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Nutritional Perks From the DASH Diet

Nov. 1, 2004 – Part of the benefit of the DASH diet may be attributable to the high levels of healthy nutrients called phytochemicals. Moreover, the DASH diet may do more than lower blood pressure and reduce blood fat levels, thanks to these nutrients that may protect against health problems from heart disease to cancer.

Credit the diet’s emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. DASH, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, calls for four to five servings of fruit and four to six servings of veggies every day, along with about six to 12 daily servings of grain products.

The DASH diet also includes smaller amounts (two to three daily servings) of low fat or nonfat dairy products and no more than two 3-ounce servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish per day. Added fats and oils are limited to 2-3 tablespoons each day.

The DASH diet significantly cuts blood pressure and reduces blood fat levels, with fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium getting the job done.

Along with those benefits come extra nutritional perks, according to Marlene Most, PhD, RD, of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Most recently, Most studied the DASH diet to estimate its levels of naturally occurring compounds called phytochemicals, which plants make to ward off viruses, bacteria, and fungi. There are hundreds of varieties of phytochemicals, which scientists are examining for their potential to help humans avoid health problems ranging from cancer to heart disease.

The DASH diet is rich in phytochemicals, says Most.

For instance, she says that DASH has high levels of lycopene, which is found in tomatoes and may fight prostate cancer. DASH also has plenty of flavonols — found in fruits, vegetables, tea, and red wine — that may protect against heart disease. The diet’s abundance of carotenoids and flavenoids could protect against coronary heart disease and stroke, and the nutritional abundance from whole-grain foods might guard against cardiovascular disease.

Most isn’t promising any of those results. She didn’t study people on the diet or specific diseases. Instead, she analyzed the DASH diet for its phytochemical content.

“It is recognized that plant-based diets are associated with a reduced incidence of chronic diseases,” writes Most in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

“It is possible that the health benefits of the DASH diet are partially attributable to the phytochemicals and might extend beyond cardiovascular disease risk reduction,” she writes, calling for more studies on the impact of phytochemicals.

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