THE DASH DIET
WHAT IS THE DASH DIET?
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is designed to lower hypertension or high blood pressure. Most people who have high blood pressure are told to limit the amount of salt or sodium that they eat. The DASH diet focuses on increasing fruits, vegetables and eating enough calcium. Researchers have found that increases in fruits and vegetables, combined with calcium, effectively lower blood pressure. When the DASH diet is combined with a low-salt diet, blood pressure can be lowered even more. Many of the components of the DASH diet are part of the ideas in SisterTalk “Food for Living.”
The DASH diet recommends that people eat 4 servings of fruit, 4 servings of vegetables, and 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy foods each day. DASH also includes fish, nuts and poultry. Most Americans only eat 3-4 combined servings of fruit and vegetables, and less than 1 serving of dairy food on a daily basis. To eat this recommended number of servings of fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods, fatty foods, red meat, and sugar-sweetened foods and drinks must be limited.
How does the DASH diet work? Researchers cannot say exactly how the diet works “for sure,” but it has been shown to lower blood pressure. What substances in these foods are responsible for lowering blood pressure? Fruits, vegetables, and low- fat dairy foods contain significant levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These micronutrients, eaten in whole foods, may be the basis for the effect of the DASH diet.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THE DASH DIET?
Anyone who has high blood pressure
Anyone with blood pressure in the “high normal” range
Anyone with a family history of high blood pressure
Anyone who wants to lower their risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and cancer
Anyone who wants to prevent age-related high blood pressure
Anyone who wants to lower or discontinue the use of high blood pressure medications (only with a physician’s approval)
Anyone who wants to feel better, both physically and mentally
Here is an example menu for a day that meets the goals of the DASH diet:
AT BREAKFAST: Drink a 6-8 oz. glass of 100% fruit juice. Top a bowl of low-sugar cereal and skim milk with a sliced banana.
MID-MORNING: Snack on a piece of fresh fruit or baby carrots.
LUNCH: Top your sandwich with dark green lettuce, tomatoes, and low-fat cheese. Choose whole grain bread and lean sandwich meat like ham or turkey. Avoid mayonnaise and opt for mustard or another low-fat spread. Have an 8 oz. glass of low-fat or skim milk with your sandwich and finish the meal with another piece of fruit.
MID-AFTERNOON: Snack on a container of fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
DINNER: Have at least 2 servings of vegetables with your dinner or 1 cooked vegetable and a side salad with fat free dressing. Eat 3 ounces of fish or chicken (the size of a deck of cards) and don’t add any butter, margarine or oil to your food.
DESSERT: Can be a dish of sorbet covered with berries.
It is important to drink plenty of water and limit the amount of caffeinated beverages and alcohol in your diet. Caffeine and alcohol can increase blood pressure. When you plan your diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and dairy foods, it’s not difficult to follow the DASH guidelines.
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T EAT SOME OF THE FOODS IN THE DASH DIET?
Low-fat dairy foods are a very important component of the DASH diet. Many people are plagued with cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and discomfort when they eat dairy foods. This is called lactose intolerance. This is not an allergy to milk, but intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and dairy foods. Lactose-reduced or lactose-free dairy foods can be found in most major supermarkets. These products include lactose-reduced or lactose-free milk, cottage cheese and ice cream. Remember to purchase the low-fat or skim versions of these products. Many people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate yogurt fairly easily. The lactose that is in yogurt is partially broken down by the acidophilus cultures (bacteria) that are in it. This makes it easier to digest. If you have been told that you have a true milk allergy, which is seperate from lactose intolerance, dairy foods should be avoided.
Besides dairy products there are many other foods that can provide you with calcium. Dark green, leafy vegetables, sardines, and other fish with small, soft bones that you can eat, and tofu, all contain calcium. Many juices and other foods are calcium-fortified and can provide the same amount of calcium as milk. However, it is most beneficial to get calcium from dairy foods (they can be lactose-free) rather than calcium-fortified foods. Calcium is more easily absorbed by the body when in its natural form, rather than as a supplement. Remember, the DASH diet has been shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure and can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
For more in-depth reading:
The DASH Diet for Hypertension by Thomas Moore, MD.