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How do I follow the DASH eating plan?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan suggests a certain number of daily servings from various food groups based on your calorie intake. Recommended calories are based on your sex, age, and activity level. If you want to lose weight, you'll need to eat fewer calories a day, increase your activity level, or both.

Here are some general tips:
  • Avoid high-sodium foods like canned soups and sauces, macaroni and cheese, pizza, hot dogs, salty snacks, prepared salads like potato salad, pickles, and processed meats (ham, salami, beef jerky).
  • Read food labels carefully. Look for foods with sodium content less than 5% Daily Value. Foods with more than 20% are considered "high-sodium." Remember to check the serving size that the sodium value and other nutrition facts are based on.
  • Go for gradual changes. For example, add a serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner. Add a serving of fruit to your meals or as a snack. Use half your usual amount of butter or salad dressing.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics

These are some tips to enjoy the DASH diet:

  • Use vegetables and whole grains as the main focus of your dish
  • Add fruits, vegetables and/or nuts to your salads and stews
  • Enjoy a fruit as dessert; fruit and yogurt in a parfait
  • Choose healthy oils such as extra virgen olive oil, canola and peanut
  • Steam veggies and add some olive oil
  • Bake, broil and grill your lean meats

The DASH eating plan requires no special foods and has no hard-to-follow recipes. It simply calls for a certain number of daily servings from various food groups. The number of servings depends on the number of calories you're allowed each day. Your calorie level depends on your age and, especially, how active you are. Think of this as an energy balance system—if you want to maintain your current weight, you should take in only as many calories as you burn by being physically active. If you need to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn or increase your activity level to burn more calories than you eat.

Choose and prepare foods with less salt, and don't bring the salt shaker to the table. Be creative—try herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, wine, and salt-free seasoning blends in cooking and at the table. And, because most of the salt, or sodium, that we eat comes from processed foods, be sure to read food labels to check the amount of sodium in different food products. Aim for foods that contain 5 percent or less of the Daily Value of sodium. Foods with 20 percent or more Daily Value of sodium are considered high. These include baked goods, certain cereals, soy sauce, some antacids— the range is wide.

DASH Tips for Gradual Change
Make these changes over a couple of days or weeks to give yourself a chance to adjust and make them part of your daily routine:

  • Add a serving of vegetables at lunch one day and dinner the next, and add fruit at one meal or as a snack.
  • Increase your use of fat-free and low-fat milk products to three servings a day.
  • Limit lean meats to 6 ounces a day—3 ounces a meal, which is about the size of a deck of cards. If you usually eat large portions of meats, cut them back over a couple of days—by half or a third at each meal.
  • Include two or more vegetarian-style, or meatless, meals each week.
This answer from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has been reviewed and/or edited by Dr. William D. Knopf.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.