The popular DASH diet, established by the National Institutes of Health as a way to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, may have health benefits that go beyond its stated purpose of lowering people's risk of heart disease, according to research published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center say the additional fruits, vegetables and whole grains that people consume while on the DASH--or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension--diet provide "an abundance" of food compounds such as lycopene, beta carotene and isoflavones, which are increasingly associated with disease reduction.
"It therefore is possible that the health benefits of the DASH diet are partly attributable to the phytochemicals and might extend beyond cardiovascular disease reduction," according to registered dietitian and lead researcher Marlene M. Most.
Phytochemicals are substances that plants naturally produce to protect themselves against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. And, they include hundreds of naturally occurring substances, including carotenoids, flavonoids, indoles, isoflavones, capsacin and protease inhibitors. The exact role of phytochemicals in promoting health is unclear; however, they may help protect against some cancers, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions.
In addition to consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the DASH diet advises people to consume low-fat and fat-free dairy foods and lean meat, poultry and fish.