The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, diet is based on research from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. It's an effective way to reduce blood pressure in individuals with hypertension, and because it's balanced and flexible, it's also a popular diet for weight loss or healthy eating.
The DASH diet recommends a certain number of servings from each food group depending on daily calorie needs. It's also a reduced-sodium diet, which helps you control your blood pressure numbers.
The 1600-calorie DASH diet is appropriate for most sedentary women over the age of 50, or younger women who want to follow a reduced-calorie diet to lose weight. The calorie intake is slightly too low for men and may leave them nutritionally deficient.
Read more: Sample Menu Plan for DASH Diet Meals
Pile On the Produce
The DASH diet focuses on fruits and vegetables because they're low in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and high in potassium and magnesium, which may help reduce blood pressure.
Three to four servings of vegetables and four servings of fruits are recommended on the 1600-calorie DASH diet daily. One serving is a medium piece or a 1/2 cup of cut fruit, such as an apple or grapes.
One serving of a vegetable is 1/2 cup of cut or 1 cup of raw leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce or kale. To meet your goals, try to eat at least one serving of a fruit and a vegetable at each meal.
Calcium and Protein Foods
Low-fat dairy products, lean meat, poultry and fish are included on the DASH plan because they provide calcium and protein, which may lower blood pressure. Two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods are recommended daily. A serving is 8 ounces of yogurt or 1-percent milk or 1 ounce of low-fat cheese.
The 1600-calorie DASH diet also allows up to 4 ounces of cooked lean beef like sirloin or tenderloin, or skinless poultry or fish each day. Since the diet stresses low-sodium foods, use seasonings like garlic, onion or herbs rather than salt to season meats. Also avoid prepackaged marinades and seasoning packets, which are also often high in sodium.
Limit White Flour and Added Sugar
Whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta provide more fiber and nutrients than white or refined grains, and they are great carbohydrate foods to eat on the DASH plan. Six servings a day are recommended, but be aware that serving sizes may not be what you expect. One slice of bread, 1 ounce of cereal, or a half cup of pasta each count as a serving.
Limit sweets and baked goods, which are high in calories but low in nutrients. Quinoa, brown rice, oats, and whole-wheat bread are excellent choices. Note that much packaged bread can be high in sodium, so always check the nutrition labels when making your selections.
Read more: Three Exercises That Lower Blood Pressure
Go for Healthy Fats
Most of the fat on the DASH diet is heart-healthy and comes from nuts and seeds. Eat three to four servings of nuts, legumes and seeds each week to get your healthy fats.
You can use small amounts of added fats from salad dressings, mayonnaise or cooking oil, but they are major sources of calories, so limit these to just two daily servings.