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Two weeks ago, as a guest on the Russ Parr Morning Show, when mentioning the DASH Diet, I was asked What is the DASH Diet? The DASH Diet ranks number 2 as being one of the healthiest diets by the US News and World Report second to the Mediterranean. Still, it is also the one diet some of us should be dancing with for the rest of our lives.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. There are new medications and diagnostic techniques to treat high blood pressure; there is still a constant rise in the number of diagnoses each year.  Most recent data show in the United States, approximately 77.9 million (1 out of every 3) adults have high blood pressure.  Medication alone is not enough.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) provided funding for research to see what effects, if any, will dietary interventions have on blood pressure.   The study participants began following a specific diet for two weeks with no other lifestyle interventions, such as Exercise, just merely diet changes.  The results of the study show that only the dietary interventions along was able to decrease systolic Blood Pressure.  This effect was seen both in those with and without Hypertension.  The dietary intervention utilized is known as the DASH Diet. As a result of the study, in some instances, the DASH Diet is the first line of treatment for Hypertension (HTN).   However, it is now part of the gold standard of the overall treatment for HTN, which is, DASH Diet, Medication, and Exercise.

The DASH DIET is a plant-based diet very similar to the Mediterranean Diet; however, limiting sodium to 2300 mg per day (1 teaspoon of salt).  Many make the mistake of assuming sodium as being the same as salt.  Please understand, sodium is a naturally occurring mineral that is in everything we consume.  Whereas, salt is a compound made up of 40% sodium and 60% chloride thus (Na+ Cl-).  Due to the 40% sodium is the reason for the restrictions.  In addition to salt, 1 oz. of ground beef =21mg sodium, 1 apple = 1mg sodium, 1 broccoli spear =10 mg. As indicated, everything we eat, or drink contains sodium.  However, there are some foods/beverages which contain more sodium than others.  Consider, for example, the process of curing meats.  Curing involves heavily salting the product, such as with bacon, sausage, ham, and luncheon meats, which increases the overall sodium content.  To illustrate my point, 3 oz of uncured ham provides 51mg of sodium, whereas, 3 oz. of cured ham provides 1009mg of sodium (half of the recommended daily allowance for sodium).

As we take this dance with the DASH DIET, restricting sodium to 2300mg is vital because high sodium intake increases the amount of sodium circulating within the bloodstream.  This increase affects the body’s internal fluid balance by increasing the amount of water within the bloodstream.   Excess water moving through the delicate blood vessels results in higher blood pressure; also, it places an extra strain on the kidneys. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a prelude to kidney disease and strokes.  Please refer to the Blog title: How High is Your Pressure.

As we continue our dance with the Dash DIET, next, we must stroll into Plant-based rhythms recognizing the nutritional value of their phytochemicals.  Numerous studies show the health benefits of the phytochemicals in vegetables and fruits acting as anti-inflammatory agents.  Vegetables and fruits are also high in minerals such as potassium, and magnesium and fiber have proven to have a lowering effect on blood pressure. Also, the diet contains a substantial amount of low-fat dairy products providing a rich source of calcium, a mineral known to lower blood pressure.

Both the Mediterranean and Dash are similar from this point. They are emphasizing eating whole grains, fish, poultry, legumes/ beans, seeds, and heart-healthy nuts (almonds and walnuts); fruits and vegetables; and monounsaturated fats such as olive and avocado oils. The diets restrict sweets- added sugars, beverages containing sugar, processed foods, red meats/processed meats, and both saturated and trans-fats.

February is American Heart Month, in a continuing effort to raise awareness to prevent heart disease, specifically high blood pressure.   Let’s dance with the DASH Diet, keeping in step with the movement of Exercise as we focus on making positive lifestyle changes for the months ahead.  I always have and will continue to dance with the DASH DIET for my heart’s sake.