The DASH diet is an approach to healthy eating that's designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and to eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure and offer numerous other health benefits. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
Whether you are already faithful to the DASH diet or want to give it a try for the first time, you can easily make it work for you in your own home. Here's how to get started with the DASH diet.
Prepare before you dash off to the supermarket
Sticking to the DASH diet starts with the food you buy. Before you go grocery shopping:
- Make a list. Decide which meals you're going to make during the coming week, and include the ingredients for them on your shopping list. Don't forget to plan for breakfast and snacks, too. With a list in hand, you're less likely to stray from the DASH diet to the tempting but unhealthy foods. As a bonus, you may save time and money on grocery shopping by using a list.
- Eat first. Don't grocery shop when hungry. This is a cardinal rule of grocery shopping, whether you follow the DASH diet or not. If you shop when you're hungry, everything will look appealing, which makes it hard to resist those high-fat, high-sodium items.
Remember the DASH guidelines while you shop
Large displays and bargain prices may catch your eye while you're in the grocery store. To focus on foods that support the DASH diet guidelines:
- Buy fresh. Fresh foods often are healthier choices than are processed foods because they often contain less sodium, fat and added sugar. And with fresh foods, you — not the manufacturer — control the ingredients that go into your meals. Fresh foods also often have more flavor and health-promoting vitamins, minerals and fiber than their packaged counterparts do. If you do buy convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, luncheon meats or soups, choose those with reduced sodium and fat.
- Shop the perimeter. While there are many DASH diet-friendly items in the center aisles, focus on spending most of your shopping time in the areas of the grocery store where there's fresh produce, low-fat dairy products and lean meats.
- Read labels. Most packaged foods in the U.S. have a Nutrition Facts label that can help you figure out how they fit into your DASH diet. Compare like items and choose the one that's lower in sodium and fat and has fewer calories.
Stock your kitchen with DASH staples
You're more likely to prepare healthy dishes if you have healthy foods on hand. Try to keep these staples in your home:
- Fruits. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, such as apples, oranges and bananas. Add variety by looking beyond the ordinary to apricots, dates and berries. Select fruit canned in its own juice , not in heavy syrup, and frozen fruit without added sugar.
- Vegetables. Buy fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and spinach. Choose frozen vegetables without added salt or butter or sauces, and opt for canned vegetables low in sodium.
- Low-fat dairy products. Look for lower fat dairy options when buying milk, buttermilk, cheeses, yogurt and sour cream.
- Grains. Aim for whole-grain and low-fat varieties of bread, bagels, pitas, cereal, rice, pasta, crackers and tortillas. Compare labels and choose the items lower in sodium.
- Nuts, seeds and legumes. Almonds, walnuts, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzos) and sunflower seeds are among the healthy options. But get the unsalted or low-salt varieties.
- Lean meats, poultry and fish. Opt for lean selections, such as fish, skinless chicken and turkey, pork tenderloin, extra-lean ground beef, and round or sirloin beef cuts. Avoid canned, smoked or processed meats, such as deli meats.
- Condiments, seasonings and spreads. Herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, salsas and olive oil can add zest to your meals without the salt overload. Choose low- or reduced-sodium versions of condiments.
Choose the right cookware
Your cookware and kitchen gadgets can make it easier to follow the DASH diet. Helpful items include:
- Nonstick cookware. Nonstick cookware can reduce the need to use oil or butter when sauteing meat or vegetables.
- Vegetable steamer insert. A vegetable steamer insert that can fit into the bottom of just about any saucepan can help you prepare steamed vegetables without any butter or oil.
- Spice mill or garlic press. These items may make it easier to add flavor to your food without reaching for the shaker of salt.
Use healthy cooking techniques
Unhealthy cooking habits can sabotage your other efforts to stick to the DASH diet. Use these tips to help reduce sodium and fat:
- Spice it up. To enhance flavor without adding salt or fat, use onions, herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, fresh peppers, garlic or garlic powder, ginger, lemons, limes, sodium-free bouillon, or even small amounts of reduced-sodium soy sauce.
- Rinse it off. Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, beans and vegetables, before using to wash away some excess salt.
- Beware of broth. Saute onions, mushrooms or other vegetables in water or a little low-sodium broth. But because even low-sodium broth can add lots of unnecessary sodium, sometimes a healthy oil may be the best option.
- Make lower fat substitutions. Use lower fat dairy products, such as reduced-fat cream cheese and fat-free sour cream, instead of their higher fat counterparts.
- Cut back on meat. Prepare stews and casseroles with only two-thirds of the meat the recipe calls for, adding extra vegetables, brown rice, tofu, bulgur or whole-wheat pasta instead.
If you tend to cook or bake in ways that call for lots of fat and sodium, don't be afraid to modify your recipes. Experiment with spices, substitutions or recipes you wouldn't normally try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you create — and it could be the start of new family traditions.