You’ve likely heard friends mention they are eating DASH foods, but you may not know what those letters stand for or mean. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
With a healthy heart being so crucial to our lives, this diet could be life-saving. It isn’t difficult to incorporate into your diet, and you can easily find favorite snacks and recipes that follow the dietary guidelines. It is a simple diet, as long as you follow the rules of this program.
Cardiologists swear by this diet and have worked hard to explain the importance of it. Before discussing the significance, however, it is essential to know what the guidelines of the menu are.
Rules of the DASH Diet
The guidelines of this diet are pretty simple and include the following:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Switch to low-fat dairy foods and add a decent amount to your diet
- Consume fewer foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats
- Consume more whole-grains
- Eat fish, poultry and nuts more often
- Limit preservatives, sodium, sweets, sugary beverages, and red meats
- Measure out portion sizes
The Importance of the DASH Foods Diet
Studies show that in the last 50 years, the number of people with hypertension (high blood pressure) has risen drastically. Because of that, the DASH diet was created with the primary goal of lowering blood pressure.
While it can also help you to lose weight, reduce cholesterol, and manage diabetes, the full intention is to lower blood pressure. This goal is because high BP can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Cardiologists swear by it because studies, like this one published by AHA Journals, prove that following this diet can regulate blood pressure without requiring weight loss.
Many of the DASH foods contain large amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent chronic health problems like heart disease and hypertension. Positive results can be seen in less than two weeks once you have implemented this healthy eating regime.
What Eating Habits are Typically Like in Comparison
Cardiologists have a good reason for pushing so hard for people to follow this diet. The typical person in the United States currently consumes food that is rich in saturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids, carbohydrates that contain a high glycemic load, and too many artificial additives to count. Each of those components listed is detrimental to the health of your heart.
When cardiologists realized this was such a huge issue, they began working to create the DASH diet that was introduced in the 1990s. Once it was released and studies underway, scientists and doctors quickly found that eating habits alone can lead to an improvement in blood pressure regulation. They found this outcome even when the participants made no other life changes, including improving their exercise or sleep habits.
What You Should Eat
You should eat six to eight servings of whole grains each day. This food could be in the form of bread, cereal, rice, or pasta. Options include one slice of whole-wheat bread, one ounce of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta. It is important to choose whole grains over white bread or rice or regular pasta because whole grains have more fiber and nutrients.
Everyone should be eating four to five, serving of vegetables each day. There are many to choose from for this diet, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens, and a wide array of others. Vegetables provide essential nutrients and minerals, making them an excellent option to ensure a healthy heart.
An example of one serving of vegetables would be one cup of raw greens and 1/2 cup of chopped vegetables or cooked vegetables. You can enjoy veggies as a snack, side dish, or even a topping for noodles or other main dishes. Of course, there are always delicious salads to try, as well. Frozen, canned, or fresh vegetables are all options when it comes to DASH foods.
Cardiologists recommend four to five servings of fruits each day, which is easily accomplished. Since fruits are the perfect snack or lunch side, it’s an easy way to follow the DASH diet. A serving of fruit would be 1/2 cup of fruit (can be fresh, frozen, or canned) or four ounces of fruit juice.
Leave edible peels on the fruit, as well, because they provide many nutrients. It’s also important to note that when consuming fruit juice, you should avoid the ones that have added sugar.
You should have two to three servings of dairy each day in the form of milk, yogurt, cheese, or other dairy product. It is vital to choose the low-fat or fat-free option to avoid saturated fat. One serving of dairy is one cup of low-fat milk or yogurt or 1-1/2 ounces of cheese.
It’s important to note that you should avoid consuming too much cheese as it contains high amounts of sodium.
Fish, poultry, and lean meat
You should consume no more than six one-ounce servings each day, as it is full of essential nutrients but doesn’t allow you to consume as many vegetables. Options include one egg or one-ounce of fish, poultry, or lean meat such as salmon, herring, or tuna. The reason these are included in the DASH diet is that they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health.
Nuts, seeds or legumes
Surprisingly, you should consume nuts, seeds, or legumes four to five times each week. Examples include almonds, kidney beans, peas, and sunflower seeds, with many other options, as well. A serving contains 1/3 cup of nuts, two tablespoons of seeds or nut butter, or a half-cup of beans or peas.
You should only consume these foods a few times a week because they are high in calories. They are still important, however, due to their ability to protect against cardiovascular disease.
Let’s be real. You’re not going to skip an occasional treat. Fortunately, DASH foods allow limited treats. Therefore, while you will avoid too many sweets, you don’t have to cut them out entirely. You can consume up to five servings of sweets each week, including a cup of lemonade, a small bowl of sorbet, or one tablespoon of sugar, jelly, or jam. When consuming sweets, still remember to avoid artificial sweeteners and sucralose.
Fats and oils
Too much fat and oil can include your risk of heart disease, but they do assist your body in absorbing nutrients. As long as you keep your intake to no more than 30% of your total daily calories from fat.
Servings include one teaspoon margarine, one tablespoon mayo, or two tablespoons of salad dressing. Remember to avoid trans fat and saturated fat.
Easy Ways to Incorporate the DASH Diet Into Your Life
You may be able to substitute the ingredients in your favorite dishes with ingredients that are DASH diet-friendly. If you can’t find a proper substitute, however, there are hundreds of DASH diet recipes on the internet. Some quick and easy ideas include:
- fruit with low-fat yogurt on top
- low-fat frozen yogurt with fruit mixed in
- instead of making mashed potatoes, make mashed cauliflower
- eat a taco salad with black beans, substitute ground turkey for ground beef. And, use low-sodium or homemade taco seasoning
- have oatmeal for breakfast and top with fresh fruit
- prepare a smoothie for breakfast using juice or low-fat milk, greens, and your favorite fruits
- add cooked fish to a salad full of your favorite vegetables and top with nectarines
- make vegetable soup using low-sodium broth and your favorite veggies (add black beans or lean ground chicken for an added touch)
- have a grilled fish sandwich on a whole-grain bun and top it with vegetables
- prepare a fruit salad and keep it in your refrigerator as a quick snack option
- make hamburgers but use ground turkey instead
- cut sweet potatoes into French fry shapes, lightly season them and bake them in the oven
- have a bean burrito on a whole-grain tortilla, top with low-fat sour cream, and have whole-grain rice as a side
- dip vegetables in hummus for a quick snack
- sprinkle a little granola and honey over the top of Greek yogurt
- add shrimp to whole-grain pasta and mix in a little extra virgin olive oil before sprinkling with cheese
- make your snack mix using pretzels, popcorn, dried fruit, and sunflower seeds
Final Thoughts on the Importance of the DASH Foods Diet for Lower Blood Pressure and Preventing the Onset of Hypertension
Cardiologists developed the DASH foods diet when they noticed the association between high blood pressure, heart health, and the intake of an average American. Once they linked diet to hypertension, they began vigorously testing this program. Those research results showed how much your diet affects your blood pressure and, in turn, your heart.
Since your heart is one of your essential organs, the desire to protect it should be high on your list of priorities. By making simple lifestyle changes and taking on a healthier diet can be the only change that stands in the way for you.