Part IV – The DASH Diet
This diet is based on National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies that compared three dietary plans and their results. Of these three dietary plans, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan incorporates more fruits, vegetables, reduced-fat dairy, beans, and nuts. DASH is also rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, and seeds. It’s low in fat and cholesterol, rich in potassium, and limits red meat, salt, and sugar. This eating plan is endorsed by the USDA as a recommended diet for all Americans.
The NIH has published a guidebook, "Your Guide to Lowering your Blood Pressure with DASH," which details popular food items and healthy alternatives. The manual also provides meal plans and other nutrition information along with a list of consumer resources.
Clinical studies have demonstrated that the DASH diet is able to reduce elevated systolic (the highest pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts) and diastolic (the lowest arterial pressure during the resting phase pressure) by as much as 11 and 6 mm Hg respectively. These results from the DASH Diet are just as effective as and perhaps even more effective than some blood pressure medications. In addition, these changes occurred without any reduction in the participants’ body weight. Reduction in arterial pressure was seen in as little as two weeks. The biggest benefits were seen in those eating the DASH diet at the lowest sodium level -- 1500 milligrams (mg) per day. The regular plan allows 2,300 mg daily.
The DASH diet is just a healthy way of eating that all Americans would do well to adopt for a long and productive life. It focuses on increasing intake of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure such potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber.
Daily servings include:
Whole Grains –- 7 to 8 servings (1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta; 1 slice of bread)
Vegetables –- 4 to 5 servings (1 cup of raw vegetables and a ½ cup of cooked vegetables)
Fruit –- 4 to 5 servings (1 medium apple, orange, peach, or pear; 1 small banana)
Low-Fat Dairy –- 2 to 3 servings (8 oz of milk, yogurt, or buttermilk)
Meat, Fish, or Poultry –- No more than two servings (3 oz cooked)
Fats and Oils –- 2 to 3 servings (1 teaspoon of oil)
Nuts, seeds, and dry beans – 4 to 5 servings (1/2 cup beans; 3 tablespoons of nuts)
Sweets –- Less than 5 servings ( 1/2 cup of ice cream; 2 small cookies)
If all of this looks intimidating, please don’t be discouraged. By making small changes gradually, you can adapt to eating differently without it becoming an ordeal.
Small Steps for Success
1) Add one extra vegetable or fruit to each meal for the first week, and continue this each week until you reach the recommended amount for your age, gender, and level of physical activity.
2) If you’re currently eating fast food lunches, try getting salads, hummus, wraps, and sushi from a supermarket deli for quick and healthy lunches.
3) If you like to use lots of butter, cheese, and rich salad dressings, try reducing those by half.
4) Substitute baked and sautéed foods for deep fried.
5) Switch from full-fat dairy to low-fat or fat-free.
6) If you don’t include much dairy in your diet, gradually increase dairy to three servings daily.
7) Limit meat to two, 3-ounce servings a day.
8) Include more whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.), beans, peas, and lentils in meals.
9) Try making a stir-fry recipe with chicken and vegetables.
10) Soups and stews are simple to make in a slow cooker, and they make delicious, time-saving meals that you can freeze.
A list of sources for this series of articles can be found here.