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The DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is so successful because its foundations are drawn from research on the Mediterranean diet. Many of the researchers who took part in the initial DASH study were the same who detailed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

A DASH-style Diet Reduces Your Risk of Heart Disease
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a style of eating created by the National Institute of Health to help people control their high blood pressure. Generally speaking, the diet is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and it's low in red meat, salt and sugar.

DASH diet: more than high blood pressure?
For years the go-to diet for treating high blood pressure has been the DASH diet. It was, after all, devised by the National Institute of Health (NIH) for that exact purpose, hence its name: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. There's significant research to demonstrate that it's an effective means of treating high blood pressure in those who are already hypertensive, but it's also been shown to improve scores in those whose blood pressures are nearer normal.


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Lean pork vs. chicken and fish in a DASH diet

a sliced, roasted pork tenderloin on a white plate with mashed potatoes in the background

As I said a few weeks ago in my article about red meat for our "How to Eat Healthy" series, "Red meat is not bad for you. Bologna is bad for you."

With today's knowledge that processed meats are much more dangerous to your health than red meat (whether beef, pork, or venison), one can hardly blame the National Pork Board for creating its "Pork. The other white meat" advertising campaign, which started in 1987 and ended in 2011.

The National Pork Board continues to fund research into pork products, as in today's study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2015;102:302-8). The authors recruited 19 clinically obese men and women to participate in a crossover feeding study: an initial 6-week period following one diet was followed by 4 weeks in which they followed their usual diet. Then the participants switched diets and continued for another 6 weeks.

The comparison diets were both DASH-style diets that aimed to provide about 2,500 milligrams of sodium per day and the appropriate amount of calories for the participants to maintain their body weight. The difference was that for one six-week period, the participants consumed the vast majority of their animal protein in the form of chicken and fish; in the other, the main animal protein was pork in the form of pork tenderloin and fresh, uncured, and well-trimmed ham. Both diets permitted the participants to consume 2 servings of lean beef per week.

The authors tested the blood pressures of all participants at the start and end of the two diets and found that both diets decreased the participants' blood pressures about the same amount. Further testing revealed that total cholesterol decreased more when the participants were following the DASH diet that included pork as opposed to the DASH diet including chicken and fish.

On the other hand, HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) decreased in those following the pork diet, while HDL increased in those following the chicken and fish diet.

What this means for you

The most obvious drawback to this study is its funding, but its (tiny) size does not help, either. Regarding the cholesterol results, the authors note that the study was not primarily designed to assess cholesterol changes and note that those results should be interpreted "with caution." The study does, however, support the notion that one need not cut out all red meat in order to eat healthy.

First posted: September 30, 2015