Posted on Jul 30, 2020, 4 p.m.
The DASH study examined the effects of 3 different diets on almost 500 participants over a period of eight weeks, almost two decades ago. The first diet was the typical American diet which is relatively low in produce foods and high in sweets and other junk foods. The second diet offered more produce as well as seeds, nuts, beans, and not much sweets. The third diet was the DASH diet which is rich in fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, barely and some sweets.
In this study all of the diets had the same sodium count as well as calories and all of the participants stuck to their diet plan as all meals were being provided by the researchers with one meal being consumed at the study center and the other meals were provided in coolers for the participants to take home.
After 2 weeks the more fruit/veggie diet and the DASH diet participants experienced significantly lowered blood pressure, this healthy blood pressure effect lasted for the entire two month study, and it did not occur due to any differences in sodium intake or weight loss among the participants in all three groups.
Among those who were diagnosed with high blood pressure in the DASH diet group, systolic pressure decreased by 11.4 points and diastolic pressure decreased by 5.5 points. In other words the DASH diet was basically shown to be more effective than some blood pressure medications to go along with providing other health benefits such as diets rich in fruits and veggies being associated with a lower risk of many cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke.
Recently researchers reexamined the data that was collected in the original study to learn more about the heart health benefits. Using blood samples from the original study participants from all three diet groups, newer testing was conducted to detect the levels of heart strain, heart muscle injury, and total body inflammation. Those in the DASH and more fruits/veggies group were found to have significantly lowered levels of heart strain and heart muscle injury after the two month study period. Though total body inflammation levels were not significantly different the team hypothesized that inflammation would decrease with ongoing healthy eating habits and the inevitable weight loss that would follow, as has been shown in many other studies.
In as little as two months the benefits of consuming even slightly more produce can be seen which includes significantly lowering blood pressure, measurably decreased strain on the heart, and decreased heart muscle damage. While you may not be able to see the changes, blood pressure measurements and blood testing can show that markers of heart strain and damage will incur invisible changes that later on could have led to heart attack, stroke, aortic aneurysm, peripheral artery disease, and even dementia.
Having a healthy cardiovascular system, which includes the network of arteries that are connected to the heart, is important to keeping the body functioning well and our longevity. It is not all about the numbers on the scale, the overall goal of following a healthy diet is not just about weight loss, if it is then all of the other benefits could be missed out on. A healthy lifestyle which includes your diet will lead to healthy weight loss, which is fantastic, but this should not be the only goal, rather focus on eating to be healthy and take that focus off of the scale.
To find out more about the DASH diet you can find more information at the American Heart Association. But in a nutshell it is about incorporating more fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your every day meal plan while avoiding processed foods, junk, snacks and sweets as well as limiting red meat. It’s basically a plant based diet, but not full on hyper restrictive vegan.
For example rather than having a bowl of cereal or bagel for breakfast you could opt for low fat yogurt with some berries and nuts. You could also try some organic granola with fruit, or even a poached egg with a few slices of avocado. There really are many healthy breakfast options.
For those of you like me who get a touch h-angry late in the day and need that snack, try reaching for a healthy alternative such as a handful of nuts with a banana, or a tablespoon of organic peanut butter with an apple, maybe even some sliced carrots and celery with a dab of hummus to dip in. If you really need that decadent treat try a few squares of dark chocolate with an orange.
Remember that every meal and snack will be healthier as well as more filling if it includes fiber rich fruit and veggies. You can sneak more veggies into your main meals rather easily by having fresh/frozen chopped spinach or kale handy and at the ready to add into soups, salads, stew, and stir fry to add fiber and plant nutrients to almost any recipe. Another way is by adding another veggie side option such as sweet onions and colourful peppers that you can either sautee, grill or have raw.
The options and uses for fruits and vegetables really is only limited by your imagination. Food does not have to be plain or boring, don’t forget that there are tons of herbs and spices to choose from to add variety to any meal. Eat The Rainbow is a concept that was designed to help you to challenge yourself to eat produce of different colours as part of your overall healthy eating plan and boost intake of fruits and veggies.
Keep your plates colourful, add those fruits/veggies that you love, mix up your choices, roast them, dip them, blend them into smoothies, freeze to enjoy as a cool snack, and why not reach for a piece of naturally sweet fruit for dessert or treat rather than junk. Before you know it, not only will you be dropping that unwanted weight but your heart will also be more healthy which is important to our health, well being, and longevity. Additionally, the benefits of following a healthy diet can be amplified when combined with regular exercise. You are worth every effort.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.