Heart-Healthy Benefits of the DASH Diet

By Rebecca Scritchfield MA, RD, LD - DietsInReview.com

February is American Heart Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and stroke, the number one killer in the United States. One way to reduce your risk of heart disease while maintaining a healthy lifestyle is with the DASH Diet, of which many people are not aware. The National Institutes of Health recommends this diet plan, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

In recent studies for the DASH Diet, the addition of fruits, vegetables and dairy products lowered blood pressure - even when sodium was as high as 3,000 milligrams each day! Every millimeter the blood pressure falls reduces the risk of heart attack and strokes for people with high blood pressure. It's worth believing that small changes will garner big results. Your everyday decisions really do matter.

The DASH "diet" focuses on an eating plan that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and low-fat or non-fat dairy. The eating plan follows heart-healthy guidelines to keep saturated fat and cholesterol at a minimum. It focuses on increasing the intake of nutrient-rich foods that are expected to lower blood pressure, mainly minerals (like potassium, calcium, and magnesium), protein, and fiber.

Here's a look at the daily nutritional numbers with DASH:

  • Total fat 27% of calories
  • Saturated fat 6% of calories
  • Protein 18% of calories
  • Carbohydrate 55% of calories
  • Sodium 1500-2,300 mg
  • Potassium 4,700 mg
  • Calcium 1,250 mg
  • Magnesium 500 mg
  • Cholesterol 150 mg
  • Fiber 30 g

Before you get drag out the calculators or press a panic button, following these simple tips will help you get started with and maintain the DASH Diet:

  • Record what you eat in a food journal or use an online program
  • Fill half of your plate with vegetables with lunch and dinner
  • Eat a piece of fruit with breakfast and lunch
  • Eat a variety of foods, animal- and vegetable-based proteins
  • Don't eat between meals, unless you feel hungry; Try to go for a high-protein, low-fat foods like low-fat cottage cheese with red pepper strips
  • Cut back on eating meals you didn't make unless you know the sodium content
  • Limit full-fat cheese and fatty meats (sources of saturated fat)

For more guidance, a dietitian can evaluate your eating habits and make recommendations in line with DASH. You can also search the Internet for DASH-friendly recipes.

The DASH eating plan has been proven to lower blood pressure in just two weeks. Best response came in people whose blood pressure was only moderately high, including those with pre-hypertension. For people with more severe hypertension, who may not be able to eliminate medication, the DASH diet can help improve response to medication.

If you know someone who would benefit from this information on preventing heart disease, please share it.

For more on heart health, continue reading:

Three Steps to Lowering Your Cholesterol

Eight Heart Disease Risks You Can Control

Learn more about maintaining a healthy diet at DietsInReview.com.

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