“Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” — Hippocrates
For centuries, cultures have known that many ordinary foods can provide enormous health benefits. That was what the Greek physician Hippocrates meant more than 1,600 years ago when he said that food can have healing effects on the body.
With that thought in mind, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) created the DASH diet. DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a balanced eating plan that provides daily and weekly nutritional goals focused on foods with health benefits.
DASH encourages people to eat a heart-healthy diet and exercise to help control blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol (LDL) for life.
How Does the DASH Plan Work?
The plan recommends:
- Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Eating fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods high in saturated fat, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy products and tropical oils like coconut, palm kernel and palm oils
- Limiting sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages
The DASH plan recommendations say you should choose foods that are low in salt, low in saturated and trans fats and rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein.
Those following the DASH plan should try to limit salt (sodium) to no more than 2,300 mg daily.
How many calories you need each day depends on the individual. Factors like your age, gender, activity level and whether you’re trying to maintain your weight or lose weight determine how many calories per day you should eat. NHLBI offers these guidelines.
After you figure out how many calories you need per day, you can find out how many servings of each type of food are recommended for you.
For example, if you are a female between the ages of 19 and 30 and you have a moderate activity level, DASH recommends that you have between 2,000 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain your current weight.
Within that calorie range, each day you would eat:
- Six to eight servings of grains
- Four to five servings of vegetables
- Four to five servings of fruit
- Two to three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Six or fewer servings of lean meats, poultry and fish
- Two to three servings of healthy fats and oils
In addition, you could have four to five servings of nuts, seeds and legumes (beans, peas and lentils) per week. And you would need to limit your intake of foods that are high in sugar to no more than five servings per week.
What Are the Benefits?
Following the DASH recommendations can have big impacts. In addition to the general benefits of following a healthy eating plan, the DASH plan offers some specific positive health results.
The NHLBI funded three trials that showed that the DASH plan:
- Lowered blood pressure and LDL compared with a typical American diet alone or the typical American diet with more fruits and vegetables.
- Lowered blood pressure better than a typical American diet at three different daily sodium levels. In other words, combining the DASH diet with reduced sodium intake provided greater benefits than the DASH diet alone.
- Reduced weight and lowered blood pressure when combined with physical activity.
*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card to find out.