A diet that is supposed to lower blood pressure - can it really work? How sustainable is such a dietary change, and does it also consider other nutritional principles that are important for long-term health? The Dash diet recommends many fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, white meat, fish, poultry, nuts, and beans. Sugary drinks and sweets, as well as red meat, should be avoided in this diet.
The Dash Diet - diet for treating high blood pressure?
The Dash diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA. The aim of this diet is to reduce blood pressure through dietary changes1, as a large proportion of the US population struggles with this phenomenon. The cause of high blood pressure lies mainly in an unhealthy lifestyle: a lot of sugar, wheat, industrially processed foods, trans fats, too few vegetables and fibre and an unfavourable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (read more about healthy fats and a healthy breakfast here) are problematic.
These are linked to high blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol levels in everyday life. Lack of exercise and mental challenges (negative stress) are also among the causes.
Studies by the NHLBI have shown that the Dash diet (optimally combined with more exercise) has many advantages over the typical American diet. Among other things, it was found that the blood pressure and LDL cholesterol of the test persons decreased measurably1.
Your dash diet shopping list - diet for hypertension
Even though the word Dash diet sounds like a strict diet plan, the diet differs from other diets. It is much more about a balanced diet with some basics based on which one is supposed to develop a sustainable diet. The given examples of meals and weekly menus are meant to be representative of the nutrients represented in the Dash diet1. A diet consisting of the following foods are said to keep blood pressure and LDL cholesterol low:
+ Whole grain products
+ White meat
+ Low-fat and fat-free products
What foods to avoid with high blood pressure?
These foods should be avoided:
- Saturated fatty acids (palm oil, coconut oil, butter)
- Whole milk products
- Sugar drinks
- Greasy meals
- Red meat
In addition, about 2000 calories a day are recommended.
Does the Dash diet work?
The studies clearly state that a change of diet to the Dash diet lowers blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. Nevertheless, the first section also adopted the formulation from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which has the benefits of the diet compared to a "typical American diet". The typical American diet is known to consist of lots of sugar, industrially processed foods, unhealthy processed trans fats and few fruits, vegetables, organically produced meats such as pastured beef or good fibre. In addition, the average person in the States does not get enough exercise — let alone regular, more intensive exercise. Add to this mental stress and sleep problems and the combination of all these things results in a lifestyle that leads to overweight/obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated LDL cholesterol levels and consequently promotes cardiovascular disease, cancer.
So, if the diet is changed more to natural foods and especially sugar, bad fats and also some processed meat products are eliminated from the diet, it is not surprising that the measurable parameters mentioned change positively. The Dash diet is definitely more health-promoting than the “typical American diet”. However, it also contains some outdated dietary principles that current scientific findings contradict.
Possible criticisms of the Dash diet
The first potential problem on the menu is beans. They belong to the legumes and thus contain so-called anti-nutrients. Among other things, these can inhibit digestive enzymes and block the absorption of micronutrients. The second point to mention is fruit because too much fruit can also be problematic: Fructose is metabolized differently and — especially if you are overweight and get little exercise — is converted into body fat or into glucose, which messes up blood sugar levels. Fruits and vegetables in themselves have many health benefits, but the fruit thing is often misunderstood, and many ignorant people start drinking smoothies every day. These drinks often contain 4 to 5 fruits per serving, which is far too much fructose.
The third outdated dietary recommendation of the Dash diet is to greatly reduce dietary fats. Because today the scientific situation is clear: naturally occurring fats are essential and must be consumed regularly. Among other things, they are responsible for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and the formation of hormones, maintain cell membranes, stabilize blood sugar and promote intestinal health. A long-term low-fat diet can therefore have serious health consequences such as hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiency, weakening of the immune system and intestinal problems.
Wichtig ist jedoch, dass vor allem natürliche, native Fette genutzt werden und keine industriell verarbeiteten, die erhitzt, desodoriert oder gar gehärtet wurden (wie sie in Fertiggerichten vorkommen).
The fourth potential problem with the Dash diet is dairy products: Reduced-fat cow's milk products are recommended, which (like non-reduced-fat ones) are now actually increasingly discouraged: They are mostly problematic for the health of the intestinal mucosa in particular, can promote inflammation, trigger immune reactions, worsen the skin's appearance and irritate the hormonal system. Read more about this in the article “Leaky Gut”.
The Dash diet definitely has health benefits for people who have developed very unhealthy eating habits and consume a lot of sugar, industrially processed foods, few vegetables and many hydrogenated unhealthy fats. It can improve this problem in people who already suffer from high blood pressure. Nevertheless, diets are better not to be generalized, and blood pressure can be lowered naturally with slightly different dietary principles without consuming fat-free cow's milk products.
1 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: DASH Eating Plan - Also known as Dash diet. [https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan; 09.09.2021]