What Is the DASH Diet?

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet has been consistently ranked by US News & World Report as a top diet for heart health and weight loss, and it’s no surprise why. Unlike fad diets that call for extreme calorie or food-group restrictions without scientific evidence that supports their efficacy, the DASH diet involves making manageable dietary changes that are flexible and rooted in proven nutritional advice.
This has made the eating plan popular among doctors, dietitians, and other health professionals in the United States, where heart disease remains the No. 1 killer among men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). High blood pressure (hypertension) is a big contributing factor to heart disease and affects 1 in 3 American adults, per the CDC. It’s not just an American problem, though: Heart disease is also the leading cause of death around the world, according to the American Heart Association.

Whom Is the DASH Diet Good for Exactly, and What Types Are Available?

The DASH diet was developed specifically to help people lower high blood pressure and is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure readings higher than 130 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for systolic blood pressure and higher than 80 mm Hg for diastolic are considered high.

The food options available on the DASH diet closely mirror the eating plan recommended in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, with a focus on whole foods, such as fruit and veggies; fat-free or low-fat dairy; whole grains; and lean meats, fish, and poultry. Meanwhile, the plan requires cutting back on, or preferably eliminating, processed foods, like sugary drinks and packaged snacks, and limiting red meat, which in excess has been linked to poorer heart health and heart failure, according to a past study.

The DASH diet specifically meets the low-sodium (salt) requirements that can give people an edge over hypertension. This means it’s a great diet for people who have high blood pressure or have a personal or family history of heart disease, as well as those individuals who may be at risk for type 2 diabetes or are currently managing the condition.