The DASH Diet, Explained

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s one of two diets recommended by the USDA to promote health and wellness and prevent chronic diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes. Is this diet right for you?

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The DASH diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a part of the National Institutes of Health. Even though the diet is meant to target blood pressure, it has also been shown to offer protection against osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Because it promotes healthy eating and snacking, the DASH diet may also help people lose weight.

What Is the DASH Diet?

The overall goal of the diet is to lower sodium consumption in order to lower blood pressure.

Basically, the DASH diet requires the ample consumption of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. There can be limited consumption of fish and poultry, while red meat, sweets and fatty foods should be consumed sparingly.

What Can I Eat on the DASH Diet?

On the DASH diet, you’re expected to eat:

  • 6-8 servings of whole grains per day: This includes, whole-wheat bread, cereals, rice or whole wheat pasta. The whole grain or whole-wheat variety of grains contains more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.
  • 4-5 servings of fruit per day: In addition to providing ample vitamins and nutrients, fruits are also great sources of fiber. You can have fresh, frozen or canned fruits, just make there that there are no added sugars.
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables per day: Make sure to include leafy green vegetables in addition to tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and sweet potatoes.
  • 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy per day: This would include 1 cup of skim milk or low-fat yogurt. This is beneficial because of the calcium, vitamin D and protein these products provide; however, don’t overdo it. Also, avoid regular or even fat-free cheese because they are often high in sodium.
  • 6 or fewer ounces of lean meats, like poultry or fish per day: This would include skinless chicken or turkey breast, seafood, or tuna that has been packaged in water. Avoid red meat as often as possible, as it tends to be higher in fat and cholesterol. When cooking, trim away the skin and fat, then broil, grill, roast or poach instead of frying.

In addition to those foods, you can also have:

  • 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds, legumes per week: This would include almonds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, lentils, etc. However, keep the serving size small to avoid too many calories. Soybeans and tofu are good alternatives to meat because of its high protein content.
  • 2-3 servings of fats and oils per day – but make sure you don’t overdo it! A serving would consist of 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayo, 1 teaspoon of margarine or 2 tablespoons of light salad dressing. Always choose products that are low in saturated and trans fats.
  • 5 or fewer servings of sweets per week: Yes, you read this correctly! However, don’t overdo this either. A serving of sweets would consist of 1 tablespoon of sugar, jelly, or jam; 1/2 cup of sorbet; or 1 cup of lemonade. Try to choose fat-free or low-fat sweets.
  • No more than two alcoholic drinks a day for men, and one drink per day for women.

To help make the DASH diet more effective, make sure to look for food labels that say “sodium free,” “low sodium” or “very low sodium.” Not only does excess sodium trigger water weight, it also promotes high blood pressure. Check out the 7-day DASH diet plan for more information.

Is the DASH Diet Effective?

Various clinical trials of the DASH diet have shown its effectiveness at lowering blood pressure. In one study, the researchers noticed a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 5.5 and 3 mm Hg, respectively, after three weeks of being on the DASH diet. They compared this diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and reductions in saturated and total fat, with that of a typical American.

Is the Diet Safe?

This diet is safe for you and your family. In fact, the government’s dietary guidelines for Americans highlighted the DASH eating plan as an “exemplary way for Americans ages 2 and older to eat healthfully.” However, make sure to monitor for potential food allergies in yourself and your family members while trying new foods.

If I Choose to Pursue the DASH Diet, What Should I Do?

  • Always consult a physician before starting any diet or exercise program.
  • Consider gradually changing your diet. Change only one to two things at a time. Remember, this diet will be part of a new lifestyle for you.
  • Forgive yourself if you backslide – just figure out what triggered you to slip and learn from your mistakes the next time.
  • Reward successes with a non-food treat. Instead of a victory ice cream or chocolate bar, treat yourself with a walk in the park or your favorite movie.
  • Add physical activity to your routine – even if it just involves taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to work. You can even do one of Donovan Green’s No-Excuse Workouts.