DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. 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.
Whether you are already following the DASH diet or want to give it a try for the first time, you can make it work for you. Here's how to get started with the DASH diet.
Prepare before you dash to the market
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 for the coming week, and write down the ingredients you need. Don't forget to plan for breakfast and snacks, too. With list in hand, you're less likely to be tempted by unhealthy foods.
- Eat first. Don't shop for groceries when you're hungry. If you shop when you're hungry, everything looks appealing, which makes it hard to resist those high-fat, high-sodium items.
Keep DASH in mind while shopping
Large displays and bargain prices may catch your eye while you're in the grocery store. Follow these tips to stay focused on foods that support the DASH diet:
- Buy fresh. Most of the sodium in a typical diet comes from processed foods. Fresh foods are healthier choices because they contain less sodium, as well as less added sugar and fat. Fresh foods also often have more health-promoting vitamins, minerals and fiber than their packaged counterparts do.
- Shop the sides. While there are many DASH diet-friendly items in the center aisles, most of your shopping time should be spent in the outer aisles where you'll find 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 diet. Low sodium foods have 5% daily value or less of sodium per serving. Look for reduced sodium and fat products. Compare like items and choose the one that's lower in sodium and fat and has fewer calories.
Stock up on DASH staples
You're more likely to prepare healthy dishes if you have healthy foods on hand. Try to keep these items in your kitchen:
- Fruits. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, such as apples, oranges and bananas. Add variety with apricots, dates and berries. Select fruit canned in its own juice, not in heavy syrup, and frozen fruits 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. 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. Buy whole-grain varieties of bread, bagels, pitas, cereal, rice, pasta, crackers and tortillas. Compare labels and choose lower sodium items.
- Nuts, seeds and legumes. Almonds, walnuts, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzos) and sunflower seeds are among the healthy options. But get 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. Look for poultry not injected with fat or broth. Choose lower sodium canned fish and meat. Limit 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 reduces the need to use oil or butter when sauteing meat or vegetables.
- Vegetable steamer. A vegetable steamer that fits in the bottom of a pan makes it easy to prepare vegetables with limited nutrient loss and without added fat and calories.
- Spice mill or garlic press. These items make it easy to add flavor to your food and reduce your dependence on the saltshaker.
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. Enhance flavor without adding salt or fat by using herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, onions, peppers, ginger, lemon, garlic or garlic powder, or sodium-free bouillon.
- Rinse it off. Rinse canned foods, such as beans and vegetables, before using to wash away some excess salt.
- Beware of broth. You can cook mushrooms, onions or other vegetables in a little low-sodium broth in a nonstick pan. But because even low-sodium broth can have lots of sodium, a little healthy oil such as olive oil may be a better option.
- Make lower fat substitutions. Replace full-fat dairy with reduced-fat or fat-free versions.
- Cut back on meat. Prepare stews and casseroles with only two-thirds of the meat the recipe calls for, and add extra vegetables, brown rice, tofu, bulgur or whole-wheat pasta.
If you tend to cook or bake in ways that call for lots of fat and salt, don't be afraid to modify your recipes. Experiment with spices and substitutions. Branch out and try recipes you wouldn't normally try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you create!