DASH diet: A beginner's guide to lower hypertension

14 November 2022 dot 8-minute read
Healthy Body Feature Diet and nutrition Dash diet Eat Well
The DASH diet is low in sodium and saturated fats and is suitable for people with hypertension and diabetes. (Credit: Shutterstock)
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet combines a balanced diet and portion control. First published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, the DASH diet offers a natural approach to lowering high blood pressure and the risk of associated diseases, such as heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.
Recent studies confirm that, depending on individual circumstances, the DASH diet can produce results in as little as two weeks.
Here is a closer look at the DASH diet, as well as its benefits and potential downsides.

DASH diet and hypertension

Limiting your daily sodium intake can significantly reduce your systolic blood pressure. (Credit: Getty Images)
The DASH diet promotes food rich in fibre, potassium, calcium and magnesium, which are known to help regulate blood pressure. According to research, these essential nutrients can help blood vessels relax and expand, allowing blood to flow more easily. They can also improve the electrolyte balance in the body, lowering water and fluid retention, which have been linked to the development of hypertension.
The standard DASH diet restricts sodium to no more than one teaspoon (2,300 mg) per day, while a stricter version of the diet limits sodium to no more than ¾ teaspoon (1,500 mg) per day. The more sodium is restricted, the more the diet will help in lowering blood pressure.
The right sodium level for you depends on your health needs. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to find what works best for you before making any changes to your diet, especially if you have a specific health condition.

DASH diet benefits

DASH diet comes with several evidence-based benefits that address hypertension and the risk of other life-threatening conditions.
  • It can help lower "bad" cholesterol (LDL, low-density cholesterol), a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • It can aid in weight loss since the diet discourages fatty and sugary foods, which are typically high in calories.
  • DASH diet limits the consumption of red and processed meat, sugary drinks and refined grains. Therefore, it helps lower uric acid levels and is associated with a lower risk of gout – a type of arthritis that causes sudden and severe joint pain.
  • It may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and improve insulin resistance and sensitivity.
  • It can help reduce the risk of developing kidney disease.
  • It may decrease the risk of some cancers, as its components are high in fibre, nutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

DASH eating plan

Add a serving of fruits or vegetables to every meal. Season your dishes with herbs and spices instead of salt. (Credit: Getty Images)
The DASH eating plan recommends food groups and specific servings for each one. The number of servings you can eat depends on how many calories you want to consume.
Eat more: fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, nuts and low-fat dairy foods.
Eat less: sodium, sweets, sugary drinks, red meats, processed foods and foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Caution on DASH diet

The immune system needs vitamin D to fight bacteria and viruses. (Credit: Getty Images) 
DASH is a healthy diet, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you maintain a diet best suited to your needs.

1. Sodium

Sodium is an important electrolyte and plays a vital role in the body. It helps maintain a proper balance of water and minerals and facilitates nerve impulses and communication, among other functions.
If you are a healthy individual with normal blood pressure and have a well-balanced approach to eating, you may not need to adjust your current salt intake. While excessive salt intake is ill-advised, restricting salt intake too much may create complications for some people.
Eating too little salt has been linked to several health concerns, including an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and fluid retention. Extremely low sodium levels may also lead to hyponatremia or low blood sodium. Symptoms are similar to dehydration and include headaches, seizures and comas.

2. Fat

The DASH diet recommends low-fat and fat-free dairy choices. However, new findings have shown that full-fat dairy can offer some nutritional benefits. Fat helps the body absorb vitamin A and vitamin D and is key to bone health. The body also needs fat to make essential fatty acids.
If the body does not get the fat it needs, it might encounter difficulties absorbing nutrients and problems with blood lipid levels and hormone production.
According to the World Health Organization, reducing the amount of total fat intake to less than 30 per cent of total energy intake (calories) helps prevent unhealthy weight gain. Consult your doctor or dietitian to determine how much fat you should have in your diet. 

3. Fibre

If you're not accustomed to eating fibre-rich food, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, your body might need some time to adjust. To avoid bloating or digestive discomfort, slowly introduce fibre into your diet to give your digestive system time to adapt.
Other considerations:
Nut allergies and food intolerances 
People with food intolerances or those who are allergic to nuts or dairy should speak with a registered dietitian to modify the plan based on their specific needs.
Chronic kidney disease and dialysis
If you have chronic kidney disease, consult your doctor or a registered dietitian before starting the DASH diet. Likewise, this eating plan is not recommended for people on dialysis with specific dietary needs.
Insurance with critical illness protection can provide you and your loved ones with a safety net, helping to create an environment that allows you focus on recovery. Check your health insurance provider's network of dietitians to advise you on food like the DASH diet. If you're unsure which insurance plan works best for you, reach out to an AIA professional for a recommendation or solution tailored to your needs.
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2021. DASH Eating Plan. [online][Accessed on 3 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2012. High blood pressure: Overview. [online] [Accessed on 3 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2014. Dietary salt intake and hypertension. [online] [Accessed on 3 July 2022]
American Journal of Kidney Diseases. 2016. DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet and Risk of Subsequent Kidney Disease. [online] [Accessed on 3 July 2022]
NIH, National Library of Medicine. 2014. Reduced dietary salt for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. [online] [Accessed on 3 July 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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