DASH Diet For Dummies
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein. The DASH diet has been scientifically proven to reduce hypertension (high blood pressure) without any adverse side effects (in fact, with some side benefits!). Of course, to reduce hypertension for the long haul and maximize your health impact, you need to adopt nutritional foods and make several small lifestyle changes.
DASH Diet Nutrition Basics
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan isn’t hard to follow. Following are the types of food the diet recommends you eat, along with the number of servings per day.
These servings are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, but you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories a day depending on your age, gender, and activity level. Check with your doctor or use a calorie calculator for an estimate of your daily calorie needs.
Grains (6–8 daily servings), preferably whole: Examples of 1 serving of grains include 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, rice, barley, or other grain. Look for the word whole — don’t assume that any brown-colored wheat bread is a great choice. Read further and check the Nutrition Facts label, the list of ingredients, and the fiber content. Look for whole-wheat flour or another whole-grain flour as the first ingredient. Also, seek out grain products with 2 or more grams of fiber per serving. Venture out of your comfort zone and try brown and wild rice, barley, bulgur, quinoa, or whole-wheat couscous.
Fruits (4–5 daily servings): A serving of fruit may be a small to medium piece of fruit, 10 grapes, 1/2 grapefruit, 1/2 banana, or 2 tablespoons of raisins or other dried fruit. Find new ways to add more fruit to your meals: Top salads with sliced strawberries or apples and add raisins or blueberries to oatmeal. Make fruit your daily go-to choice for snacking, too.
Vegetables (4–5 daily servings): A serving of vegetables comprises 1 cup of raw veggies or 1/2 cup cooked. If you think eating 4 to 5 servings of vegetables every day is difficult, try adding more vegetables to sandwiches: Spinach leaves, green peppers, sliced tomatoes, and sprouts are all excellent sandwich toppers. If you’re tired of the bland taste of boiled vegetables, give grilling a chance. Grill zucchini, portobello mushrooms, eggplant, peppers, and Vidalia onions to really turn up the volume on vegetable flavor.
Low-fat or nonfat dairy (2–3 daily servings): Limit your milk to skim or 1%, and primarily eat low-fat yogurt and cheese. To meet your 2 to 3 servings goal, drink two 1-cup servings of skim or 1% milk daily. Or, as 1 serving, have a snack of 8 ounces of low-fat Greek yogurt. Eating 1 ounce of low-fat or nonfat cheese also counts as a serving. To cut the fat even more, use low-fat yogurt in place of sour cream in your recipes.
Lean meats, fish, and poultry (2 or fewer daily servings): Limit the total amount of lean protein to no more than 6 to 8 ounces. Examples of the recommended foods in this category include fresh chicken breast or legs, fresh turkey breast, loin cuts of beef, sirloin, round steak, extra-lean ground beef, pork loin roast, pork tenderloin, fresh fish, and low-sodium canned tuna.
Nuts and seeds (4–5 weekly servings): Even though nuts and seeds provide good fats, they’re calorically dense. So try adding small amounts of nuts to your salads or stir-fries to meet your goal of getting 4 to 5 servings of nuts and seeds per week. A serving of nuts is about 1/3 cup (make sure they’re unsalted) or 2 tablespoons of nut butter (like peanut or almond). A healthy serving size of unsalted seeds, such as sunflower seeds, is 2 tablespoons.
Healthy fats (2-3 daily servings): Oils with healthy monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils. Soybean oil and corn oil are higher in polyunsaturated fats, which are good for you, too. Some foods that feature healthy fats are avocados, nuts, olives, seeds, vinaigrette salad dressings, spread margarines, natural nut butters, quick breads made with vegetable oil, and recipes that include the healthy oils listed here. Generally, a teaspoon of oil or a tablespoon of salad dressing or spread is a 1-serving equivalent. Check the Nutrition Facts label to determine the serving size for food products under this umbrella.
Fats and sweets (2 or fewer daily servings — according to the actual serving size): You don’t actually need these foods, so you shouldn’t consume them daily — this allotment is solely for pleasure. Make sure you actually read the label of whatever goodie you’re indulging in so that you consciously eat just 1 serving (instead of eating 5 servings by accident). Examples of servings of fats and sweets include a 2-inch square brownie, a small donut, a miniature candy bar, 2 small cookies, 1 small muffin, 1 small piece of pie or cake, and 8 ounces of soda or another sugary beverage.
15 Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Changes
When you’re battling hypertension, the solution doesn’t involve just one factor, whether that’s reducing your salt intake or getting on the treadmill. Instead, controlling hypertension and improving your health involves creating a more balanced, healthier lifestyle overall. Check out this list of the top tips and tricks to make lifestyle changes that can help you work toward a healthier heart and life:
Drink more water every day and limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Start saving sodas and sugary coffee drinks for occasional treats once or twice a week.
Eat less dessert and fewer sweetened baked goods. When you do indulge, eat smaller portions.
Replace salt in recipes with flavorful herbs and spices, or use half the salt. Also, remove the salt shaker from the table.
Skip the salty snacks and extra sweets. Have a piece of fresh fruit first when cravings strike.
Keep cut carrots, mixed greens, and bell pepper strips on hand for a quick salad or snack to meet your daily vegetable intake.
Consider keeping a food journal or using an app to record your food intake and exercise, because writing down what you consume and do helps you stay on track.
Get more physically active and fit. Even if you only have 10 minutes to work out, use those 10 minutes, because every few minutes count. Fitting in simple things such as 2 minutes of jumping jacks or ten push-ups will keep you strong. Eventually, you can work your way up to at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity four to five times a week.
Consider wearing a pedometer, aiming for 10,000 (or more!) steps a day. To get there, use the stairs more often, get up and move around, and park your car farther away to encourage more daily steps — especially if your job is sedentary.
Make an exercise plan and stick to it, enlisting the companionship of a friend, exercise partner, or personal trainer, if you like. Try working out in the morning because studies show that morning workouts are more consistent and therefore offer more success. Think about it: In the morning, fewer obstacles can get in the way of your busy life.
Check with your doctor about any restrictions on exercise. Choose physical activities that you enjoy and don’t try to do too much too soon.
Have your doctor check your blood pressure regularly and let her know if you’re following the DASH diet.
Ask your doctor how your blood cholesterol is doing and whether that needs some work, too. Good news: DASH helps in that area as well.
If your doctor prescribes medications for you, take them exactly as directed.
Lose weight if you’re overweight. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian for more on what a healthy body weight for you should be.
Quit smoking — and if you’re not a smoker, don’t start!