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Diet 101: The DASH diet for hypertension and weight-loss

Diet 101: The DASH diet for hypertension and weight-loss

The DASH diet supports having a healthy relationship with all food groups, says dietitian nutritionist Dana Angelo White
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The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was originally intended for Americans with hypertension. Apart from reducing high blood pressure apart, it was also found to have other benefits such as weight loss and prevention of other chronic diseases.  

Speaking about the origin of DASH, author of ‘DASH Diet Meal Prep for Beginners’, Dana Angelo White says, “DASH is a diet that has some scientific evidence behind it.” Originally designed by research from the NIH in the 1990s, this plan aimed to help Americans cut back on sodium to reduce high blood pressure, and it was successful.  

“Research over the last several decades has found that DASH can also be beneficial for weight loss and prevention of other chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and certain types of cancer,” she adds.  

The Connecticut-based dietician says in a detailed email interview with Happiest Health that people are drawn to DASH because unlike the many diet fads, ‘this makes sense’.  

“It is a balanced and sensible plan that avoids demonising any food and supports a healthy relationship with all food groups. DASH emphasises on eating balanced portions of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats; it is low in sodium and saturated fats and offers plenty of magnesium, fiber, potassium, calcium and protein,” she adds. 

What can you eat? 

Achsah Rathankumar, a sports dietitian based in Bengaluru says that since your diet must be low on sodium you cannot have ‘outside food’ like chips, fast foods, pickle, ‘papad’ or even excessive cooking salt. “In this diet a certain milligram of salt per day is recommended. Food rich in calcium, potassium, and other minerals also help lower blood pressure,” she says.  

“We recommend having a considerable number of fruits and vegetables. Non-vegetarian food can be had but the frequency of red meat consumption must be reduced. The diet also recommends you to avoid sugary, refined food, and deep-fried food,” she adds.  

Listing out what can be had in the DASH diet, Christina Lombardi, a dietician based in Babylon, NY, says, “you can eat lean animal proteins, whole grains and starchy vegetables, fruits, vegetables, heart healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado oil, walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and hemp seeds, as well as fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.” 

Can everyone benefit from DASH?  

Research has shown that DASH helps lower blood glucose levels, triglycerides, LDL-C, and insulin resistance. Lombardi says that this diet can be followed by anyone irrespective of whether you have hypertension or not. She says that not only does this lower blood pressure, but also improves gastrointestinal health due to high fibre content and helps reduce weight due to the balanced eating plan.  

“The DASH eating plan has many health and cardiovascular advantages. The heart-healthy eating pattern focuses on foods with nutrients that can be a way of eating for everyone in the household and can promote weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease,” adds Lombardi.  

“Those looking to adopt a healthy lifestyle can understand and stick to DASH for the long haul, unlike other diet plans. If followed appropriately, there are no risks of nutrient deficiencies which is common with restrictive diets,” adds White.  

However, Rathankumar is of the opinion that this must not be followed as another diet to lose weight. “The purpose of this diet was mainly to help with hypertension. It is not just for losing weight.” 

She also states that this cannot be seen as the only way to help with hypertension. “It does help people who have high blood pressure to an extent. But if you are someone with high blood pressure and if you are stressed all the time, you will also need to work on your stress independent of your diet.” 

Seek guidance 

“DASH diet must always be followed under the guidance of a dietician so that there is accountability and a monitoring process. Blindly following it may lead to you feeling dizzy or being lethargic all the time without knowing why that is happening,” says Achsah Rathankumar, Bengaluru-based sports dietitian. 

He adds that there are other complexities that need to be taken into account.  

“For example, you might have hypertension that is accompanied with diabetes or a kidney issue. Such issues need to be monitored on an individual-basis. A DASH diet is tailor-made, taking into account all factors of the person who wants to follow it and see a change in their blood pressure.”  

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