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 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.
But what happens when you'd like a night off from kitchen duty? Keeping these simple tips in mind, you can dine out and still follow the DASH diet.
Cut back on salt
A key feature of the DASH diet is cutting back on salt. Because salt often enhances flavor, it typically gets heavy use in restaurant meals. So when dining out:
- Ask that your food be prepared without added salt, MSG or salt-containing ingredients.
- Be alert for ingredients, cooking styles and labels that suggest an item may be high in salt. For example, watch out for foods that are pickled, cured or smoked, or dishes that contain soy sauce or broth.
- Don't use the saltshaker.
- Limit condiments that are high in salt, such as mustard, ketchup, pickles and sauces.
- Opt for fruits and vegetables instead of salty appetizers.
Reduce unhealthy fats
The DASH diet promotes foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol. To reduce unhealthy fats when dining out:
- Ask that your food be prepared with olive oil, rather than butter or other less healthy fats.
- Request oil and vinegar rather than salad dressing, or request salad dressing on the side.
- Trim visible fat off meat and poultry. Eat only a portion that's about the size of a deck of cards, since even very lean meat and poultry still contain fat.
- Select foods prepared with healthier cooking techniques, such as steaming, grilling, broiling, baking, roasting, poaching or stir-frying.
- Order fruit and steamed vegetables without butter or sauce.
- Choose steamed or broiled fish and ask for lemon and fresh herbs for seasonings.
Take care with all courses
It's not just the entree that can sabotage your efforts to stick to the DASH diet. Beware of drinks, appetizers, and even soups and salads — some may be unhealthier than you think:
- Choose water, club soda, diet soda, fruit juice, tea and coffee. If you want an alcoholic beverage, stick to moderation.
- Choose appetizers that feature healthy vegetables, fruits or fish.
- If you want a salad, order fruit salad, tossed greens or spinach salad, without added cheese, eggs or meats, and with dressing on the side.
- If you don't want to skip the bread course, ask for whole-grain bread, rolls or breadsticks. Then stick to one piece, preferably unbuttered.
- If you want a dessert, choose fresh fruit, sorbet, sherbet, fruit ice, meringues or plain cake with fruit puree.
Avoid oversized portions
The DASH diet recommends specific serving sizes. But if you've eaten in restaurants in recent years, you know that portions are often heaping. To avoid overeating:
- Ask for the lunch portion, even if you're eating dinner.
- Substitute an appetizer for an entree.
- Split a meal with a companion.
- Put half the meal in a takeout container before you start eating.
Be cautious with fast food
Fast-food restaurants can be dietary danger zones. But with these tips, you can occasionally enjoy a fast-food meal while sticking to the DASH diet:
- Ask for no added salt.
- Get familiar with the restaurant's nutrition information, either on-site or online.
- Opt for healthier fare, such as a plain, single hamburger (lower in sodium than a chicken or fish sandwich), whole-wheat bread, low-fat milk and yogurt.
- Stick to regular size or even children's meals.
- Be cautious about fast-food salads, which often have unhealthy extras, such as cheese and dressing.
- Choose items that are grilled, broiled or steamed. Avoid those that are fried or battered.
- Choose healthier side dishes, such as baked potato or fresh fruit.
Dine and DASH
It's getting easier to make healthy choices when dining out. Most restaurants recognize that many people are trying to follow healthier diets, such as the DASH diet. Many now use icons on menus to identify low-fat items, or they list healthier fare in a special section. Many also accept special requests to prepare a dish with less fat and salt.