A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods provides potassium, calcium, magnesium, and other nutrients that help maintain healthy blood pressure. That’s the basis of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), an eating plan that is also low in saturated fat and sodium. Similar to the Mediterranean diet in many respects, it is not essentially a weight-loss diet, but if you keep daily intake to 2,000 calories a day (what the standard diet provides) or less, and if you exercise, you’re likely to lose weight. One aspect of DASH that appeals to people is that it offers many choices—a wide variety of foods prepared in different ways.
A sample day on DASH
The following DASH plan is based on a 2,000-calorie daily intake; you can adjust the number of servings up or down, depending on your weight and activity level. You’ll choose from a wide range of fruits (4 or 5 servings a day, including juice), vegetables (4 or 5 servings a day); grains (6 to 8 servings a day, preferably whole grains); dairy products (low-fat or nonfat, 2 or 3 servings a day); nuts and beans (4 or 5 servings weekly); lean meats, poultry, and fish (up to 6 ounces a day); fats and oils (2 or 3 servings a day); and sweets (no more than 5 servings weekly). Serving sizes are small: 1 slice of bread; half a cup of cereal; half a cup of cooked vegetables, rice, or pasta; 1 medium fruit or 6 ounces of juice; 3 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish.
If that sounds complicated, consider this sample DASH menu:
- Breakfast: 1 cup of bran cereal with a cup of nonfat milk and a medium banana, plus a cup of nonfat yogurt with fresh fruit added. Coffee and tea are fine. Breakfasts vary; some even include a bagel and cream cheese.
- Lunch: 3/4 cup chicken salad (made with a reasonable amount of low-fat mayonnaise) on 2 slices of whole-wheat bread with a tablespoon of mustard; a cucumber and tomato salad with low-fat vinaigrette dressing; and 1/2 cup fruit salad.
- Dinner: 3 ounces of lean roast beef; a small baked potato with nonfat sour cream and a small amount of reduced-fat cheddar cheese and scallions; 2 small whole- wheat rolls with soft margarine; 1 apple; and a cup of nonfat milk.
- You get snacks, too: 1/3 cup of unsalted almonds, 1/4 cup raisins, and a cup of orange juice.
You can also download a free booklet that explains DASH from the National Institutes of Health.