DASH Eating Plan
This guest blog post was written by Mount Mary University Dietetic Student Lisa Hillstrom
The DASH Eating Plan
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan is a flexible and balanced eating guide that helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life. The DASH eating plan requires no special foods and instead provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. This plan recommends:
- Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils.
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils.
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.
Here's a look at the components of the DASH eating plan and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Vegetables and Fruits
- Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of potassium which has shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure. Since some studies show that low levels of potassium may be related to hypertension, keeping a diet rich in plant foods can provide enough potassium to maintain sufficient levels.
- Unsalted nuts are an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, the type which help lower your bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). Rich in antioxidants, nuts contain compounds which may reduce damage to blood vessels. These compounds also keep blood vessels healthy for unrestricted blood flow.
- Calcium is not only important for bones, but also for blood pressure regulation. However, while dairy foods are rich in calcium, high-fat dairy contains saturated fats which are not good for heart health. Non-dairy sources of calcium include soy beans, collard greens and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond milk.
Limit Saturated Fat
- A DASH diet is low in saturated fats, sodium and total fat. Studies have shown that a diet low in saturated fats can decrease risk of heart disease and hypertension. Plant foods are a great way to get nutrients, including protein, without too much saturated fat. Beans, lentils and tofu are excellent choices of plant based protein.
Use More Spices and Less Salt
- An important part of eating to reduce hypertension is choosing foods that are low in salt (sodium chloride) and other forms of sodium.
- Sodium is a mineral that is naturally present in foods or is added during manufacturing- or both. Naturally occurring sodium is found in unprocessed foods such as celery, beets, and dairy. Packaged and prepared foods can have a very large amount of added sodium. More than 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods like canned soups, lunch meats and frozen dinners.
- Using less sodium is key to keeping blood pressure at a healthy level. Most Americans use more salt and sodium than they need. Most Americans should consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams) of sodium per day, that equals about 1 teaspoon of table salt per day.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
- For someone with high blood pressure, your doctor may advise less than this. The 1 teaspoon includes all salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking and added to food at the table. Before trying salt substitutes, you should check with your doctor, especially if you have high blood pressure. These contain potassium chloride and may be harmful for those with certain medical conditions. Below are some tips on how to choose and prepare foods that are low in salt and sodium.
Tips for Lowering Sodium When Shopping, Cooking, and Eating Out
- Read food labels, and choose items that are lower in sodium and salt, particularly for convenience foods and condiments.
- Choose fresh poultry, fish, and lean meats instead of cured food such as bacon and ham.
- Avoid food with added salt, such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut.
- Avoid instant or flavored rice and pasta.
- Do not add salt to boiling water.
- Avoid salting food throughout the cooking process.
- Flavor your foods with salt-free seasoning blends (Mrs. Dash), black pepper, garlic, fresh or dried herbs and spices, or fresh lemon or lime juice.
- Rinse canned foods or foods soaked in brine before using to remove the sodium.
- Minimize how often you eat out.
- Look up the menu and nutrition facts for the restaurant you are going to ahead of time and choose your meal before going to the restaurant.
- Avoid choosing menu items that have salty ingredients such as bacon, pickles, olives, and cheese.
- Avoid choosing menu items that include foods that are pickled, cured, smoked, or made with soy sauce or broth.
- Choose fruit or vegetables as a side dish, instead of chips, fries, or soups.
Tips for Lifelong Success
The DASH eating plan is just one key part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and combining it with other lifestyle changes such as physical activity can help you control your blood pressure for life. To help prevent and control high blood pressure: be physically active, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol intake, find healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, do not smoke, and aim for 8 hours of sleep per night. When you practice several healthy lifestyle habits, you are more likely to achieve and maintain healthy blood pressure levels.
When changing lifestyle habits, it is normal to slip off track occasionally. Follow these tips to get you back on track.
- Ask yourself why you got off track. Find out what triggered your sidetrack, and restart the DASH eating plan.
- Don’t worry about a slip. Everyone slips, especially when learning something new. Remember that changing your lifestyle is a long-term process.
- Don’t change too much at once. When starting a new lifestyle, try to avoid changing too much at once. Slow changes lead to success.
- Break down the process. Break goals into smaller, simpler steps, each of which is attainable.
- Write it down. Use the Daily DASH Log to keep track of what you eat and what you’re doing while you are eating. You may find that you eat unhealthy foods while watching television. If so, you could start keeping a healthier substitute snack on hand.
- Celebrate success. Instead of eating out to celebrate your accomplishments, try a night at the movies (try plain white popcorn and bring your own seasoning!), go shopping, play a game, or watch your favorite TV show.
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