The DASH diet is a dietary pattern designed to control, treat, and prevent high blood pressure.
Participants are encouraged to avoid fatty meats and limit sodium intake but consume large amounts of foods from all food groups, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy foods.
What Is the DASH Diet?
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) was created by researchers at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
The diet has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and has numerous other health benefits, including weight loss.
How the DASH Diet Works
The DASH diet is flexible and adaptable. You won’t need to make drastic dietary changes or eat specially made “diet foods.”
You can add any food preferences or special dietary requirements to the DASH diet. It’s also family-friendly.
Meeting the daily and weekly nutritional servings for food groups is one of the essential guidelines to follow for reaching your weight loss goals and improving your overall health.
Exercise is an essential component of the DASH diet. It’s recommended you get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, preferably for 30 minutes, five days a week.
The DASH Diet Plan
The NHLBI has established guidelines for following the DASH diet.
Using this calculator, you can determine how many calories you need to either maintain or lose weight.
Diet plans range from 1,200 to 3,100 calories.
Based on a 2000-calorie diet, you should eat the following:
- Fruit: Four to five servings per day
- Vegetables: Four to five servings per day
- Whole grains: Six to eight servings per day
- Fat-free and low-fat dairy: Two to three servings per day
- Lean meats, fish, chicken, and eggs: Six or fewer servings per day
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes: Four to five servings per week
- Sweets and added sugars: Five or fewer servings per week
- Focus on foods high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
- Limit your sodium to 2300 milligrams per day (1500 milligrams for additional benefits). Tips for reducing sodium intake include buying fresh or frozen rather than canned foods, rinsing canned foods in water, and substituting salt for spices and herbs.
- Limit saturated fat and trans fat, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy, deep-fried foods, and coconut oil.
- Limit alcohol
The DASH diet is more independent than other diet programs such as Weight Watchers.
You have no paid membership or subscription, and you’ll only need to pay for the food and ingredients you use to make your meals.
Free informative resources and recipes are available on the NHLBI website. However, books are also available.
One such book is The DASH Diet Weight Loss Solution.
Some online companies offer paid DASH diet programs. Keep in mind that they may not follow the official and up-to-date DASH diet guidelines created by the NHLBI.
Dos and Don’ts
- Make use of the eating plan templates produced by the NHLBI to be sure you meet the DASH diet guidelines.
- Get your blood pressure checked by your doctor if you have high blood pressure. This is an excellent way to track your progress.
- Don’t cut out your favorite foods. DASH is less about restriction and more about making sustainable changes while leaving room for an occasional indulgence. That said, be sure to avoid foods high in saturated fat and trans fat most of the time.
- Don’t change too much at once. Small steps and slow changes are more likely to lead to long-term success.
Sample Diet Plan
The NHLBI has provided the following sample plan for a 2000-calorie diet with between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams of sodium (depending on optional dietary changes you make).
Here’s an example of what two days of the Dash eating plan could look like:
- Instant oatmeal
- Mini whole wheat bagel with peanut butter
- Banana and low-fat milk
- Chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread with reduced-fat cheddar cheese, romaine lettuce, tomato, and low-fat mayonnaise
- Cantaloupe chunks
- Apple juice
- Spaghetti with vegetarian sauce, corn, and parmesan cheese
- Spinach salad with carrots, mushrooms, and vinaigrette dressing
- Canned pears
- Almonds, dried apricots, fruit yogurt
- Low-fat granola bar, medium banana, fruit yogurt, orange juice, and low-fat milk
- Turkey breast sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, low-fat mayonnaise, and mustard
- Steamed broccoli
- Spicy baked fish, scallion rice, spinach sauté, and carrots
- Whole wheat roll with margarine
- Small cookie
- Peanuts, low-fat milk, dried apricots
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
The DASH diet is endorsed by several organizations, including the American Heart Association, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the US guidelines for treating high blood pressure. Clinical studies and extensive research have been integral to this.
Lowers Risk of Mortality
A review of multiple studies found that medium to high adherence to the DASH diet is associated with a lower risk of all-cause, heart disease, stroke, and cancer mortality. The better the adherence, the lower the risk.
Lowers Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Male participants following the DASH diet had up to a 33% reduction in risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Lowers Blood Pressure
An older study found that DASH was successful in reducing systolic blood pressure.
The reduction was greatest when sodium was further reduced and just following the DASH diet, although the diet was still successful otherwise. The addition of exercise and weight loss to the diet is associated with even lower blood pressure.
Although the DASH diet wasn’t explicitly designed for weight loss, studies have found that obese and overweight people following DASH can successfully lose weight.
A meta-analysis concluded that DASH participants lost more weight in 24 weeks than controls and people who consumed typical Western diets.
You Must Be Independent
Some people may benefit from a diet program with regular support, paid meals, and other specific established features as it may motivate them and help them stay on track.
People who follow the DASH diet need to be mostly independent, which may be more difficult. If necessary, look up online resources to help you stick with the diet long-term when you decide to start.
Side Effects of a High-Fiber Diet
Despite the health benefits of eating a high fiber diet, it can cause short-term side effects in people who aren’t accustomed to eating this amount of fiber and increase it too quickly.
You may experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. These usually resolve as your body adjusts.
The Bottom Line: Is the DASH Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The evidence-backed DASH diet offers multiple health benefits. Although weight loss isn’t the direct purpose of the DASH diet, making the recommended dietary changes is a safe, sustainable, and healthy way to lose weight and maintain good heart health.