The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. By reducing the blood pressure and lowering low-density lipoprotein (sometimes called 'bad' cholesterol) levels in the blood, this diet may help prevent and manage heart-related diseases and maintain overall health.
The main aim of this diet is to limit the daily sodium intake. Sodium is a mineral that plays a role in the healthy function of nerves and muscles and helps maintain proper body fluid balance. On the other hand, the fluid balance is very delicate as a high intake of sodium can cause fluid retention in the body, thus increasing blood pressure which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and even heart failure.
The close relationship between hypertension and dietary sodium intake is widely recognized and supported by several studies. The high sodium intake and the increase in blood pressure levels are related to water retention, increase in systemic peripheral resistance, alterations in the endothelial function, changes in the structure and function of large elastic arteries, modification in sympathetic activity, and in the autonomic neuronal modulation of the cardiovascular system.
A reduction in dietary sodium not only decreases the blood pressure and the incidence of hypertension but is also associated with a reduction in morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases.
Besides improving cardiovascular biomarkers, the DASH diet may also aid in weight loss, decrease cancer risks, lower metabolic syndrome risks, and prevent diabetes. Many of these protective effects are attributed to the foods recommended in this diet.
The DASH diet is rich in fat-free or low-fat dairy products, beans, legumes, poultry, fish, seafood, a variety of leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, colorful berries and fruits, various plant-based products, and healthy fat sources, such as nuts, seeds as well as plant oils. With various ingredients from different food groups, this diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, dietary fiber, protein, and all other essential nutrients for maintaining heart health.
The DASH diet recommends limiting foods high in saturated fat, such as highly processed foods, fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils. In addition, limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets and, most importantly, limiting sodium levels to support cardiovascular system functions.