How to Follow the DASH Diet

How to Follow the DASH Diet

The DASH diet stands for “Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension” and was originally designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure by reducing sodium and increasing potassium, magnesium and calcium. It’s also used to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular conditions.

Though it was not designed as a weight-loss diet, DASH has been proven to help aid in weight loss by encouraging eating from healthy food groups, avoiding sugar and red meat, and avoiding sodium. In 2014, U.S. News & World Report named the DASH diet the "Best Overall Diet" for the fifth year in a row.

The Basics: Reduce Sodium; Add Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Fiber
Nutritionally, the DASH diet has the same dietary principles recommended by doctors to improve health and lose weight. It’s also one of the easier diets to follow because it doesn’t cut out any major food groups or stress hitting any particular macronutrient. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. It also includes fish, poultry and legumes.

Most importantly, the DASH diet aims to increase foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber. These four nutrients are key components in lowering blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, boosting metabolism and aiding in weight loss. Potassium not only helps aid in the excretion of sodium from our bodies, but it also increases your metabolic rate by increasing muscle growth. Calcium helps regulate blood pressure and helps the body burn, rather than store, fat. Fiber helps lower cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels and aids in elimination. Magnesium increases energy metabolism, supports protein synthesis, and is a crucial nutrient for treating obesity and maintaining a lean body composition.

You should note the DASH diet aims for around 2,000 calories per day. Depending on your goals, you may need to adjust your calorie intake accordingly. Consult a doctor or dietitian to determine your caloric needs.

Foods to Eat
  • All fresh vegetables
  • All fresh fruit
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Whole-wheat pasta, bagels, bread, corn tortillas
  • Brown rice, barley, oats, quinoa, buckwheat
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Unsweetened or reduced-sodium broths, sauces and beans
  • Chicken, fish, turkey
Foods to Avoid
  • Sodium
  • Sweets
  • Red meats, especially bacon, sausage, hot dogs, bologna, ham, or pastrami
  • Sugary drinks
  • High-fat foods
  • High-sodium processed foods
  • Smoked, pickled, or cured foods
Strategy
Add more fruits and vegetables. Aim to have at least four servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables each day.

Reduce sodium. Stay away from high sodium processed foods and avoid adding extra salt to your meals.

Limit sweets. You're allowed an occasional sweet, but strive to eliminate processed sugars.

Eat whole grains. The DASH diet allows for 6-12 servings of grains per day, but you should aim to make at least half of those grains whole grains.

Start slow. Nothing happens overnight, so start slow when it comes to incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Reduce sodium by rinsing canned foods before cooking, not adding salt to sauces, and buying foods labeled “sodium-free” or “no salt added.”

Forgive “Cheat Meals.” Being on a diet is hard, and the occasional slip up happens. When it does, don’t stress about it. If you give into a sweet or salty craving, enjoy the treat and move forward. Remember that enjoying a cheat meal does not mean it’s turned into a cheat day.

Read food labels. Get in the habit of reading labels and choosing low-sodium options.

Train your mind. Swap salty chips and candy for unsalted pretzels, frozen yogurt, nuts and fruit. Train your body to crave nutrient-rich foods rather than giving in to processed or sugary snacks.

Exercise. As with any diet, increasing physical activity is key. Exercise works to lower blood pressure, aid in weight loss, improve cardiovascular health and increase metabolism. Combining the DASH diet with exercise gives you a higher chance of success and increases overall health.