My former place of employment was the hub of a very large research trial called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). One of my tasks was to train staff at other research sites around the country to help keep the study participants (subjects, if you will) motivated to stick with the eating plan. Being a ‘research study participant’ sounds great when you begin but for some that motivation starts to wain towards the end. And staying committed to the goals of a study until the end is critical for gathering the best data.
DASH was a ‘feeding’ study meaning all of the foods were prepared and provided for each person and they ate only these foods. There was nothing magical about the foods. They were commonplace and similar to the food choices many Americans eat. There were casseroles, salads, grilled meats, sandwiches, nuts, yogurt — all sorts of foods we would be familiar with. The participant’s goal? To eat all of the foods provided, every last almond in your Tropical Stir-Fried Pork Tenderloin and every last bite of banana on your oatmeal.
One of the primary goals was to study the effects on blood pressure from eating these whole food meals and snacks. The gist of the eating plan was that a large portion of the foods were what you’d find in a vegetarian diet — lots of fruits and vegetables, legumes, some nuts, whole grains, etc. Then, include some animal protein foods like low-fat dairy, fish and other lean meats. What you get is a meal plan with a healthy variety of tasty foods. Oh, and the participants had to hold a steady weight. Not gain or lose since we already knew losing weight would lower blood pressure. Salt was kept at a normal amount as well. So, one question to be answered was, If you eat a balance of whole foods without losing weight or eating less salt, will blood pressure be reduced? Turns out, it will, and not just by a little bit, but significantly.
The results of this study are so widely proclaimed that it is sometimes touted as the DASH ‘diet’. In fact, earlier this year, U.S. News scrutinized and rated 29 diets for safety, nutritional completeness and the likelihood to protect against chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. DASH took the #1 spot for Best Overall Diet and Best Diet for Healthy Eating. Not bad considering this study took place over 10 years ago.
A balanced diet of real foods protects against disease. Well, tell me something new, right? More than that, I think there was a subtle message we dearly needed to hear: To the typical American, eating a plant based diet is very tasty, full of appealing variety, and uses common foods. Our success is well within reach.
Hundreds of organizations have more details about DASH. This study was truly a big deal in the dietary research arena. You’ll have no problem finding more information. I threw out a few links here that mention recipes and meal plans: DASH Diet Oregon DASH Diet National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
The DASH diet eating plan contains such a vast amount of practical info you can find a few DASH books and ebooks available for purchase. Check this out.