What’s the Dish on the DASH Diet?

Following diets or eating patterns is pretty common in the United States, with one in seven Americans reporting that they stick to a specific eating pattern or diet.  While fad diets and trends rotate in and out over time, there are a few tried-and-true eating styles (hey, there Mediterranean diet!) that stand the test of time. A recent panel of experts — including nutritionists, healthcare professionals and scientists who focused on chronic diseases, human behavior and weight loss — reviewed 40 diets. The panel rated each diet based on a variety of categories, including short- and long-term weight loss, ease of compliance, safety and nutrition. The panel concluded that the number one best overall diet was actually two diets: the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet. Since most of us have heard of the Mediterranean diet and we’ve already covered the basics of a Mediterranean eating style, let’s dish about the DASH diet.

DASH 101

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating style was developed in the 1990s in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and five media research centers in the United States to research the role of dietary eating styles on blood pressure. Findings from these studies revealed that dietary eating styles impact blood pressure in at-risk populations such as hypertensive adults. Specifically, the DASH diet significantly lowered blood pressures compared to control diets, after two weeks of starting the diet and sustaining for six more weeks.

The DASH eating style focuses on the notable nutrients and foods that have been touted for decades including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils. In addition, this eating style recommends limiting added sugars and sodium, as well as foods that are high in saturated fat such as fatty proteins, full-fat dairy and tropical oils like coconut oil. This eating style breaks down daily servings for food groups based on calorie needs and age.

Food group

Daily serving (for 2,000 calorie/day needs)

Grains

6-8

Lean protein

6 or less

Vegetables

4-5

Fruit

4-5

Low- or fat-free dairy

2-3

Fats and oils

2-3

A DASH of health benefits

While the DASH eating style has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure, this eating pattern has also been shown to improve other health outcomes. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 20 trials found that this eating style significantly reduces fasting insulin concentrations, which suggests that this dietary pattern may play a key role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Further, in a clinical trial of diabetic patients, the DASH eating style lowered cardiometabolic risk measurements such as body weight, waist circumference and cholesterol levels.  

Start slow, don’t “dash”

It’s important to make these changes over a couple of weeks to allow your body to adjust to this new eating style and also to make them more a part of your routine. Here are a few tips to help you incorporate this eating style into your life.

  • Pump up with produce
    • Try to add a serving of vegetables or fruit at lunch or as a snack.
    • Fresh, frozen, canned and dried options count!
  • Double down on fat-free and low-fat dairy
    • Try to hit three servings each day.
    • Fat-free and low-fat dairy sources include yogurt, cheese and milk. Calcium-fortified soymilk is also considered a dairy source.
  • Minimize meat consumption
    • Try to limit lean meat to six ounces per day and three ounces per meal.
    • Lean meats, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds are considered protein sources.

What’s great about this eating style is that it’s customizable to your tastes and lifestyle and does not require avoiding specific foods or even food groups. Rather, it’s based around the central tenets of nutrition — balance, moderation and variety — and focuses on foods that have been shown time and time again to support overall health.