DASH Diet For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, healthy fats, and lean protein. It’s high in some nutrients (potassium, calcium magnesium, and fiber), and low in others (saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium). 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.

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DASH Diet Nutrition Basics

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan isn’t hard to follow. The following list provides the types of food the diet recommends you eat, along with the number of servings per day.

Note: These servings are based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, but you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories per day depending on your age, gender, and activity level. Check with your dietitian or use a calorie calculator for an estimate of your daily calorie needs.

  • Grains (6 to 8 daily servings), preferably whole: Examples of 1 serving of grains include 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of dry cereal, or ½ 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 to 5 daily servings): A serving of fruit may be a small to medium piece of fruit, 10 grapes, ½ grapefruit, ½ 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 to 5 daily servings): A serving of vegetables comprises 1 cup of raw veggies or ½ 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 to 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 to 5 weekly servings): Even though nuts and seeds provide good fats, they have a lot of calories. Be sure to only add 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 ¼ 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 to 3 daily servings): Oils with healthy monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, avocado, and canola oils. Soybean oil and corn oil are higher in polyunsaturated fats, which are okay in moderation, too. Some foods that feature healthy fats include avocados, nuts, olives, seeds, vinaigrette salad dressings, spread margarines (look for less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving), natural nut butters, and recipes that include the healthy oils listed here. Generally, 1 teaspoon of oil or 1 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.
  • 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. Some sweets may be purely sugar (think soda or gummy candies) and others may be high in both saturated fat and sugar (think doughnuts, cookies, cakes, rich desserts, and candy bars). Make sure you actually read the label of whatever goodie you’re indulging in so that you consciously eat just 1 serving on occasion (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. Sure, reducing your salt intake or getting on the treadmill can help, but you’ll have more success controlling hypertension and improving your health if you create a more balanced, healthier lifestyle overall. Here are 15 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 and alcohol. Save sodas and sugary coffee drinks for occasional treats once or twice a week. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation (less than 1 to 2 drinks per day) and ideally not daily.
  • 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, bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, grape tomatoes, and celery sticks on hand for a quick snack to meet your daily vegetable intake.
  • Consider keeping a food journal or using an app to record your food intake and exercise. Setting goals and writing them down 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 fitness tracker, setting move goals and aiming for 10,000 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.
  • Create 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 — 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!

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Sarah Samaan, MD, is board certified in cardiology, nuclear cardiology, and echocardiography, and she blogs at BestPracticesHealthy Heart.com. Rosanne Rust, MS, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, and blogger at rustnutrition.com, who specializes in nutrition communications. Cindy Kleckner, RDN, LD, FAND, is a culinary registered dietitian nutritionist, author, recipe developer, and professional speaker.

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