Using the DASH Diet to Help Lower Your Cholesterol

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If you or a loved one has high blood pressure, chances are you've heard of the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, so it makes sense that lowering high blood pressure is its main intent.

But the DASH diet can do more than just lower blood pressure. Studies have shown that it's effective for weight loss, preventing and managing diabetes, and lowering high cholesterol levels.

Fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts
Claudia Totir / Getty Images

What Is the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet, which was developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a calorie-controlled diet that calls for lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as daily servings of whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meat, and limited amounts of sweets and fat.

The specific number of servings depends on how many calories you are striving for each day. Here are the general ranges of daily servings in this diet plan:​

  • Fruit: 4 to 5
  • Vegetables: 4 to 5
  • Dairy: 2 to 3 low-fat or nonfat
  • Grains: 7 to 8 (at least half of which should be whole grain)
  • Meat/fish: 2 (lean cuts of meat; skinless poultry; fish)
  • Fats/oils: 2 to 3
  • Beans/nuts/seeds: 4 to 5 (weekly)
  • Sweets: 2 to 4 (weekly)

The goal, according to the NIH, is to restrict your intake of sodium, saturated fat, total fat and carbohydrates with the following caps:

  • Sodium: 2,300 milligrams (or 1,500 mg depending on your health needs; the lower level is recommended for people in a higher risk category for hypertension)
  • Saturated fat: 6%
  • Total fat: 27%
  • Carbohydrate: 55%

Cholesterol and DASH

Many studies have shown that the DASH diet is effective in reducing blood pressure. In fact, the NIH says the diet can reduce blood pressure in just 14 days.

In addition to improving blood pressure, the DASH diet is also effective at helping people to lose weight and to lower triglycerides and VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins). US News & World Reports has ranked the DASH diet as the best diet for several years in a row.

Several components of the DASH diet have been linked to improved cholesterol level: getting lots of fiber (in this case from fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans), eating fish and leaner cuts of meat, and limiting sweets and refined carbohydrates.

Interestingly, a 2015 study compared a higher-fat version of the DASH diet with the regular DASH diet and found that while both versions improved LDL and total cholesterol, the higher-fat version also increased HDL (the "good" cholesterol).

Getting Started

Before beginning the DASH diet or making any other dietary changes, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she should look at your cholesterol numbers and evaluate whether dietary changes could make a difference for you.

And remember, small changes can make a difference. If you're not ready to dive fully into the DASH diet, try making one or two of the changes (such as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake by adding a piece of fruit or a serving of vegetables to each of your meals and snacks).

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  • "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH." 2006. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 27 Aug. 2008.
  • Azadbakht, L., P. Mirmiran, A. Esmaillzadeh, T. Azizi, and F. Azizi. "Beneficial Effects of a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Eating Plan on Features of the Metabolic Syndrome." Diabetes Care. 28(2005): 2823-31.
  • Fung, T.T., S.E. Chiuve, M.L. McCullough, K.M. Rexrode, G. Logroscino, and F.B. Hu. "Adherence to a DASH-Style Diet and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Stroke in Women." Archives of Internal Medicine. 168:7(2008): 713-20.
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