Episode 46

DASH, The Best Diet You've Never Heard Of

Published on: 6th February, 2024


The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a widely recognized dietary pattern designed to lower blood pressure and promote cardiovascular health. I will attempt to provide an in-depth review of the DASH diet, its origins, key principles, health benefits, and potential limitations. It also explores the scientific evidence supporting its efficacy and applicability in various populations. Furthermore, this paper discusses practical considerations for adopting the DASH diet and its potential future developments in the field of nutrition and health.

1. Introduction

The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a dietary plan primarily developed to combat hypertension (high blood pressure). DASH has since gained recognition for its broader health benefits. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Therefore, the DASH diet is essential to reducing these health risks.

2. Origins and Development

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) developed the DASH diet in a study known as the DASH-Sodium Study. The primary objective of the DASH-Sodium study was to investigate the effect of dietary patterns on blood pressure, in particular, the effects of sodium intake. Researchers aimed to design a diet that could effectively lower blood pressure without medication. The DASH diet emerged from this study as a dietary pattern rich in nutrients and low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

 3. Key Principles of the DASH Diet

The DASH diet emphasizes the consumption of nutrient-rich foods while limiting the intake of sodium, saturated fats, and cholesterol. Key principles of the DASH diet include:

  •  High Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables: The diet encourages individuals to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, providing essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
  • Lean Protein Sources: Lean proteins like poultry, fish, and plant-based options such as beans, lentils, and tofu are recommended to replace high-fat animal proteins.
  • Whole Grains: The DASH diet emphasizes whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, oats, and quinoa, which are rich in fiber and nutrients.
  • Dairy: Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are included to provide calcium and protein without excess saturated fat.
  • Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes: These foods are encouraged as sources of healthy fats, fiber, and plant-based protein.
  • Limited Sweets and Sugary Beverages: The DASH diet restricts the consumption of sugary foods and beverages, reducing the intake of added sugars.
  • Sodium Restriction: The diet recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day (or 1,500 milligrams for individuals with hypertension, certain chronic conditions, or those at high risk).

4. Health Benefits of the DASH Diet

The DASH diet offers a range of health benefits beyond blood pressure reduction:

  • Lowering Blood Pressure: Numerous studies have shown that the DASH diet can effectively lower blood pressure, particularly in individuals with hypertension.
  • Cardiovascular Health: The diet is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions due to its focus on heart-healthy nutrients and reduced saturated fat intake.
  • Weight Management: The DASH diet can help weight loss and weight management due to its emphasis on nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods.
  • Improved Lipid Profile: The diet can lower levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and improve HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), further reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes Management: The DASH diet may help individuals with diabetes manage blood sugar levels, as it encourages a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein


5. Scientific Evidence

The effectiveness of the DASH diet has been supported by numerous clinical trials and epidemiological studies. For instance, the original DASH-Sodium trial demonstrated that the DASH diet could significantly lower blood pressure, with greater reductions observed when combined with sodium restriction. Subsequent research has reaffirmed these findings, highlighting the positive impact of the diet on cardiovascular health and well-being.

This was one of the few studies in which all the food was made for the participants.

6. Applicability and Limitations

While the DASH diet offers substantial health benefits, it may have limitations for some. Its emphasis on whole foods and fresh produce can be costlier and less convenient than processed alternatives. Cultural preferences and dietary restrictions may also pose challenges in adopting the DASH diet. Nevertheless, modifications and adaptations can be made to suit individual needs and preferences while maintaining the core principles of the diet.

7. Practical Considerations

For those interested in adopting the DASH diet, practical considerations include meal planning, grocery shopping, and monitoring sodium intake. Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance and support.

8. Future Developments

The DASH diet continues to evolve as new research emerges in nutrition and health. Future developments may focus on tailoring the diet to specific populations, incorporating technological advancements, and exploring the impact of the DASH diet on additional health outcomes beyond hypertension.

It is America's Mediterranean Diet

DASH is a version of the Mediterranean Diet. You can see the same requirements for whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and legumes.  It combines meats and fish depending on the calories and still uses primarily monounsaturated fats. There is no recommendation for or against alcohol in this diet. There is a strong recommendation to decrease sodium in the diet.

9. Conclusion

The DASH diet is a well-established dietary pattern with proven benefits for lowering blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health. Its emphasis on nutrient-rich foods, balanced nutrition, and sodium restriction makes it a valuable tool for reducing the risk of hypertension and related health conditions. While challenges may exist in adopting the DASH diet, its adaptability and potential for customization make it a practical and effective choice for individuals seeking to improve their dietary habits and well-being.

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About the Podcast

Fork U with Dr. Terry Simpson
Learn more about what you put in your mouth.
Fork U(niversity)
Not everything you put in your mouth is good for you.

There’s a lot of medical information thrown around out there. How are you to know what information you can trust, and what’s just plain old quackery? You can’t rely on your own “google fu”. You can’t count on quality medical advice from Facebook. You need a doctor in your corner.

On each episode of Your Doctor’s Orders, Dr. Terry Simpson will cut through the clutter and noise that always seems to follow the latest medical news. He has the unique perspective of a surgeon who has spent years doing molecular virology research and as a skeptic with academic credentials. He’ll help you develop the critical thinking skills so you can recognize evidence-based medicine, busting myths along the way.

The most common medical myths are often disguised as seemingly harmless “food as medicine”. By offering their own brand of medicine via foods, These hucksters are trying to practice medicine without a license. And though they’ll claim “nutrition is not taught in medical schools”, it turns out that’s a myth too. In fact, there’s an entire medical subspecialty called Culinary Medicine, and Dr. Simpson is certified as a Culinary Medicine Specialist.

Where today's nutritional advice is the realm of hucksters, Dr. Simpson is taking it back to the realm of science.

About your host

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Terry Simpson

Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate, graduate, and medical degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. Until he found he liked people more than petri dishes. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2018 and 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.”