What is the DASH Diet? A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

Elizabeth Vennefron - Kroger RD

by | Updated: January 24th, 2022 | Read time: 4 minutes

Continuously ranked one of the top diets year after year is the DASH Diet, according to the US News & World Reports. DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. Nearly half of adults in the United States have hypertension or elevated blood pressure, and roughly one in four adults have it under control. Whether or not you have hypertension, the DASH diet can be beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels, aiding in weight loss and improving your overall health.

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What is the DASH diet?

The DASH eating plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy, whole grains, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. Compared to the typical American diet, it contains less salt and sodium, sweets, added sugars and sugar-containing beverages, fats and red meat.

Sodium intake directly affects blood pressure; therefore, reducing salt and sodium is highly recommended. This heart healthy way of eating is also lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, and rich in key nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein and fiber – which play a role in lowering blood pressure. Additionally, research shows us the DASH diet is associated with a lower risk of several types of cancers, heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney stones, and a reduced risk of developing diabetes.

How to follow the DASH diet

A favorable aspect of the DASH Diet is that there are no special foods and no hard-to-follow recipes. It simply calls for a certain number of daily servings from various food groups. The number of servings depends on the number of calories you are allowed each day.

A Kroger Health Registered Dietitian can help you determine your recommended calorie intake. Depending on your health goals and activity level, calories can be adjusted to aid in weight loss. Servings for each food group can range depending on the specific calorie goal.

For example, 2,000 calories per day translates to:

  • 6 servings of grains per day
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 4 servings of fruit per day
  • 3 servings of low-fat dairy per day
  • 6 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish per day
  • 2 servings of fats and oils per day
  • 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds or beans per week

Knowing what equals, one serving for each food group is equally important.

Vegetables – 1 cup raw leafy greens, ½ cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables, ½ cup vegetable juice

Fruits – 1 medium fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, ½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, ½ cup 100% fruit juice

Whole Grains – 1 slice bread, ½ cup hot cereal, 1 cup flaked cereal, ½ cup cooked pasta or rice

Poultry, Fish and Lean Meats – 3 ounces, ½ chicken breast, ¾ cup flaked fish

Nuts, Seeds and Legumes – ¼ cup nuts, 2 Tbsp. peanut butter, 2 Tbsp. seeds, ½ cup cooked legumes

Low-Fat Dairy – 1 cup milk, yogurt or cottage cheese, 1.5 ounces cheese

Tips for following the DASH diet

Making gradual dietary changes over time has been proven to lead to long-term success and sustainability. Try incorporating some of these simple tips into your daily routine.

Add a serving of vegetables to your lunch or dinner. Eat a variety of colors and types. Utilize canned options – look for “no salt added.”

Eat fruit for snacks and desserts as they are naturally sweet. Aim for whole fruits to benefit from their fiber content. Utilize frozen and canned fruits, too – look for “no sugar added.”

Switch to lower fat milk (2% à 1%), choose a lower fat cottage cheese (4% à 2%) and opt for a low-fat or non-fat yogurt.

Aim to have at least half of your grains “whole grains” to benefit from the fiber.

Treat meat as one part of the whole meal instead of the focus. Increase the serving of vegetables to increase the volume of meals.

Avoid high-sodium foods like smoked, cured or processed and convenience foods.

Read the nutrition labels of common foods high in sodium – condiments, sauces, dressing, “instant” products, frozen meals and snack foods. Look for “unsalted” or “no salt added” options.

Making dietary changes can be difficult if you have eaten a specific way all your life. However, don’t let that stop you from starting. Small changes add up and can significantly impact your overall health and wellness. Food experts, like Registered Dietitians, can help you determine calorie needs and guide you through the incorporation of the DASH Diet to help you manage hypertension and lower your risk for other chronic diseases.

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