DASH Diet is ranked as one of the two healthiest diets to follow in 2018 (1).
Sharing the top spot with the Mediterranean Diet.
It's even outranking close to 40 other diets including the Weight Watchers Diet.
What Is the DASH Diet?
"DASH" is short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
A condition that affects more than 1.1 billion people worldwide (2).
Researchers developed the DASH Diet to help people lower their blood pressure.
The diet emphasizes on eating veggies, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains.
These foods are known to prevent or reduce hypertension and lower the risk of heart disease.
This is because high blood pressure is far less seen in vegetarian-based diets.
The diet also limits salt intakes, red meats, added sugars, and fat.
A high intake of salt and red meats over time can lead to high blood pressure. Thus limiting them aids the condition.
What Makes Dash Diet Healthier Than Other Diets?
First, it's medically created.
It was developed by the National Institutes of Health.
They wanted to create a nutrient-rich diet that would lower high blood pressure.
As a result, DASH is rich in plant-foods and lean meats. Examples include fruits, vegetables, beans, fish, and chicken.
Does Dash Diet Live up to Its Name?
Scientists and dietitians say yes.
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor, Edgar Miller praises its effectiveness.
Miller attests "The dash diet lowers blood pressure significantly."
The DASH Diet Eating Guidelines
DASH doesn't have a pre-made meal plan or list of foods to shop, per se.
Instead, it makes serving suggestions per food group.
And the serving sizes are up to how many calories dieters need to reach their goal.
Here are serving size suggestions for 2,000 calories a day diet.
Image Credit: ukhealthcare.uky.edu
6-8 Servings of Whole Grains Per Day
For whole grains, you can eat brown rice, quinoa, whole grain bread, breakfast cereals, oatmeal, and bulgur.
Here's an example of a whole grain serving:
- 1 whole grain toast
- 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa or brown rice
4–5 Servings of Vegetables Per Day
The Dash diet allows all vegetables, so everything from carrots to cauliflowers are good choices.
Here's a list of some of the healthiest vegetables you can eat:
- Green beans
- Collard greens
- 1 cup of raw greens veggies like kale and spinach
- 1/2 cup of carrots, broccoli, or tomatoes
4–5 Servings of Fruits Per Day
No fruits are off limits on DASH. Fruits are naturally sweet, high in fiber, and low in calories and fat.
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries etc.)
- 1 medium fruit such as orange
- 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen fruits such as blueberries and cherries
- 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed fruit juice
2–3 Servings of Fat-Free or Low Fat Dairy Per Day
- Low-fat cheese,
- Fat-free yogurt,
- Skim milk
- 1 cup of fat-free yogurt
- 1 cup of skim milk
- 1.5 oz of low-fat cheese?
6 Servings or Less of Lean Meats Per Day
This includes chicken, fish and lean meat.
For red meat always choose lean cuts, and limit red meat to once or than twice per week.
- 1 oz of cooked chicken, lean cut red meat or fish
- One egg?
4–5 Servings of Seeds, Nuts, and Legumes Per Week
Nuts are certified superfoods and great on any diet.
They are full of fiber, protein, vitamins, and antioxidants that can lower your blood sugar.
It can be any nuts from cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, peanuts, to almonds.
In particular, sunflower seeds make great healthy snacks.
Flax seeds are awesome for smoothies as they add extra nutritional boost.
Legumes include kidney beans, lentils, and split peas.
- 1/3 cup of raw nuts
- 2 tbsp of peanut or nut butter - no salt or sugar added.
- 2 tbsps of flax seeds or sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup of cooked kidneys
2–3 Servings of Fats and Oils Per Day
Olive oil, butter, safflower oil, avocado oil, coconut oil are all good.
They also recommend you choose low-fat mayonnaise and light salad dressing.
- 1 tbsp of avocado oil
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 tbsp of mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp of salad dressing
5 or Fewer Servings of Sweets per Week
The DASH diet limits added sugars to a very small amount.
Anything from candy, fruit juices, sodas, to table sugar is added sugar.
Unrefined sugars such as alternative sugar like honey and agave nectar also belong in this category.
- 1 tbsp of sugar
- 1 tbsp of spread jam
- 1 cup of fruit juice
The takeaway here is that the DASH diet does not recommend you any specific foods. But instead, it's an eating habit that emphasizes on food groups and servings.
Foods to Avoid
- Foods high in saturated fat
- Fatty meats
- Full-fat dairy
- Tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets
To sum up, when following the DASH diet, you'll be eating a meal plan centered around foods that are:
- Low in saturated and trans fats
- Rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein
- Lower in sodium
Potassium, in particular, is essential in balancing sodium, reports Harvard Public Health.
Reena Pande, M.D. Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School confirms potassium-rich foods are linked to "lower blood pressure and lower risk of stroke".
This is one reason why you see a lot of vegetables and fruits on the DASH diet.
Its so you can increase your potassium intake by adding natural sources of potassium with limited sodium.
There are several main guidelines in the DASH diet to meet its aim to lower the blood pressure.
The one that characterizes them the most and takes the highest importance in their diet is reduction of sodium.
There are two versions to the DASH diet:
- Standard DASH diet
- Lower sodium DASH diet
While both versions of the DASH diet emphasize sodium reduction in your diet, each offers a different level of daily sodium allowance to meet your personal needs.
Note: both standards are for adults.
- Standard DASH diet: up to 2,300 mg of sodium a day
- Lower sodium DASH diet: up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day
The standard DASH diet's daily sodium allowance reflects the sodium intake guideline set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and represents the upper sodium limit of the DASH diet, while the lower sodium DASH diet has a sodium intake limit of 1,500mg a day, which represents the adequate sodium intake level for individuals ages 9 years and older.
In the DASH study, the biggest improvement in blood pressure was found in the group that followed the DASH eating plan at the lowest level of sodium intake (1, 500mg/ day).
To find a plan that meets your health needs, please consult with your doctor.
Besides the sodium intake level, the DASH diet offers useful meal planning tips in the following areas:
- Food choices
- Nutritional intake
- Portion size
The DASH eating plan is flexible and requires no special foods. In fact, you'll be eating a lot of familiar foods on the DASH diet.
Recommended daily potassium intake for adults age 19 and older, set by the Food and Nutrition Center of the Institute of Medicine is 4.7 g.
For moms who are breastfeeding, the number is slightly higher: 5.1 g a day.
Because the listing of potassium is optional on the Nutrition Facts labels, it may not always be apparent what foods carry how much of potassium.
For easy potassium food spotting, Harvard suggests to look for foods that don't carry a label.
They include fresh produce, such as vegetables and fruits including leafy greens, orange vegetables, citrus fruits, as well as dried beans. They tend to contain the highest level of potassium.
To avoid too much sodium in your diet, stay away from banned products unless they are labeled low or no-sodium.
If you suspect you need more potassium, start with these 7 high potassium foods.
Need more potassium food ideas? Here is a list of high potassium foods with greater than 200mg per portion, provided by National Kidney Foundation.
|Apricot, raw (2 medium)
dried (5 halves)
|Acorn Squash||Bran/Bran products|
|Avocado (¼ whole)||Artichoke||Chocolate (1.5-2 ounces)|
|Banana (½ whole)||Bamboo Shoots||Granola|
|Cantaloupe||Baked Beans||Milk, all types (1 cup)|
|Dates (5 whole)||Butternut Squash||Molasses (1 Tablespoon)|
|Dried fruits||Refried Beans||Nutritional Supplements:
Use only under the
direction of your doctor
|Figs, dried||Beets, fresh then boiled|
|Grapefruit Juice||Black Beans|
|Honeydew||Broccoli, cooked||Nuts and Seeds (1 ounce)|
|Kiwi (1 medium)||Brussels Sprouts||Peanut Butter (2 tbs.)|
|Mango(1 medium)||Chinese Cabbage||Salt Substitutes/Lite Salt|
|Nectarine(1 medium)||Carrots, raw||Salt Free Broth|
|Orange(1 medium)||Dried Beans and Peas||Yogurt|
|Orange Juice||Greens, except Kale||Snuff/Chewing Tobacco|
|Papaya (½ whole)||Hubbard Squash|
|Pomegranate (1 whole)||Kohlrabi|
|Prune Juice||White Mushrooms, cooked (½ cup)|
|Potatoes, white and sweet|
DASH diet: Portion Control
Unlike other standard weight loss diets, the DASH diet does not impose a daily calorie limit.
However, eating an appropriate amount of calories and not overeating is still a part of their way of eating.
To plan your portions on the DASH diet, they provide a helpful the DASH diet log that outlines each food group's suggested portion size based on 1,600, 2,000 and 2,600 calorie a day diet.
There are also a few other tips they provide regards to controlling calories.
- Eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day.
- Reduce the amount of meat that you eat while increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or dry beans.
- Substitute low-calorie foods, such as when snacking (choose fruits or vegetables instead of sweets and desserts) or drinking (choose water instead of soda or juice), when possible.
Another way to manage your portions on the DASH diet is to follow their serving suggestions per food group.
Below is a table of the 2,000 calorie a day DASH eating plan with suggested food choices and their serving sizes. (Data taken from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure")
Daily DASH Eating Plan Based on a 2,000-Calorie-a-Day Diet
Grains and grain products
Meats, poultry, and fish
2 or fewer
Low-fat or fat-free dairy products
Fats and oils
Nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas
4–5 per week
5 or less per week
The DASH Meal Planning Tools:
Here are a few other helpful meal planning tools available to you from reputable health organizations.
- Weekly DASH menus: provides sample DASH diet menus for both 1,500mg and 2,300 mg daily sodium levels.
- The DASH diet recipes: browse from heart-healthy recipes including kid-friendly DASH recipes!.
- Fitwirr's weight loss log: Although it's not designed for the DASH diet exclusively, it helps you control your portions, make healthy food choices and stay on the right path with healthy eating. And did you know that people who keep a food journal lose double the weight of those who don't? Lose more weight and achieve your optimum health with our weight loss journal ($9.99).
There you have it! You just learned about the DASH diet and why it's called the American's healthiest diet.
What do you think? Did we miss anything? Leave us a comment below to let us know.