DASH diet

Nutrition and health experts originally designed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH diet, as a way to help lower blood pressure. But recent studies have also found the DASH diet to be one of the best options to prevent heart disease, stroke, diabetes and even some forms of cancer. Research also shows the DASH plan is safe and effective for short-term and permanent weight loss.

The DASH diet was recently ranked the No. 1 overall diet by U.S. News & World Report for the fourth year in a row. The authors of the U.S. News report found that the DASH diet is easy to follow because it does not restrict entire food groups. And because the plan focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, controlling calories is easier than with other diet plans.

DASH Diet: Reduce Hypertension and Boost Heart Health Through Diet

Hypertension, or high blood pressure as it’s more commonly known, is a serious health problem that affects many Americans. Over time, the damage that it causes to blood vessels can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and other medical conditions.

High blood pressure can go unnoticed for years, which is why it is called the “silent killer.” Many people do not display symptoms until it is too late. A diet designed to fight high blood pressure is one of the many ways you can reduce your risk of developing hypertension.

The DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) diet is one method. This diet aims to reduce high blood pressure by reducing your intake of fat, sodium, and alcohol. If you’re looking to reduce your blood pressure, this diet also recommends eating foods that are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

The DASH diet also recommends introducing more low-fat protein into your diet, as well as whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. This includes leafy greens, potatoes, beets, and fruits like berries and bananas. Drinking skim milk is another way to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure as well. Eating oatmeal at breakfast is also a good start!

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH plan is promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The plan helps reduce the risk for serious health problems because it is low in:

  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Total fat
  • Red meat
  • Sweets
  • Sugary beverages

The DASH diet encourages:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products
  • Whole-grain foods
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Nuts

The DASH plan is also rich in important nutrients such as:

  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Protein
  • Fiber

Tips for following the DASH diet

To reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, try these steps:

  • Choose fresh, frozen or canned vegetables that have low sodium or no added salt.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish or meat instead of canned, smoked or processed.
  • Limit cured foods such as bacon and ham, foods packed in brine, and condiments.
  • Cook rice or pasta without salt.
  • Cut back on frozen dinners, packaged mixes, and canned soups or broths.
  • Rinse canned foods such as tuna and canned beans to remove some of the salt.
  • Use spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Add fruit to breakfast or have it as a snack.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the main focus.

Some days you might eat more sodium or fewer foods from one group than the plan suggests. But don’t worry. Try your best to keep the average on most days close to the DASH plan levels.

Following the DASH diet

Below is a chart showing how much of each food group you should eat every day, based on eating 2,000 calories per day.

Serving size

6-8 servings of whole grains
1 slice bread, 1 oz dry cereal, 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta

4-5 servings of vegetables
1 cup raw, leafy vegetable; 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetable

4-5 servings of fruits
1 medium fruit; 1/4 cup dried fruit; 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit; 1/2 cup real fruit juice

2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy
1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 oz. cheese

Up to 6 servings of lean meat, poultry, fish
1 oz. cooked meat, poultry or fish; 1 egg

4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, legumes
1/3 cup or 1.5 oz. nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons or 1/2 oz. seeds, 1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas

2-3 servings of fats and oils
1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons salad dressing

Up to 5 servings per week of sweets
1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet or gelatin, 1 cup lemonade

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