Basic DASH Diet: 4 Things to Know to Get You Started

Erin Swenson, Food Blogger and Public Health Educator

1. DASH Diet Overview

Whether you are trying to lower your blood pressure, lose weight, or just eat healthier, following the DASH diet can help you meet your goals.  DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was originally developed in the 1990’s by the NIH to help people reduce their blood pressure. In some studies, following the DASH diet proved to be just as effective at lowering blood pressure as taking medication to reduce blood pressure. 

The DASH diet focuses on eating foods that are low in sodium, fat, and sugar, and focusing on eating foods high in fiber, protein, and other essential nutrients. A basic breakdown of the diet separates macronutrients into percentages. Macronutrients consist of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. These are the main components of the foods we eat. These macronutrients are sometimes called macros for short. The DASH diet gives recommended targets for other micronutrients and essential minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. There is also a target goal for fiber. Fiber is not a macro micronutrient, but is essential to gut health as well as heart health.

·        Fats 27% of calories with 6%or less of those saturated fat

·        Protein 18% of calories

·        Carbohydrates 55% of calories

·        Sodium intake at or below 2300 mg per day

·        Potassium 4700 mg

·        Calcium 1250 mg

·        Magnesium 500 mg

·        Dietary fiber 30 g per day

(The above values are for a 2100 calorie per day diet and can be found on page 5 of https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/new_dash.pdf )   

DASH diet

2. Why Should I Follow It?

High blood pressure or hypertension can lead to a slew of problems within our bodies. Ideal blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association, is less than 120/80. Anything higher can lead to increased stress on our cardiovascular system. That stress can have a negative impact on other parts of our bodies as well. High blood pressure increases your risk for:

·        Heart Attack

·        Heart Failure

·        Stroke

·        Vision Loss

·        Kidney Disease/Failure

To learn more about the risks of high blood pressure visit https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure

3. What Does it Look Like?

So, what does the DASH diet look like in your daily life.  The DASH diet provides guidelines for a healthy lifestyle and is a diet that you can follow for the rest of your life.  It is not a fad diet that will come and go out of popularity.  It is a proven way of eating that can improve your overall health and life. A basic breakdown of a daily eating plan:

·        Grains 6-8 servings focusing on whole grain

·        Vegetables 4-5 servings

·        Fruit 4-5 servings

·        Dairy 2-3 servings of fat free or low fat

·        Lean meats, poultry, and fish 6 or less servings

·        Fats and oils 2-3 servings

·        Nuts, seeds, and legumes 4-5 servings per week

·        Sweets and added sugars 5 or less per week

With that basic overview in mind, look for foods that will help you meet your micronutrient goals.

Potassium

Potassium Rich Foods

Potassium works in our bodies to help with muscle function, nerve impulses, and fluid balance. The recommended daily potassium intake for an adult is 4700 mg. What foods are high in potassium? Unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and meat are the best sources for potassium. Below is a list of some of the foods highest in potassium, but there are many more.

·        Apricots

·        Lentils

·        Acorn Squash

·        Raisins

·        Baked potato

·        Kidney beans

·        Bananas

·        Spinach

(For more information on Potassium visit: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Potassium-HealthProfessional/ )

Calcium

Calcium Rich Foods

Calcium is not only essential for healthy teeth and bones, but it is also used in the body for the transmission of nerve impulses, blood clotting, and muscle contraction(?). the recommended daily intake of calcium is 1250 mg. We all know that dairy products are high in calcium, but there are other sources.

·        Fortified juices

·        Sardines

·        Tofu

·        Kale

·        Turnip greens

·        Broccoli

(For more information on Calcium visit: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/ )

Magnesium

Magnesium Rich Foods

Magnesium found in soil and ocean water and is essential to many different functions in the body including, but not limited to glucose and insulin metabolism. Using the DASH diet the recommended daily magnesium intake is 500 mg.

·        Pumpkin seeds

·        Chia seeds

·        Almonds

·        Spinach

·        Cashews

(For more information on Magnesium visit: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ )

Sodium is a micronutrient that our bodies need.  While essential to muscle and nerve function, as well as fluid balance, glucose, and amino acid absorption, we often get much more that our bodies need.  This excess leads to hypertension and other problems in the body. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2300 mg per day, and the American Heart Association recommends no more than 1500 mg per day. Along with these recommendations, our daily need for sodium decreases as we age. The main source of sodium in most people’s diet is processed foods. Salt is added to these products to enhance flavor. Foods high in sodium to avoid or reduce in your diet:

·        Canned soups

·        Frozen dinners

·        Processed meats

·        Cheeses

The DASH diet can help you to reduce your blood pressure, lose weight, and reach your health goals. By focusing on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and low fat dairy products, you can meet the dietary recommendations provided in following this diet and be on your way to a healthier you.

4. Where Can I Find Additional Resources?

There are many great resources for individuals interested in using the DASH diet to improve their health. The NIH has a full pamphlet with meal plans and additional info available here https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/new_dash.pdf.  

The Mayo Clinic has a great list for cooking and shopping for the DASH diet that can be found here https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20045913.

Tips on following the DASH diet when eating out found here https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20044759.

Another excellent resource is food journaling.   By tracking what and how much you are eating, you are able to get a better idea of what macronutrient percentages you might need to adjust, as well as a better idea of how close you are to meeting your micronutrient goals. Here is an article that compares the 10 best nutrition tracking apps, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-iphone-android-apps.   

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