While there are still many unanswered questions in the field of nutritional science, the bottom line in healthy eating always contains the same basic characteristics: eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, make your grains whole, include fish or some other source of omega-3 fatty acids, and reduce your intake of red meats, sodium, added sugars, and processed foods.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan, promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is no exception. The DASH eating plan is often prescribed for people suffering from high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels, the heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes. It is also a risk factor for stroke and coronary heart disease. DASH is a flexible eating plan shown to lower high blood pressure, and improve blood lipid levels, thereby reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Following the DASH plan is not only beneficial to those suffering from high blood pressure, it also provides an excellent basis for a well-balanced, nutritious, and varied diet that can be enjoyed by anyone seeking to enjoy a longer, healthier life. DASH may promote weight-loss, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and even kidney stones.
The plan (1) encourages the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products, (2) includes whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils, and (3) limits sodium, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened drinks. As a result, DASH is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein – all excellent traits of a healthy diet.
So what do you need to do to follow DASH? The NHLBI provides a table setting out the number of food servings that should be consumed at different calorie-levels. For example, if you should be eating 2,000 calories per day, the DASH eating plan states that your daily diet should contain the following:
- 6-8 servings of grains (mostly whole)
- 4-5 servings of vegetables
- 4-5 servings of fruits
- 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- 6 or less servings of lean meats, poultry, or fish
- 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds, or legumes per week
- 2-3 servings of fats or oils
- 5 or less servings of sweets and added sugars
- Limit sodium to either 2,300 mg or 1,500 mg
It is important, when following the DASH eating plan, to make sure that serving sizes are appropriate. Six servings of lean meats every day may seem like a lot, but that refers to standardized serving sizes, not what most of us think of as a serving size. For example, a standard serving size of meat is 1-ounce. That is about the size of a small matchbook cover or half a small chicken leg. The NHLBI provides a table of serving sizes on its DASH eating plan page.
Here are some additional tips to help you get started on the DASH eating plan:
- Add 1 extra serving of vegetables to your lunch and dinner each day.
- Add 1 extra serving of fruit as a snack each day.
- Switch out refined grains for whole grains.
- Include at least 2 meatless meals each week (or an additional 2 if you already eat 2 meatless meals each week).
- Check the nutrition facts label on food products for sodium levels.
Note: The DASH eating plan should not be used in place of prescription medications for controlling high blood pressure. If you suffer from high blood pressure, speak to your doctor about including DASH in your treatment plan.