The DASH diet is an eating plan to lower or control high blood pressure, and DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Studies have shown that following the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in as little as two weeks and the diet can also help with lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. Controlling blood pressure and lowering LDL cholesterol can help with preventing heart disease and stroke.
Researchers developed DASH more than 20 years ago with the support of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes of Health. Scientists have conducted multiple scientific studies which have found that blood pressure is reduced with an eating plan that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains and includes fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and healthy oils. DASH limits foods that are high in saturated fat, such as high fat meats, full fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils. It is also lower in sodium then the average American diet and limits foods and beverages with added sugar. This heart healthy eating plan is rich in nutrients and emphasizes foods high in potassium, calcium and magnesium and fiber as these nutrients help lower blood pressure.
It is easy to get started with the DASH eating plan because it requires no special foods and is a flexible and balanced eating plan that helps create heart healthy eating patterns. The DASH diet provides daily and weekly nutritional goals and the number of servings you should eat depends on your daily calorie needs.
Let’s look at the recommended servings from each food group for an 1,800 – 2,000 calorie per day DASH eating plan:
Grains: 6-8 servings a day. Grains are good sources of fiber and magnesium. Serving size: 1 slice bread, ½ cup cooked cereal, ½ cup rice or pasta, ¾ cup cereal
Examples: brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain cereal, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, unsalted popcorn
Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day. Vegetables are good sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Serving Size: 1 cup raw leafy vegetables, ½ cup cut up raw or cooked vegetable, ½ cup vegetables juice
Examples: broccoli, carrots, collard greens, green beans, kale, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes
Fruits: 4-5 servings per day. Fruits are good sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber. Serving size: 1 medium fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit (unsweetened), ½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, 4oz 100% fruit juice
Examples: apples, oranges, apricots, dates, grapes, melon, peaches, raisins, mangoes, grapefruit juice, strawberries, blueberries, bananas
Dairy: 2-3 servings per day. Dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium. Serving size: 1 cup milk, 1 cup yogurt, 1 ½ oz cheese
Examples: fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk or buttermilk; fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese; fat-free or low-fat regular or frozen yogurt; fortified soy beverage; fat-free or low-fat lactose free products
Lean Meats, Fish, Poultry, and Eggs: 6 servings or less per day. These are all good sources of protein and magnesium. Serving Size: 1 oz cooked meats, fish or poultry, 1 egg
Examples: Chicken or turkey without skin; salmon, tuna, trout; lean cuts of beef, pork and lamb
Fats and Oils: 2-3 servings per day. Fats are good sources of energy and vitamin E. Serving size: 1 tsp soft margarine, 1 tsp vegetables oil, 1 T mayonnaise, 2 T salad dressing
Examples: vegetables oil such as canola, corn, olive or safflower, low-fat mayonnaise, light salad dressing
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes. 4-5 servings per week. These are good sources of energy, magnesium, protein and fiber. Serving size: 1/3 cup or 1 ½ oz nuts (unsalted), 2 T peanut butter, 2 T or ½ oz seeds, ½ cup cooked legumes (dry beans and peas)
Examples: almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, kidney beans, lentils and split peas
Sweets and Added Sugars: 5 servings or less per week. Any sweets consumed should be low in fat. Serving size: 1 T sugar, 1 T jelly or jam, ½ cup sorbet or gelatin, 1 cup sweetened beverage
Examples: fruit-flavored gelatin, fruit punch, hard candy, lemonade, maple syrup, flavored ices or ice pop
The foods in the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium so just by following the DASH diet, you will most likely lower your sodium intake. The typical American diet contains 3,400 mg of sodium or more per day. The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg a day which meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
To further reduce your sodium intake, practice these additional eating habits:
- Use herbs and spices when cooking instead of adding salt
- Choose fresh vegetables, plain frozen vegetables, and no added salt canned vegetables
- Keep the saltshaker off the table
- Read food labels and avoid foods high in sodium – choose low-sodium and no-added-salt options
- Avoid processed foods
- Choose fresh skinless poultry, fish and lean cuts of meat without marinades and dressings
- Go easy on condiments – a little goes a long way, use mustard, ketchup, horseradish, pickles and sauces with salt containing ingredients sparingly
If you are used to a higher fat and higher sodium diet, it may take a bit of time for your taste buds to adjust to this healthier way of eating. Start out gradually and compare how your current eating habits differ from the DASH eating plan. Look for things you can do to make your diet healthier and move toward the DASH way of eating. Consider looking at each of the food groups in the DASH eating plan and decide what changes you can make in each of these groups.
How can you move toward a DASH eating plan?
Look at your meals and ask yourself, “Is my plate colorful?” Be sure to include vegetables at lunch and dinner and consider vegetables for a quick snack. Look at your meals and see where vegetables can be included such as adding them to omelets, pasta dishes, casseroles, smoothies and soups. Add fruit to meals or choose them from a sweet treat. Fruits make a great snack and can also be added to hot or cold cereal, salads, smoothies and yogurt.
Are you including dairy daily? Most people do not include enough dairy in their daily intake. Gradually increase your use of milk, yogurt and cheese to 3 servings per day to get adequate calcium. Try drinking milk with your meal instead of juice or soda. Add yogurt for a quick breakfast or snack. Remember to choose low-fat or fat-free options to reduce your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
Do you vary your protein intake? When it comes to protein look at what proteins you are eating. Try to keep saturated fat low by choosing low fat cooking methods such as baking, broiling and grilling meats, fish or poultry. Make a goal to eat fish once or twice per week and consider one or two vegetarian meals each week.
Are your meals and snacks balanced? Use the healthy food plate model to guide you toward a balanced meal. Aim to fill ½ of your plate with vegetables and fruits, ¼ of the plate with whole grains, and ¼ of the plate with fish, lean meat, poultry or beans. Utilize snack times to balance your intake and get in all the necessary servings you need each day. Some snack ideas are, unsalted nuts or nut butter with a piece of fresh fruit or dried fruit, cut up raw vegetables with a bean dip such as hummus, low-fat yogurt with unsalted nuts or fruit, a cup of fat-free milk, unsalted sunflower seeds and dried apricots or low sodium whole wheat crackers with a piece of low-fat cheese.
Eating a variety of healthy foods and choosing whole, less processed foods which are naturally low in fat, sugar and sodium along with cutting back on salt can help lower your blood pressure and keep your heart healthy. Take control of your heart health and adopt the DASH eating plan.