Content

Introduction

The DASH diet is a diet promoted by the Institute for the Heart, Lungs and Blood (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) of the United States National Institute of Health (NIH), in order to help prevent, or improve, high blood pressure (arterial hypertension). The abbreviation DASH, in fact, stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or Dietary approaches against hypertension.

In its original form, therefore, it is not a diet designed for weight loss, because the number of calories introduced is no lower than those that are needed every day (in other words it is a diet isocaloric).

Rather, it is a diet that involves the prevalent consumption of some foods and the reduction or elimination of others. Specifically, it favors fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates from whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fish, white meat, vegetable oils and provides for a substantial reduction, or elimination, of red meat, animal fats, sugar and alcohol.The DASH diet is usually accompanied by a reduced use of table salt.

A series of clinical studies conducted in the United States, subsequently confirmed in other countries, have shown that the DASH diet is effective in reducing blood pressure, as well as other cardiovascular risk parameters, including too high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.For this reason, it is currently recommended by many medical associations around the world for people at risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Since being overweight is also a risk factor, there are also versions of the DASH diet that maintain the same breakdown as regards food categories, but with a reduced intake of total calories, so as to also favor weight reduction.

Clinical Studies

The DASH diet was formulated and tested for the first time in a study carried out in the United States and published in 1997, in which, based on previously known observations, they wanted to verify the effect of different food combinations on blood pressure.

Specifically, 459 volunteers were enrolled. Of these, a part had normal blood pressure values ​​(maximum pressure between 130 and 139 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and / or minimum pressure between 85 and 89 millimeters of mercury); the remaining group, on the other hand, had high values ​​(maximum pressure greater than 140 and minimum pressure greater than 90 millimeters of mercury).

The volunteers were divided into three groups: the first continued to eat a typical American diet; the second, an increased amount of vegetables and fruit; the third, the so-called DASH diet.

After eight weeks, the group that consumed more fruit and vegetables had a slight improvement, but the group that followed the DASH diet had markedly lower blood pressure values ​​than the other two. The people who had the highest blood pressure at the start of the study had the most marked improvement: in them, the maximum and minimum pressures were lowered, on average, by 11.4 and 5.5 millimeters of mercury, respectively.

In a subsequent study, published in 2001, the effect of reducing table salt (sodium chloride) was examined on both a normal diet and the DASH diet.The results showed that salt reduction significantly lowers blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure, whether they follow a normal diet or, even more, the DASH diet.

Conclusions

The DASH diet was formulated on the basis of a series of scientific evidence accumulated over time regarding the effect of different types of food on cardiovascular risk factors.

It was already known previously, the beneficial effect deriving from the consumption of fruit and vegetables on cardiovascular risk and their role in lowering blood pressure and the levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood. Furthermore, the consumption of fruit and vegetables also decreases the risk of developing diabetes, cancer and other diseases of old age.

Even replacing saturated fats in the diet (typically of animal origin, therefore contained in butter, cheese and fatty meat) with unsaturated fats (contained in olive oil, almonds, walnuts and other seeds), has an effect positive on blood pressure and reduces triglycerides and cholesterol.On the contrary, it is also known that saturated fats, sugar and alcohol worsen not only cardiovascular risk factors but also those for other chronic degenerative diseases.

In conclusion, it is considered scientifically proven that following the DASH diet can help reduce blood pressure and cardiovascular risk.

In fact, it must be emphasized that, although the DASH diet is specifically formulated for individuals who have, or tend to have, high blood pressure (hypertension), some of its general principles represent common sense criteria that health benefits from at any age. :

  • favor vegetables and fruit
  • prefer vegetable oils and low-salt foods
  • reduce fats of animal origin
  • decrease the consumption of sugar
  • avoid alcohol
  • reduce the consumption of preserved products which often contain high amounts of salt, sugar and saturated fat

As with any other type of diet, however, it is always advisable to consult with your doctor before starting it.

Bibliography

National Institutes of Health (NIH). National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DASH Eating Plan (English)

Appel LJ, Moore TJ, Obarzanek E, et al. for the DASH Collaborative Research Group. A clinical trial of the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine. 1997; 336: 1117‐24

Filippou CD, Tsioufis CP, Thomopoulos CG, Mihas CC, Dimitriadis KS, Sotiropoulou LI, Chrysochoou CA, Nihoyannopoulos PI, Tousoulis DM. Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Advances in Nutrition. 2020; 11:1150-1160

Challa HJ, Ameer MA, Uppaluri KR. DASH Diet To Stop Hypertension. StatPearls [Internet]. 2022; May 19

Further links

Sacks FM, Svetkey LP, Vollmer WM, et al. for the DASH-Sodium Collaborative Research Group. Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. New England Journal of Medicine. 2001; 344: 3‐10

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