Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) originated in 1997 after the results of an eleven-week trial sponsored by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) revealed that dietary modification is effective at reducing in reducing blood pressure by about 6-11 mm Hg in both hypertensive and normotensive subjects. The NHLBI and the American Heart Association has been advocating for its adoption especially to at-risk populations in the United States and around the world.
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The DASH diet is based on the utilization of ancient dietary principles to combat modern world lifestyle diseases through the incorporation of vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, the inclusion of micronutrients and a reduction of sodium intake. A typical day following the DASH diet would involve the consumption 5 servings of vegetables, 7servings of carbohydrates, 2 servings of low-fat dairy, 2 servings of lean meat and consuming nuts and seeds at least 2 times a day (NHLBI, 2006).
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The NHLBI recommends macronutrient intake in the form of saturated fat, protein, carbohydrates be restricted to 6%, 18%, 55% of total daily calories respectively and fiber and cholesterol consumption limited to 30 grams and 150 milligrams respectively. On the other hand, micronutrient intake of 2300 mg sodium, 4700 mg potassium, 1250 mg calcium, and 500mg magnesium is recommended (NHLBI, 2006). Although the diet does not typically indicate any probiotic benefits, it provides a variety of food options that have these benefits. For instance, individuals may opt to consume yogurt in the dairy product component which is high in probiotics.
The DASH diet has proven effective in reducing hypertension (Siervo et al, 2015), particularly in African American individuals compared to other ethnic groups. The diet has also been effective at reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and assisting in the management of obesity.
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Individuals who wish to begin following this diet are advised to gradually increase their intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains if not previously accustomed to taking these foods in the high amounts prescribed by the DASH diet since the sudden high fiber intake has been known to cause bloating and diarrhea (NHLBI, 2006). The DASH diet’s greatest strength would be its capacity to improve the health outcome of all individuals who follow it without necessarily involving the use of medication. In fact, physicians are advised to consider the DASH diet as a first-line therapeutic intervention for individuals with blood pressure levels that are only slightly higher than normal.
Apart from its cardiovascular benefits strict adherence to the DASH diet has also been associated with better cognitive outcome equivalent to being a year younger in elderly subjects (Berendsen et al, 2017. However there is still little adherence to the diet due to the ready availability of unhealthy processed food options compared to the DASH diet recommended low sodium, nutrient-dense options especially to under-resourced communities.
The DASH diet is quite practical for a modern lifestyle. Legume and vegetable dishes are fairly easy to prepare, fruits, nuts and seed and typically consumed raw or dried and dairy products are often readily available. The diet does not have any known negative side effects, it has been proven as a sustainable method to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases that can be used by individuals in all stages of life including those who engage in competitive sports. Although some of the food options provided by the DASH diet may invoke certain allergic reactions i.e. bread in gluten sensitive individuals and dairy products in lactose intolerant individuals, the diet provides several alternatives that those individuals can opt for instead (NHLBI, 2006).
In spite of its many attractive attributes, the nutrient-dense foods prescribed by the DASH diet are quite expensive compared to its caloric dense alternatives which is one of the reasons why the diet is yet to be adopted in middle to low-income households. The American Heart Association as well as the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute is always advocating for the adoption of this diet not only by individuals suffering from hypertension or those at risk of developing diabetes, but also by the general population due to its proven efficacy in aiding weight loss, impeding the development of certain cancers, improving kidney health and promoting weight maintenance without the adverse side effects experienced with other diets with little to no research to support them.
Although there are no celebrities currently trying to popularize the diet, perhaps due to lack of incentives, the diet could use a popular spokesperson to clarify on its purpose and demonstrate its effects to the mainstream audience. I would adopt this diet for myself and recommend it to my family and friends due to the variety of nutrient dense food options it provides for every meal, its emphasis on wise food choices, its capacity to reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and the fact that there is numerous scientific research to testify to all its acclaimed benefits.
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