The DASH diet may help ward off disease.

DASH is an acronym that stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension." It encourages people to reduce their sodium intake while increasing their intake of nutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium that help reduce blood pressure. A person following the DASH diet may see their systolic blood pressure, which is the upper number in a blood pressure reading, go down by 8 to 14 points within a few weeks.

There are two versions of the DASH diet: the standard model that permits people to consume up to 2,300 milligrams of salt per day and a low-sodium version that restricts dieters to no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

Both versions have a daily requirement of six to eight servings of grains, four or five servings of vegetables, four or five servings of fruits, two or three servings of dairy, and up to six servings of lean meat, fish or poultry. Seeds, legumes, and nuts should only be eaten four or five times a week because they are high in calories despite being good sources of protein, potassium, and magnesium.

The DASH diet does not forbid any food outright, but it does restrict the number of servings a person may have. For example, a person may only eat five servings of sweets per week. Since alcohol can increase blood pressure, men should have no more than two drinks a day, and women should limit themselves to one drink a day.

While the DASH diet is technically not a weight loss program, many people lose weight on it simply because they are eating healthier foods and significantly less sugar and salt. The DASH diet also encourages people to make changes gradually. For example, a person can gradually add a serving or two of vegetables to their diet each week. Gradual changes prevent the digestive tract upsets like bloating that drastic changes can cause.