What Is The DASH Diet, And Why Is It Recommended For Those With Hypertension?
Here’s everything you need to know.
If you scour through your suggested videos on Youtube, you’re bound to see several clips of influencers recommending diet plans that claim to help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your health. One of these diet plans is the DASH diet, also known as “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.”
If you’re planning to commit to this diet, it’s important to know the basics first. OneLife.ph spoke with registered nutritionist-dietitian Jocelle Coleen Garcia about what the DASH diet is and how it works.
According to Garcia, the DASH diet is “a dietary pattern high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat dairy products, and is low in animal protein and sugar.” These foods are rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Sodium, sugars, and fats, on the other hand, are limited, which is why this diet is said to be beneficial to the heart.
The diet suggests that there is a specific number of servings needed that depends on an individual’s caloric needs.
“Other than giving importance to consuming a wide variety of healthy foods, it also emphasizes portion sizes and obtaining the proper balance of nutrients,” adds Garcia. “These minerals mentioned help protect the heart and its vital functions by facilitating the regulation of blood pressure, which in turn makes sure that the body is being supplied [with] enough oxygen from the blood.”
Benefits of the DASH diet
According to the World Health Organization, cardiovascular diseases are responsible for around 17.9 million deaths every year, making it the leading cause of death.
“One of the main risk factors for developing hypertension or high blood pressure is a diet with excessive salt consumption, low intake of fruits and vegetables, and [food] high in saturated and trans fats,” says Garcia.
The premise of the DASH diet is to help in lowering blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels, specifically the LDL or “bad” cholesterol. “These saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterols are commonly found in our favorite foods such as pizza, fried chicken, bacon, cakes, crispy pata, milk tea, and many more. So, if you are one who needs to reduce your blood pressure, gradually cutting down on these yummy foods is one way,” she adds.
This diet is recommended for those who have hypertension or are at risk for developing the disease.
“Some conditions that increase the risk for hypertension are diabetes, obesity, excessive use of alcohol and tobacco, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and those who have a family history of hypertension,” Garcia explains. “So, if a person does not have high blood pressure but has one or more of the mentioned risk factors, then this type of diet may be appropriate for them.”
The risks of DASH diet
While the DASH diet has several benefits, we have to take note of its possible risks as well. Garcia says that this diet is high in calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which are excreted as urine with the help of our kidneys.
“This type of diet is not recommended for individuals with chronic kidney diseases since an excess of these minerals may be hard for the failing kidney to excrete and may result in accumulation in the body,” she explains.
“This diet may also not be appropriate for those who have food allergies to some included food items, are lactose-intolerant, or have other disorders that affect their metabolism of certain foods.”
Aside from these, it may also be quite difficult for some to commit to the diet since it restricts salt and sugar intake.
Examples of food under the DASH diet
The DASH diet includes foods from different food groups which contain nutrients that are vital to our health.
“Whole-wheat bread, cereals, and oatmeal are some foods that can be major sources of energy other than being included in this type of diet,” Garcia says. “Another list of foods that can be under the DASH diet and at the same time are rich sources of potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, and fiber are tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, squash, beans, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.”
She adds that lean meats, lentils, kidney beans, and almonds also help in lowering one’s blood pressure, as these foods are rich in protein, zinc, and magnesium.
Garcia sets a 2,000-kcal menu plan as an example: Grains should be around six to eight servings, while fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes must be four to five servings. It sets a cap for low-fat dairy products at a maximum of three servings, and less than six servings for meat. Additionally, sugar and sweets should have less than five servings as well.
Is the DASH diet recommended by nutritionist-dietitians?
“For me, yes, I would recommend this diet especially to those who want to maintain a healthy heart, but of course, some modifications may be considered,” says Garcia. “This is because this type of diet can be very restrictive and at the same time demanding in terms of the servings of some food groups.”
Aside from prescribing an appropriate diet for a patient, it is a nutritionist-dietitian’s responsibility to also ensure the patient’s readiness to change and engage in this commitment.
“Following the DASH diet requires a lot of discipline, consistency, and determination since a high intake of selected food groups such as fruits and vegetables, for example, and a low intake of processed and high-sodium food items, is a marked changed from the typical eating patterns that we Filipinos are used to,” she explains.
Aside from this, the food options may also be unrealistic for low-income households, as the prices of fruits and veggies continue to skyrocket each year. Additionally, not everyone also has the means to accessible and available healthy food items.
“As long as the patient’s needs are fulfilled, and making sure that constant monitoring will be done, then a healthy heart can be achieved by the patient. For me, it is always important to not only look at the nutritional aspect of the patient’s problem but also look at the overall story because this can help a lot in facilitating the patient towards achieving his/her nutritional goals,” says Garcia.
Recommending a certain diet involves undergoing a complicated process for nutritionist-dietitians. Garcia lives by these three principles:
1) To prescribe a liberalized diet that should meet the body’s requirements as generously as possible;
2) To prescribe an individualized diet that should be based on the patient’s preferences, habits, and other relevant environmental factors; and
3) To prescribe a diet that is simplified, which means it should have only minimal modification from the normal diet if possible.
So even though a certain diet is approved and followed by many people online, we still need to consult an expert is this diet is applicable for us, our goals, and our body’s needs.
For more information, you may reach Jocelle Coleen Garcia, RND on Instagram.