What is the Dash Diet?
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and it's a eating regiment specifically designed to reduce hypertension and lower blood pressure.
The goal? Reduce your sodium intake and instead eat a variety of foods that contain blood pressure-lowering nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
With the DASH diet, the aim is to eat more:
- Low-Fat or Fat-Free Dairy
- Lean Meat, Fish, & Poultry
For DASH, you'll want to eat less:
- Sugar / Sweets
- Fatty meats
- Saturated and Trans Fats
In DASH, you'll want to reduce your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day.
That's just 1 teaspoon per day, and takes into account all sodium, including what's in the food you buy or cook, as well as any salt you add to your dish.
These sodium numbers concern the standard DASH diet. There's also a lower sodium DASH diet where you'll reduce your sodium intake to just 1,500 milligrams (about 2/3 teaspoon).
Most DASH-ers opt to start with the standard 2,300 milligrams, and then work their way down to 1,500 milligrams to reduce their blood pressure even more.
You may find initially that your food tastes quite bland without salt. Don't worry, it won't taste that way forever!
Your taste buds may need some time to adjust, but after several weeks, you should find that the lack of salt won't bother you quite as much.
You may be surprised at how easy it is to hit that 2,300 milligram mark! Many foods contain sodium, and it can really add up. Keep a careful eye on food labels and opt for low-sodium versions whenever you can.
DASH Diet Food List: Portions & Servings
Foods are broken down into portion sizing, ensuring a healthy and varied mix of wholesome foods.
Amounts break down as follows, for a 2,000 calorie diet (according to MayoClinic):
Grains: 7 - 8 servings per day
Examples: Brad, Cereal, Rice, Pasta
One Serving Looks Like: 1 slice of bread or 1/2 cup of pasta or rice
Why They're Great: Look for whole grains (whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread) over refined grains, as whole grains have more nutrients and fiber.
What to Avoid: Try to avoid processed grains, as they aren't as healthy. Aim to enjoy your grains without the addition of butter, cream, or cheese spreads, as these up the fat content.
Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
Examples: Broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and other greens or veggies.
What One Servings Looks Like: 1 cup of raw salad greens or 1/2 cup of chopped up veggies.
Why They're Great: Vegetables are packed with potassium, magnesium, as well as fiber and healthy vitamins.
Whether you prefer them raw or cooked, frozen or fresh, vegetables are incredibly good for you. Throw them is a stir fry or eat them a la carte.
What to Avoid: When buying canned of frozen veggies, look for low sodium or no added salt.
Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
Examples: Bananas, apples, grapes, berries, etc
What One Serving Looks Like: A medium-sized fruit or 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.
Why They're Great: Fruits contain great sources of fiber, potassium, and magnesium. They can easily been enjoyed as a snack or a side dish with other main courses.
What to Avoid: If you go for canned fruit (or juice) make sure there is no added sugar.
Dairy: 2-3 servings per day
Examples: Milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.
What One Serving Looks Like: 1 cup of 1% milk or low fat yogurt
Why They're Great: Dairy provides plentiful sourced of calcium, protein, and vitamin D. However, aim for low fat or fat-free dairy, since dairy can otherwise be loaded with fat.
What to Avoid: Regular and fat-free cheese is fine, but don't go too crazy with these since they tend to be high in sodium.
Many individuals (number) have a hard time digesting dairy. If you're one of them, try looking for lactaid pills at the pharmacy, which can help with digestion and reduce symptoms of dairy intolerance. Alternatively, seek our lactose-free products.
MEAT / POULTRY / FISH
Lean Meat, Poultry, & Fish: 6 servings/ounces per day or less
Examples: Lean ground beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna (salmon and tuna both have high omega-3 fatty acids, which can assist in lowering cholesterol).
What One Serving Looks Like: The area of your palm covers 3 ounces of meat. Look at this handy sizing guide for a better understanding of what one serving of meat looks like.
Why They're Great: Meats provide protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Seek out lean cuts to avoid high fat content, and shoot for a maximum of 6 ounces per day.
What to Avoid: Fatty cuts of meat, like bacon. Trim off skin and fat when possible, and try baking, grilling, or broiling your meat rather than frying for a healthier meal.
SEEDS & LEGUMES
Seeds & Legumes: 4-5 servings per week
Examples: Almonds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, peas, lentils, etc.
What One Serving Looks Like: 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds, 1/3 cup of nuts
Why They're Great: Seeds and legumes are good sources of protein, magnesium, and potassium. They're also thought by many to protect against certain types of caner and cardiovascular disease due to their phytochemicals plant compounds.
What to Avoid: More fattening seeds or nuts, like coconuts.
Serving sizes for nuts, seeds, and legumes are small because these foods have a lot of calories and high fat content - however, it's the good, healthy kinds of fats - namely omega 4 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. In DASH, they should only be eaten a few times a week.
Try sprinkling them on salads or stir-fries for a nice crunch and flavor.
FATS & OILS
Fats & Oils: 2-3 servings per day
Examples: Olive oil, margarine, low-fat mayo
What One Serving Looks Like: 1 tbsp soft margarine or mayonnaise
Why They're Great: Fat isn't necessarily a bad thing - fats help your body's immune system and allow you to absorb vitamins. However, too much fat can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. helps your body absorb essential vitamins and helps your body's immune system.
What to Avoid: Keep away from trans fats, found commonly in processed and fried food. Read labels on margarine and salad dressing to find items that have the lowest amount of saturated fats and are trans fat free.
Sugar: 5 servings or less per week
Examples: Sugar, jelly, sorbet, hard candy, etc
What Does One Serving Look Like? 1 tablespoon of sugar or 1/2 cup of sorbet
Why They're Great: While sweets aren't good for you, they taste great and can add flavor to meals. Ideally you'll limit sugar intake as much as possible, but when you need a sweet fix, the DASH program can allow for a little bit of it!
What to Avoid: Opt for sweets that are fat-free or low-fat like sorbets, jelly beans, hard candies, and low-fat cookies. While artificial sweeteners are allowed, they should still be used sparingly, just like the real deal.
ALCHOL & CAFFEINE
Excessive drinking can increase blood pressure, so DASH does have some rules about drinking.
Men: maximum 2 drinks per day (or less)
Women: maximum 1 drink per day (or less)
When it comes to coffee and caffeine in general, DASH doesn't have an official stance.
Generally, caffeine can cause your blood pressure to rise temporarily. For many this may not be an issue, but you should talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption, especially if you already have high blood pressure.
More DASH Tips
- Add a serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner - try a stir fry!
- Opt for low fat or skim dairy when you might normally do full fat or cream.
- Snack on nuts, raisins, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, or frozen yogurt rather than salty chips and cookies.
- Use low fat or fat free condiments, and try reducing your salad dressing amounts by half. Ask for dressing on the side and add just a bit at a time until you're enjoying the taste but not going overboard.
- Add a serving of fruit to your meals as a dessert, or use it as a snack
Do you have any advice for those embarking on the DASH diet for the first time? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!