Do you need the DASH Diet? If you have high blood pressure, are at risk for high blood pressure, or want to make certain that you never develop high blood pressure, then Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) may be the eating plan for you. Developed by the National Institutes of Health and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, this diet is simple to follow, reasonable in both portion and types of foods recommended, and easy to understand.
What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension is high blood pressure, as measured in milligrams of mercury on a sphygmomanometer. Blood pressure is recorded as systolic pressure over diasolic pressure. A blood pressure reading is normal if it is below 120/80. Those whose pressure is recorded at 120 to 139 over 80 to 89 are considered "prehypertensive," and those whose pressures are recorded at anything greater than 140/90 are considered to have full-blown hypertension. If left untreated and uncontrolled, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke.
What Is the DASH Diet Plan?
The DASH diet is a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and lowfat dairy products along with whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. This diet is low in red meat and sugars. Besides being a high-fiber, high-protein diet, it is rich in micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It is also low in sodium, with two different levels of sodium intake: 2400 mg/day and 1500 mg/day. The basic plan is based on a total intake of 2000 calories per day, but variations are provided for a 1600-calorie and a 3100-calorie meal plan as well.
Recommended Servings of Basic Food Groups
The basic, 2000-calorie DASH plan recommends the following numbers of servings from eight different food groups.
- Grains and Grain Products: 7 to 8 daily. A serving is a slice of bread, an ounce of dry cereal, or half a cup of cooked pasta.
- Vegetables: 4 to 5 daily. A serving is 1 cup of raw leafy greens or half a cup of cooked vegetables.
- Fruits: 4 to 5 daily. A serving is 1 medium fruit or half a cup of canned fruit.
- Lowfat/Fat Free Dairy: 2 to 3 daily. A serving is 8 oz of milk, one cup of yogurt, or 1.5 oz of cheese.
- Meat, Poultry, and Fish: 1 or 2 daily. A serving is 3 oz. of cooked meat.
- Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes: 4 to 5 per week. A serving is one-third cup of nuts, two tablespoons of seeds, or half a cup of cooked dry beans.
- Fats and Oils: 2 to 3 daily. A serving is a teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil or a tablespoon of lowfat mayonnaise.
- Sweets: 5 per week. A serving is one tablespoon of sugar, jelly, or jam, or half an ounce of jelly beans.
The DASH Fact Sheet, a 24-page PDF file available at the NHLBI website, provides a great number of tips for lowering calorie intake, reducing sodium (both at home and when eating out), understanding food labels, and implementing the DASH plan. Some of those tips include:
- Change gradually. Drastically altering your eating habits can cause digestive upset and may make it more difficult to stay with an eating plan.
- Don't make meat the focus of your meals.
- Use fruit as dessert or snacks.
- Choose whole-grain products over refined grain products.
- Read labels and look for "no salt added" products.
- Rinse canned foods (like tuna) to remove some of the sodium.
Menus and Other Aids
The booklet provides a daily worksheet to help you track what you are eating and monitor your sodium intake. It also contains a one-week sample menu with low-sodium recipes to help people become accustomed to the types of foods, portion sizes, and sodium content of the plan.