Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension commemorates 20 years of helping patients with pre-hypertension lower blood pressure just as effectively as certain drugs. It has been included in the national dietary guidelines for over a decade due to its potential to reduce healthcare expenses. So why are so few people utilizing it?
The DASH diet emphasizes foods high in protein and calcium and low in saturated fat and salt. Fruits and low-fat dairy products should make up the bulk of your diet, while fatty meats and sweets should take a back seat.
Even though DASH is not a low-sodium diet, its effectiveness can be improved by choosing whole foods over processed options. The first study of the DASH diet revealed decreases in systolic and hypertensive and pre-hypertensive individuals.
Adherence to the DASH diet has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol, lessen the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke even after several years of follow-up and improve bone health by decreasing bone turnover.
The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute both endorse the DASH diet for its blood pressure-lowering effects in persons with hypertension. Evidence also suggests that it can help those at risk of developing hypertension.
The DASH diet is recommended for those diagnosed with hypertension or whose blood pressure is consistently high. So what if your blood pressure is normal? Does the DASH diet have any positive effects?
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate the ideal eating plan for all Americans is the DASH diet because it describes a generally healthy diet from which anybody may benefit. By adhering to the DASH diet's guidelines, you'll be eating a diet that's high in nutrients while relatively low in calories.
If the DASH diet is so good and properly documented, why isn't everyone following it? Fewer than 1% of Americans followed the DASH diet in 2012, and barely 20% fulfilled even half of the DASH dietary recommendations, according to health and nutrition data analyses from 1988 to 2012.
Compare these percentages with the half of Americans who have high blood pressure, and we can confidently conclude there's plenty of work to be done to enhance adherence to the DASH diet.
The lack of popularity of the DASH diet may be attributed, at least partly, to the fact that the foods it recommends aren't as easily accessible as junk food and processed options. "It's a lot less of a hassle to pick up a fast food burger and fries than it is to put together a spinach salad with strawberries,"
It is crucial to provide them with the means to put nutritional knowledge into practice. We need to equip individuals with recipes and help them acquire basic culinary skills to produce healthier meals rather than just providing a list of rules.
Dietitians may advise clients on where to get inexpensive canned beans and salmon, as well as frozen vegetables and fruit, that adhere to the DASH dietary guidelines.
Steinberg says continuing nutritional counseling has been demonstrated to help people keep to the DASH diet. Still, her research group at Duke aims to utilize technology to bring awareness of and support for the diet to the masses.
"There aren't any apps that focus on DASH, so we're building a DASH diet app that can utilize existing applications that people are currently using to manage their nutrition, activity levels, and more," Steinberg says.
Is it possible for a person's health to improve if they don't strictly adhere to the DASH diet but still use some of its tenets? According to Steinberg, every two-point improvement in a person's DASH score — a scale that assesses a person's compliance from zero to nine, with nine being consistent with the diet — corresponds to a drop in blood pressure.
"And improvements in blood pressure are noticed after only two weeks," she noted. This is a diet where it is more important to try your best and see results immediately than to follow it precisely.
There is such a thing as "good enough" when it comes to healthy eating, and I always counsel people on this. Is the thought of needing to diet stopping you from making healthier food choices today?