Lower Cancer Risk with the DASH Diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension was a clinical study from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute that examined the effects of nutrition on blood pressure.  This study inspired the DASH diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, poultry, fish and healthy fats.  While research has shown that this diet is helpful in the prevention and control of high blood pressure (hypertension), the DASH diet also would appear to lower risks for some types of cancer.

In addition to certain nutrients, the DASH diet stresses portion control and a variety of foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium to help keep blood pressure in check. The diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat, and a reduction in daily consumption of sodium is also suggested.


A traditional diet can consist of a massive amount of daily sodium – sometimes up to 3,500 mg per day.  The standard DASH diet limits sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day, and the lower-sodium version limits sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day.

The DASH diet is based on an intake of roughly 2,000 calories per day and recommends the following (people who are attempting to lose weight may want to limit calories to 1600 per day):

• Grains - 6 to 8 servings daily, with an emphasis on whole grains
• Vegetables – 4 to 5 servings daily
• Fruits – 4 to 5 servings daily
• Low fat dairy – 2 to 3 servings daily
• Lean meat, poultry and fish – No more than 6 servings daily
• Nuts, seeds and legumes – 4 to 5 servings daily
• Fat and oils – 2 – 3 servings daily, with an emphasis on poly or monounsaturated fats (limit  saturated fats, and avoid trans fats)
• Desserts – No more than 5 per week (emphasis on sugar free, fat free or low fat items)
• Alcohol – No more than 2 drinks daily for men and 1 for women

Started in 1976 and expanded in 1989, the Nurses’ Health Study is a comprehensive and long-running examination of factors that impact women’s health. Information gathered from 238,000 nurse-participants has led to many new discoveries. With cancer prevention as the main focus, the study has also generated important data regarding cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other health conditions affecting women.

Research on this large group of subjects has determined that a diet with a high consumption of red meat raises the risk of premenopausal breast cancer.  As the DASH diet emphasizes lean poultry and fish with a limited intake of red meat, this diet may help to prevent breast cancer in premenopausal women.

In other research, increased amounts of dietary and supplemental calcium have proven to decrease the formation of colon polyps in certain populations.  Foods high in folate and vitamins B6 and D also help to lower the risks for colon cancer, while a high intake of red and processed meats can increase the risk.  It stands to reason that the DASH diet might also be helpful in lowering colon cancer risks.

Over the long term, the DASH diet has proven to be a healthy approach to eating.  In addition to lowering blood pressure and preventing certain types of cancer, this diet may also protect against osteoporosis, heart disease and diabetes.  Because it emphasizes portion control and nutritious ingredients, it may also help with weight loss.

Sources: 
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/prevent/h_eating/h_eating.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dash-diet/HI00047

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