Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

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The DASH diet can lower blood pressure and dietitians say it's one of the healthiest ways to eat

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The DASH diet is known to lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease. 

It focuses on foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, protein, and fiber - such as leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean meats.
The eating plan recommends limiting foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and whole milk dairy, as well as sugary foods and sweetened beverages. 
The DASH diet can also help with weight loss, and dietitians say it is one of the healthiest ways to eat and is recommended for everyone. 
This article was reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City. 
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was developed in the early '90s, when the National Institute of Health (NIH) was researching ways to lower blood pressure.

Since then, studies have proven that the DASH diet, alone, without medication, can help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease in people of multiple ethnicities over time.

Here's what you need to know about the DASH diet.

How to follow the DASH diet

The DASH diet focuses on nutrient-rich foods that are low in sodium, like many fruits and vegetables.

"For too long we focused just on cutting down on sodium," says Lisa Sasson, a registered dietitian and Clinical Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies at NYU.

"We now know that including more of the other minerals that are in plant-based foods is very helpful and beneficial."

The NIH offers a helpful guide for following the DASH eating plan, with recommended serving sizes based on your daily value of calories, and examples of the best foods to eat.

It mainly recommends: 

Whole grains
Fat-free or low-fat dairy
Lean meats
Nuts, seeds, and legumes
Limited sweets, fats, and oils

Specifically, you'll want to eat foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. Some examples of DASH approved foods are oatmeal, leafy greens, potatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, fish, and mixed nuts.

The DASH diet may help lower your blood pressure in as little as two weeks. A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension also showed that a 16-week structured DASH diet led to a lower systolic blood pressure for the next eight months. 

However, the benefits of this diet extend far beyond hypertension.

The DASH diet is safe for everyone

"Although the original research was about the benefits of the DASH diet on hypertension, it would be a diet I recommend for everyone," says Sasson.

She notes that it's a diet that's easy to follow, since it isn't very specific and there aren't many restrictions, aside from cutting out excessive sweets. More specifically, the official diet outline from the NIH recommends three to five servings of sweets a week, or less.

"The diet is very safe and sustainable for anybody who's looking to eat healthier," Sasson says. "It's exactly how we would advise all people to eat."

While the main focus of this diet is not weight loss, Sasson says many people do end up losing some weight on the diet, since many of them are eating healthier, less processed foods, and cutting back on snacking. 

A 2016 study showed that the DASH diet was more effective for weight loss than other low-energy diets, especially in overweight or obese participants.

According to Sasson, the DASH diet is also a good way to educate people on what healthy meals look like, especially when so many of us eat on the go and opt for processed foods.

"We should look at it as one of the healthiest ways to eat," she says.

- Ashley Laderer