonds, cashews, walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and lentils.
Fat and oil: 2-3 servings per days. Choose monounsaturated food items like olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil and keep rotating the oils.
Sweets: 3 to 4 servings per week. For those who have sugar cravings, DASH diet permits sweets but limit yourself to less than five helpings in a week.
Foods to avoid
It is recommended to stay away from food items and snacks having trans-fat and saturated food like samosas, processed foods, cakes, cookies etc. Also avoid high-sugar products like candies, ice-creams, colas, and food with high salt content like chips, sauces, pickles etc. Red meat is also a no-no under DASH diet plan.
Salt intake and DASH diet
Studies have shown that reducing salt intake and following the DASH diet is more beneficial for lowering blood pressure than following the DASH diet alone or reducing the salt alone. The benefits of a reduced sodium and DASH diet were observed in those with and without hypertension, women and men, regardless of race or ethnicity.
“Our salt intake is very high, which contributes to high blood pressure,” says Dr Nadar. “People are using table salt on fruits without understanding the harmful consequences,” she adds.
Salt intake should be reduced to 1 teaspoon per person per day to bring down the BP. One should not sprinkle salt on curd etc and be wary of hidden salt sources found in sauces, pickles, says Jatana.
Always read the nutrition label of packaged foods to find out the sodium content in each suggested serving.
Adopting a DASH diet with low salt intake and coupling it with exercise could be the key to beating high blood pressure and leading a healthy life.