This Science-Backed Diet Could Help Overhaul Your Health

What the DASH diet lacks in social media buzz, it more than makes up for with a research-based eating plan.

Sure, everyone at your exercise class is always talking about the benefits of eating “paleo” and your Instagram feed is lit up with #Whole30, but if you want a diet that helps make you healthier overall and is easy to stick to, the DASH diet is worth a look. Read on to learn the basics.

What does DASH stand for?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is based on a study of the same name from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

What can you eat on the DASH diet?

Sometimes called the Americanized version of the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet recommends the following daily servings for a person eating 2,000 calories a day:

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  • 6 to 8 servings of whole grains
  • Up to 6 ounces of lean meats, poultry and fish
  • 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
  • 4 to 5 servings of fruit
  • 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy foods
  • 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils

The diet also includes:

  • 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds and legumes per week
  • Up to 5 servings of sweets and added sugars per week

What are the benefits of the DASH diet?

Numerous large and well-regarded studies have shown that the DASH diet is effective in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels; hypertension and high cholesterol are two risk factors for heart disease.

  • The NHLBI DASH trial, which is the basis of the diet, found that out of 459 people, those who followed the DASH diet or simply added more fruits and vegetables to their regular diet lowered their blood pressure more than people who followed a typical American diet. Follow-up studies found that those on the DASH diet also lowered their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol.
  • The NHLBI-funded DASH-Sodium Trial included 412 people who followed a typical American diet or the DASH diet and consumed either 3,300 mg, 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg of sodium daily. The study found that people who consumed less sodium had lower blood pressure at 30 days; people who followed the DASH diet and had lower sodium intakes had the lowest blood pressure of all the groups.

“I’ve been recommending the DASH diet to my patients for years,” says Jennifer Rose Boozer, DO, a family medicine specialist at Keck Medicine of USC – Glendale and Pasadena and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “I feel confident in recommending the DASH diet because, unlike fad diets, we have lots of research showing its benefits. I also appreciate that it can help my patients avoid blood pressure medications.”

In addition, the DASH diet is relatively easy to follow, as it doesn’t eliminate entire food groups or require calorie counting or any special foods that you can’t readily find at your regular grocery store.

Will I lose weight on the DASH Diet?

If you’ve been eating chips, fries, burgers, ice cream and other high-calorie foods, you’ll certainly benefit from the DASH diet’s emphasis on high-fiber, more nutrient-dense, lower-calorie foods. While much of the existing research on the DASH diet has focused on cardiovascular health, some studies also suggest that it promotes weight loss. As the NHLBI notes, exercise is an important component for those who want to lose weight on the diet.

Are you thinking about ways to improve your health? The experts at Keck Medicine of USC can help guide you. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment with a family medicine specialist or call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273).

by Anne Fritz