Stacey Frattinger, RD, CHFS, Certified Integrative Health Coach, currently resides in Sparks, NV. She owns a virtual health coaching and nutrition counseling practice, mainly focusing on one-on-one, individualized whole body wellness practices.
The DASH diet does not require purchasing special foods, and does offer easy-to-follow recipes as part of the plan. Rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein, the plan provides important nutrients for helping to regulate your blood pressure. The DASH diet places an emphasis on eating fruit, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. It also reinforces the importance of eating more whole grain foods on a regular and consistent basis. You will be asked to limit sodium, sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats. Compared to many other diet plans, the DASH diet is lower in sodium, through the avoidance of using table salt and limiting high-sodium, pre-packaged, processed foods. This will help to keep your sodium intake to around 1,500 mg of sodium daily, leading to lower blood pressure.
The word DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”. Research conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institutes (NHLBI) has shown that the DASH eating plan can lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol which can reduce your risk for heart disease. This eating plan, designated as being heart-healthy and often recommended for individuals suffering from high blood pressure, emphasizes the need for nutrients that are in short supply in many diets, so it is fairly well known within the medical community. Your doctor may actually recommend the DASH eating plan if you have a history of high blood pressure or are looking to lower your blood pressure before requiring intervention through the use of a medication.
Because the diet incorporates all of the food groups, chances are there will not be any sense of deprivation; however, the trick may be in getting used to the taste of food without as much salt. It will make eating out and grabbing quick, on-the-go meals, a bit of challenge as well due to the high sodium levels in most of-the-shelf and restaurant-prepared foods.
The real emphasis here is on preparing your own meals to be able to modify your sodium level. Herbs and spices can be a bit pricey, but once the initial investment is made in those items, your pantry will be stocked for some time before needing to repurchase those goods. In addition, when watching your sodium intake, most canned items will need to be avoided. Even if you choose to purchase “low sodium” products, those tend to cost more unless they are on sale at the grocery store that week.
Plan on spending more time at the grocery store, reading labels and closely examining the list of ingredients with off-the-shelf products. Once you get home, plan to spend more time in the kitchen preparing your own meals and snacks. You may have to do a lot more experimenting in the kitchen, which may at one point lead to one or two meals being tossed down the garbage disposal due to taste preferences.
There aren’t any real safety considerations as it is fairly rare for one’s doctor to recommending including more salt in the diet rather than less.
Research and recent evidence to supports the benefit of a bit more dietary fat in one’s diet, as long as the source is from “healthy fats” including nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and coconut or olive oil. For some when dietary fat is too low, hunger is increased. Some individuals do better with a bit more fat and a bit less carbohydrate. In addition, not every individual is “salt sensitive” so this plan is not guaranteed to lower blood pressure.
Benefits: One of the positive aspects of the DASH diet relates to the emphasis on a low-salt diet. This may nudge you to start preparing more of your own meals rather than depending on pre-packaged, processed foods which often have very high sodium levels. The overall promotion of healthy foods through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, is a very balanced approach. In addition, the encouragement to include regular physical activity, most days of the week, for approximately 30 minutes each day, sets the foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
Downsides: If you are looking to lose weight, particularly through some sort of quick fix plan or jumpstart to your metabolism, the DASH diet is not ideal. While weight loss is possible with this plan, the goal is really to reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure. The plan also requires quite a bit of dedication to spending more time in the kitchen, preparing your own meals, and experimenting with herbs and spices to enhance the flavor of your entrees.
The Bottom Line: If lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of cardiac disease is your motivation to spend more time eating at home and cooking your own meals, this may be a great fit for you!