The Evidence Behind the DASH and MIND Diets

July 16, 2021

Eighty-six million Americans live with high blood pressure. This is one in three adults. Many more do not know they have elevated blood pressure because it often has no signs or symptoms. When the force of your blood on the wall of veins and arteries is consistently too high, that is high blood pressure. This causes the heart and blood vessels to work harder and less efficiently to push blood throughout your body.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension is often called the "silent killer" since the condition can go undetected due to lack of symptoms. This is why people with high blood pressure need to check their blood pressure often. We have seen a slight decline in high blood pressure, or hypertension, in the United States since 2000. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there is a diet that can help to lower your blood pressure in almost two weeks: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.

Essential lifestyle habits to lower your blood pressure include the following:

●     Eating a healthy diet

●     Keeping a healthy weight or losing weight

●     Being physically active

●     Not smoking

●     Limiting alcohol

In the early 1990’s the National Institute of Health (NIH) began to fund research on whether food habits could reduce hypertension. This research led to the DASH diet. The DASH diet was not only a diet that lowered fat and cholesterol but also sodium. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers investigated the effects of the DASH DIET, a reduced sodium diet and a combination of both DASH and reduced sodium in 412 people. The researchers found that the combination pattern lowered two distinct mechanisms of subclinical damage: injury and strain whereas DASH alone only reduced inflammation.  

The DASH diet aims to include:

●    Foods low in saturated fat and sodium

●    Foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein

Typical American diets are high in saturated fats and sodium. This contributes to the number of patients diagnosed with high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels annually.  

The DASH diet promotes foods rich in nutrients that help to control blood pressure. With the DASH diet alone, sodium intake is lowered by about a third compared to the average American diet. In combination with the sodium-reduced diet, sodium intake is decreased by 50%.  

With all these positives, this diet should be more well known. Especially considering how many Americans have elevated blood pressure and a life-threatening risk of heart disease. However, this is not the case with the Washington Post questioning  the diet in 2017.

We need more health care providers to become advocates if we want people to benefit from the DASH dietary pattern.  Giving a structured plan like the DASH diet can increase the number of people adhering to it and lower the death rate of heart disease in this country. The slow adoption of the DASH diet also affects the MIND diet (the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay).

The MIND diet is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. Like the DASH diet's goal of improving heart health, the MIND diet emphasizes foods that impact brain health and slow the aging of your brain.

The MIND diet should be well known for those over 65 who are the most at risk for diseases that affect the brain. However, it is mostly unknown to Americans. We need to change our approach to the DASH diet in clinical environments while building awareness of the MIND diet.

The DASH and MIND diets are some of the most effective tools for reducing high blood pressure and helping brain health today. Healthcare providers should share these diets with patients with cardiac conditions and those who are at risk for heart disease.  With a focus on these diets, we can reduce the number of Americans that die from manageable conditions each year.


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