What is the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” Originally based on a study from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in 1997 to address blood pressure,  the US News and World Reports consistently ranks the DASH diet as one of the “Best Overall Diets.” The original DASH diet has been updated over the years to reflect updated recommendations and provide dietary plans that help to lower blood pressure, manage weight, help address cholesterol levels and lower inflammation. The beauty of the DASH diet is that it represents a way of eating that is typically appropriate for the whole family. 

Rather than imposing severe restrictions, the DASH diet focuses on an inclusive way of eating, encouraging food choices to promote health and well-being.

Some principles of the DASH diet include:

  1. Bulk up on fruits and vegetables: All vegetables and fruits are encouraged on the DASH diet. The plan recommends including at least four or five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The USDA Myplate guidelines encourage making “half your plate” fruits and vegetables at every meal. The more variety, the better.
  2. Enjoy more whole grains: Make half, if not all, of your grains whole. That promotes consuming at least three servings of whole grains per day. Whole grains are helpful when it comes to managing cholesterol and blood sugar. High fiber grains can also assist with weight control and digestion. 
  3. Concentrate on more whole foods: Processed foods are a significant source of sodium in the American diet. Start reading labels and consider portion sizes and sodium content. Keep in mind that anything > 20% of the daily value of sodium is considered high, while anything < 5% is considered low. Some of the biggest sodium culprits in US American food supply food intake include breads, cheeses, and deli meats, frozen foods and foods eaten outside the home.
  4. Include lean proteins: Think chicken, turkey, fish, and plant-based proteins. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna contain high doses of omega-3 fatty acids which may help to reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol. 
  5. Choose low-fat dairy products: Dairy products are fine on the DASH diet but keep it low-fat. Dairy delivers calcium and protein, but many dairy products, especially cheeses, can be high in sodium. Check the labels to stay under the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium for the day.
  6. Incorporate nuts, seeds, and legumes: Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and all types of beans are part of the DASH diet and a heart-healthy lifestyle. Nuts and seeds provide healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, as well as protein, fiber, and magnesium. Add nuts to oatmeal, yogurt, or salad. Snack on roasted chickpeas. Swap out meat for beans and legumes. Vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, olive, and safflower, are the recommended fats and oils on the DASH diet. 

The DASH Diet is consistent with the current dietary recommendations for healthy individuals. When choosing to adopt the DASH eating plan, remember, the most successful and lasting changes are a result of gradual change. Start small and be patient.

Keep in mind that high fiber foods should be added gradually to avoid gas, bloating and GI distress. And be sure to increase fluid intake as well. Because increasing fruits and vegetables increases the potassium content of the diet, individuals with medical issues should consult with their physician before starting the DASH diet. 

Learn more about the DASH diet with Jill Kwasny, MS, RDN at her free, upcoming, nutrition programs!

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