We speak to a nutritionist about the eating plan designed to lower blood pressure and boost your heart health.
By Anna Bonet
From Paleo to Keto to Flexitarian, there are plenty of different diets out there promising a variety of results. While most tend to to be geared towards weight loss, the DASH diet targets a very specific but important area of your health: blood pressure.
But what exactly is the DASH diet, and is it a meal plan we should all follow? Natascha Van Zyl from the Institute of Optimum Nutrition gives us the lowdown:
What is the DASH diet?
Designed to target high blood pressure, DASH is an acronym for the Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension.
‘High blood pressure can lead to the development of other illnesses such as heart disease and kidney failure,’ explains Van Zyl. ‘Diet plays a major role in controlling blood pressure with research identifying that individuals with plant-based diet such as vegans or vegetarians being more inclined to have a lower blood pressure.’
Research shows that those who follow a plant-based diet are more inclined to have a lower blood pressure.
The idea behind the DASH diet is that if you eat the foods it recommends for a long enough period of time, you should see a reduction in your blood pressure and the risk of various health conditions.
‘The DASH Diet is low in salt and low in sugar, focusing on the consumption of vegetables, fruits, lean meat and whole grain while avoiding processed food,’ Van Zyl says.
Who is the DASH diet for?
The DASH diet is primarily for those who feel or have been told by a GP that they ought to reduce their blood pressure, but it can be beneficial to anyone as it promotes a healthy approach to eating.
‘The DASH diet is recommended to individuals who want to prevent or reduce symptoms related to hypertension such as chest pain, fatigue and headaches,’ says Van Zyl.
‘It is also recommended to individuals who have cardiovascular disease, or people with a cardiovascular risk.’
How do you follow the DASH diet ?
There are no strict rules as to how to follow the DASH diet – you don’t need to count calories or measure macros – it simply emphasises fruit, veg and whole grains, as well as lean meat, and encourages you to avoid processed foods and salt.
‘The diet requires the consumption of plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and avoiding red meat and foods high in salt, sugar and fat,’ says Van Zyl. ‘Such foods increase the intake of magnesium, calcium and potassium and reduces the intake of sodium and salt which helps to lower blood pressure.’
🍽 A sample meal plan, according to Van Zyl, could be as follows: chestnut pancakesfor breakfast, wild rice and sweet potato salad for lunch, and a root vegetable curry for dinner.
What are the DASH diet health benefits?
According to Van Zyl, there are significant health benefits to following the DASH diet, which include:
✔️ Lowered blood pressure
✔️ Weight loss
✔️ A reduction in cardiovascular risk
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✔️ Reduced risk of certain cancers, such as breast cancer and colorectal cancer
What’s the catch?
The only real drawback to the DASH diet that ought to be considered is that salt is necessary for the body.
‘Overall, salt reduction is considered healthy, however too little salt in the diet can be harmful,’ warns Van Zyl. ‘Individual differences must be considered before embarking on any new dietary regime, and it is advised that individuals are monitored by a suitably qualified health professional.’
If you are worried about hypertension or any risk associated with high blood pressure, it is important that you consult your GP.