(MayoClinic.com) DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that's designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
By following the DASH diet, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, your blood pressure could drop by eight to 14 points, which can make a significant difference in your health risks.
Because the DASH diet is a healthy way of eating, it offers health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet may offer protection against osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And while the DASH diet is not a weight-loss program, you may indeed lose unwanted pounds because it can help guide you toward healthier meals and snacks.
A key goal of the DASH diet is reducing how much sodium you eat, since sodium can dramatically increase blood pressure in people who are sensitive to its effects. In addition to the standard DASH diet, there is also a lower sodium version of the diet. You can choose the version of the diet that meets your health needs:
Both versions of the DASH diet aim to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet compared with what you might get in a more traditional diet, which can amount to a whopping 3,500 mg of sodium a day or more. That level is far beyond the recommendation of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans of a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium a day.
Studies show that the lower sodium version of the DASH diet is especially helpful in lowering blood pressure for adults who are middle-aged or older, for African-Americans and for those who already have high blood pressure. If you aren't sure which version of the DASH diet is best for you, talk to your doctor.DASH diet: What to eat
Both sodium versions of the DASH diet include lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet also includes some fish, poultry and legumes. You can eat red meat, sweets and fats in small amounts. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat.
Here's a look at the recommended servings from each food group for the 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet.
Grains (6 to 8 servings a day)
Grains include bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Examples of one serving of grains include 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1 ounce (oz.) dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta.
Vegetables (4 to 5 servings a day)
Tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens and other vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and such minerals as potassium and magnesium. Examples of one serving include 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables.
Fruits (4 to 5 servings a day)
Many fruits need little preparation to become a healthy part of a meal or snack. Like vegetables, they're packed with fiber, potassium and magnesium and are typically low in fat — exceptions include avocados and coconuts. Examples of one serving include 1 medium fruit or 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit.
Dairy (2 to 3 servings a day)
Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein. But the key is to make sure that you choose dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free because otherwise they can be a major source of fat. Examples of one serving include 1 cup skim or 1% milk, 1 cup yogurt or 1 1/2 oz. cheese.
Lean meat, poultry and fish (6 or fewer servings a day)
Meat can be a rich source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. But because even lean varieties contain fat and cholesterol, don't make them a mainstay of your diet — cut back typical meat portions by one-third or one-half and pile on the vegetables instead. Examples of one serving include 1 oz. cooked skinless poultry, seafood or lean meat, 1 egg, or 1 oz. water-packed, no-salt-added canned tuna.
Nuts, seeds and legumes (4 to 5 servings a week)
Almonds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, peas, lentils and other foods in this family are good sources of magnesium, potassium and protein. They're also full of fiber and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that may protect against some cancers and cardiovascular disease. Serving sizes are small and are intended to be consumed weekly because these foods are high in calories. Examples of one serving include 1/3 cup (1 1/2 oz.) nuts, 2 tablespoons seeds or 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.
Fats and oils (2 to 3 servings a day)
Fat helps your body absorb essential vitamins and helps your body's immune system. But too much fat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The DASH diet strives for a healthy balance by providing 30 percent or less of daily calories from fat, with a focus on the healthier unsaturated fats. Examples of one serving include 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons light salad dressing.
Sweets (5 or fewer a week)
You don't have to banish sweets entirely while following the DASH diet — just go easy on them. Examples of one serving include 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet or 1 cup (8 oz.) lemonade.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. The DASH diet recommends that men limit alcohol to two or fewer drinks a day and women one or less.
The DASH diet doesn't address caffeine consumption. The influence of caffeine on blood pressure remains unclear. But caffeine can cause your blood pressure to rise at least temporarily. If you already have high blood pressure or if you think caffeine is affecting your blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption.DASH diet and weight loss
The DASH diet is not designed to promote weight loss, but it can be used as part of an overall weight-loss strategy. The DASH diet is based on a diet of about 2,000 calories a day. If you're trying to lose weight, though, you may want to eat around 1,600 a day. You may need to adjust your serving goals based on your health or individual circumstances — something your health care team can help you decide.Tips to cut back on sodium
The foods at the core of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. So just by following the DASH diet, you're likely to reduce your sodium intake. You also can cut back on sodium in your diet by:
One teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium, and 2/3 teaspoon of table salt has about 1,500 mg of sodium. When you read food labels, you may be surprised at just how much sodium some processed foods contain. Even low-fat soups, canned vegetables, ready-to-eat cereals and sliced turkey from the local deli — all foods you may have considered healthy — often have lots of sodium.
You may not notice a difference in taste when you choose low-sodium food and beverages. If things seem too bland, gradually introduce low-sodium foods and cut back on table salt until you reach your sodium goal. That'll give your palate time to adjust. It can take several weeks for your taste buds to get used to less salty foods.Putting the pieces of the DASH diet together
Try these strategies to get started on the DASH diet:
Remember, healthy eating isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. What's most important is that, on average, you eat healthier foods with plenty of variety — both to keep your diet nutritious and to avoid boredom or extremes. And with the DASH diet, you can have both.
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