Author: Anna Frinzi
The DASH diet stands for a Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, and is intended to help prevent or reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. The first is systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The second number is referred to as diastolic blood pressure and measures the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest between beats (CDC). Having high blood pressure is typically diagnosed when your systolic and diastolic blood pressure values are consistently above a normal level.
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is defined as the systolic blood pressure value being between 130 and 139 mmHg consistently, and the diastolic value being between 80 and 89 mmHg consistently. This is typically the range where your medical professional may diagnose hypertension and offer advice on managing your blood pressure. This may include medications, lifestyle changes, or even the DASH diet eating plan.
What is the DASH Diet?
The DASH diet offers an eating plan with specific daily and weekly recommendations for each food group, along with specifications for sodium and potassium intake in order to combat hypertension. The DASH diet is rich in potassium, with a recommended target amount of 4700 milligrams each day. Potassium helps to reduce the effects of sodium on blood pressure, thus helping to prevent hypertension.
There are two options for sodium level intake when adhering to the DASH diet eating plan. The first option is to stay below 2300 mg of sodium per day and the other option is to stay below 1500 mg of sodium. The typical American diet is high in sodium, so either option is usually a reduction in salt intake. It is advised to check in with your medical professional to determine which option is most suitable for your health and eating preferences.
In adhering to these recommended sodium values, it can be helpful to read the nutritional labels on all food items carefully, as salt is hidden in many foods we consume each day, particularly processed foods. Based on a 2000 calorie a day diet, the DASH diet offers these recommended amounts for each food group:
- Grains: 6-8 daily servings
- Lean meats, poultry, and fish: 6 or less daily servings
- Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
- Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 servings per day
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings per day
- Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas: 4-5 daily servings
- Sweets: 5 or less daily servings
When starting off on the DASH diet, it can be helpful to create a food list before going to the grocery store. From the food group recommendations, you may wish to gather recipes that are high in the recommended food groups such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats, poultry, etc. After collecting recipes that work for you and your lifestyle, the next step is to come up with a meal plan.
After creating a meal plan for the week, it’s time to make a list of food items. With a food list in hand as you shop, it is considerably easier to stick with your target food items and avoid unhealthy options when perusing the grocery store. Taking these simple steps of preparation before grocery shopping can be key to gaining control of your health and reducing the risk of hypertension while following the DASH diet guidelines.
When shopping for foods at the grocery store that fit into the DASH diet guidelines, it is important to always check the nutrition label and determine the amount of sodium in each item. The more whole and natural the food, the better! Try to choose foods that come straight from the ground, rather than processed foods that are typically high in fats, salt, and sugar.
Before grocery shopping, it can be helpful to check out your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see what is needed for the week and what to stock up on. As you start your DASH diet food list, be sure to gather some flavors that will add to the foods and add variety to the dishes you create. Some solid pantry items to always have on hand are the following: salt-free seasoning blends, fresh/dried herbs and spices, fresh lemon or juice, flavored vinegars, olive oil, salsa, garlic powder, sodium-free bouillon, garlic, onions.
When choosing condiments to add into meals, choose the low-sodium or reduced-sodium option available to help reduce the risk of hypertension. As you shop for groceries that align with the DASH diet eating plan, be sure to check out the list below for ideas in each food group.
Food List for the DASH Diet
When shopping for grains, be sure to choose the whole-grain option and compare the labels to find the lowest sodium item available. This might include:
- Whole grain bread
- Whole grain pita bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Whole oats (ex. Steel cut oats)
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat bagel
Lean meats, poultry, and fish
When choosing meat, go for the leanest option available such as fish, skinless chicken, extra-lean ground beef, and round or sirloin beef cuts. Limit smoked or processed meats, such as deli meats. Always aim to select the lower sodium canned fish and meat items. Examples:
- Fish (cod, halibut, rockfish, trout)
- Pork tenderloin
- Unsalted water-packed tuna
There are many options available for purchasing vegetables. You can choose fresh, frozen, or canned options. If choosing frozen vegetables, try to select options with no added sodium or butter. When choosing canned vegetables, try to choose the low sodium option as well. Here are some options to get you started:
- Sweet potato
- Split peas
- Raw baby carrots
- Romaine lettuce
- Lima beans
Add variety when choosing fruits and try to add in fruits of all colors. Select fruits that are canned in their own juice, rather than in syrup, and choose frozen fruits that have no additional sugar. Good DASH diet fruits include:
- Black berries
Low-fat or dairy-free products
With any dairy product you select, try to choose the lower fat option. This could include:
- Skim milk
- Fat-free, low-calorie yogurt
- Fat-free, low-fat, or reduced-fat cheese
Fats and oils
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Coconut oil
Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas
When shopping for these options, be sure to select the raw, unsalted or low-sodium items. For example:
- Lima beans
- Lentils, cooked
- Kidney beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Peanut butter
- Nut butters
- Split peas
- Sesame seeds
Sweets / sweeteners
- Agave syrup
- Maple syrup
The Bottom Line
The DASH diet has been tested and backed by science for its positive effect on reducing high blood pressure as shown in the research article in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. Following the DASH diet can be fairly simple with proper planning and preparation with your food list and meal planning.
As you consider the DASH diet and food items to stock up on to start this eating plan, try checking out Noom to receive additional accountability and motivation from a personalized coach and group support. Noom can provide that extra boost of adherence to the DASH eating plan along with creating other healthy habits, helping you lose weight for good. Check out Noom today to get started on your sustainable weight loss journey!