There’s no time like the present to tie together the link between a healthy heart and a healthy diet! For the third year in a row, a team of 22 health and nutrition experts at U.S. News and World Reports has placed the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) at the top of its list of this year’s Best Diets, praising it for its safety, nutritional virtue, and practicality.
This is a timely issue because every February organizations like the American Heart Association and medical centers like the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center team up to remind us all to prevent heart disease by exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.
Rigorous studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure, blood sugars, and triglycerides, while it increases the “good” HDL cholesterol. And the results of long-term studies of DASH have been associated with lower risk of the following disorders: stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, several types of cancer, and kidney stones.
What is DASH?
Put simply, the DASH diet relies heavily on fruits and vegetables and only a little on animal fats, sugars, and salt. The DASH diet is based on longstanding multi-site studies that have shown that foods high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium but low in sodium are effective in lowering blood pressure, naturally.
A free copy of the DASH Diet manual is available through the website of the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Parsing through this 64-page NHLBI booklet can be laborious, but I’ve boiled down its key action steps for you in this post, below.
On average, your DASH diet strategy should provide you, ballpark, with the following nutrients: 1,500-2,000 calories, 1,500-2,300 milligrams (mg) sodium, 450-500 mg magnesium, 4,500-5,000 mg of potassium, and 1,200-1,500 mg of calcium.
Putting it into practice
What foods should you eat? Based on 1,500 calories, here are some guidelines on average portions and proportions for each day. Remember that on some days you might end up with more than the recommended amount of nutrients from one group and less from another, but don’t worry. Just try to keep the average of several days close to your DASH eating plan.
Grains and legumes
5-7 servings, of which at least 3 are whole grain. Focus on beans and other legumes
1 oz. cooked cereal (1/2 cup)
1/2-cup cooked; 1-cup raw
8 oz. milk products (includes soy and almond milk) 6 oz. yogurt
3 or more
seeds and nuts (1 tbsp. or 1/2 oz.) nut butters (2 tsp.)
Meat, fish, poultry
3 oz. cooked (lean choices)
DASH diet do’s and don’ts
Do focus on getting an abundance of dark-green and bright-orange vegetables, since these are rich sources of potassium and magnesium.
Do include calcium-rich food in your daily plan. This means eating green vegetables (1 cup), sardines (2 oz.), salmon (3 oz.), yogurt (6 oz.), and milk substitutes (8 oz.).
Do limit your use of bottled salad dressings and some condiments, such as relish, marinades, and sauces, since these can contain concentrated amounts of sodium. Where possible, experiment with your own homemade, low-salt versions.
Don’t use flavored rice and pasta mixes, canned soups, or instant soup mixes regularly; they can be sodium overloads.
Don’t make your meats the “bull’s eye” of your dinner plate. Proportion your meals so that meats occupy only 1/4 to 1/3 of the plate.
Don’t salt foods indiscriminately. If you have to wean yourself off salt, “fill” a salt shaker with just 1/4 teaspoon of salt and then use only that much salt over the course of the whole day
Don’t salt your food at the table. One of those small paper packets of salt provides 500 mg of sodium, which is 1/3 of your daily allowance!
Don’t be derailed by a few days of an un-DASHing diet! Break down your goals into small steps and don’t hesitate to ask your dietitian for further guidance on your plan.