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07/15/2009 - Articles

DASH to a Lower Cholesterol Level

By: Tufts University


A diet that provides plenty of produce and low-fat dairy foods seems to help control both blood pressure and cholesterol.

DASH diet is heart healthy

Are you searching for a diet-based method to help curtail your risk of heart disease? The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan may be an answer. Previous studies of the DASH diet have demonstrated that adhering to the DASH plan can lower blood pressure and reduce levels of homocysteine, an amino acid believed to increase the risk of heart disease. Now, findings published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that the DASH diet is also effective in reducing blood cholesterol levels.

Researchers from the United States' National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, looked at results from 436 volunteers who consumed one of three diets: a control diet reflecting a typical American eating style, a diet with increased servings of fruits and vegetables, or the DASH eating plan. Compared with the control diet, the DASH plan contained more fruits and vegetables as well as more low-fat dairy products, less total and saturated fat and cholesterol, and lower amounts of red meat. The weight and physical activity level of the participants were kept the same throughout the study.

Good news about 'bad' cholesterol

At the onset of the study and after eight weeks on the assigned diet, the researchers measured the volunteers' levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or 'bad' cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or 'good' cholesterol, and triglycerides. Compared with the volunteers eating the typical American diet, those on the DASH diet lowered their total cholesterol levels by an average of 7% (13.7 mg/dL, or 0.35 mmol/L) and their LDL cholesterol by an average of 9% (10.7 mg/dL, or 2.96 mmol/L). Levels of triglycerides, a blood fat that may increase heart disease risk, were not significantly changed in the group consuming the DASH diet compared with those following the control diet.

Not so good news about 'good' cholesterol

Participants who followed the DASH diet also saw an average reduction of 7.5% (3.7 mg/dL, or 0.1 mmol/L) in their HDL cholesterol. High levels of HDL are considered to be protective against heart disease while low levels are a risk factor, making a drop in HDL an unfavorable finding. However, the relationship between low-fat diets, HDL cholesterol, and heart disease risk is complex and the nuances are still emerging. The researchers note that the DASH effect on HDL levels bears further examination. However, the declines in total and LDL cholesterol, together with the DASH diet's effect on blood pressure, outweigh the effect of a drop in HDL and the net effect is a decreased risk of heart disease.

DASH-ing home

The DASH eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, restricts fat to slightly less than 30% of total calories, and limits red meats and sweets. If it sounds familiar, the plan is basically a variation on the lower-fat, high fiber, plant-based diet many nutritionists have been recommending for years.

Adopting a DASH type eating style has already been shown to be a sensible step for those with high blood pressure. Accumulating evidence indicates that it is also a reasonable meal pattern for those looking to keep heart disease risk in check.


Effects on blood lipids of a blood pressure-lowering diet: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Trial  Obarzanek,  E.,  Sacks,  FM.,  C.,  WM.,  et al., Amer J Clin Nutr, 2001, vol. 74, pp. 80--89


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Created on: 08/31/2001
Reviewed on: 07/15/2009

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