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Dash Eating Plan


The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Eating Plan is designed to help prevent or lower high blood pressure. It can also help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your risk of heart disease. The plan is low in sodium, sugar, unhealthy fats, and total fat. It is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber. These nutrients are added when you eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.


How much sodium you should have each day:

Your dietitian will tell you how much sodium you should have each day. People with high blood pressure should have 1,500 to 2,300 mg of sodium.

How to limit sodium:

  • Read food labels: Food labels can help you choose foods that are low in sodium. The amount of sodium is listed in milligrams. The % Daily Value (DV) column tells you how much of your daily needs are met by 1 serving of the food for each nutrient listed. Choose foods that have less than 5% of the DV of sodium. These foods are considered low in sodium. Foods that have 20% or more of the DV of sodium are considered high in sodium. Avoid foods that have more than 300 mg of sodium in each serving. Choose foods that say low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or no salt added on the food label.
  • Avoid salt: Do not salt food at the table, and add very little salt to foods during cooking. Use herbs and spices, such as onions, garlic, and salt-free seasonings to add flavor to foods. Try lemon or lime juice or vinegar to give foods a tart flavor. Use hot peppers or a small amount of hot pepper sauce to add a spicy flavor to foods.
  • Ask about salt substitutes: Ask your healthcare provider if you may use salt substitutes. Some salt substitutes have ingredients that can be harmful to people with certain health conditions.
  • Choose foods carefully at restaurants: Meals from restaurants, especially fast food restaurants, are often high in sodium. Some restaurants have nutrition information that tells you the amount of sodium in their foods. Ask to have your food prepared with less, or no salt.

What you should know about fats:

  • Include healthy fats: Examples are unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are found in soybean, canola, olive, or sunflower oil, and liquid and soft tub margarines. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. It is also found in flaxseed oil and ground flaxseed.
  • Avoid unhealthy fats: Do not eat unhealthy fats, such as saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in foods that contain fat from animals. Examples are fatty meats, whole milk, butter, cream, and other dairy foods. It is also found in shortening, butter, stick margarine, palm oil, and coconut oil. Trans fats are found in fried foods, crackers, chips, and baked goods made with margarine or shortening.

Foods to include:

With the DASH eating plan, you need to eat a certain number of servings from each food group. This will help you get enough of certain nutrients and limit others. The amount of servings you should eat depends on how many calories you need. Your dietitian can tell you how many calories you need. The number of servings listed next to the food groups below are for people who need about 2,000 calories each day.

  • Grains: 6 to 8 servings (3 of these servings should be whole grain foods)
    • 1 slice of whole-grain bread
    • 1 ounce of dry cereal
    • ½ cup of cooked cereal, pasta, or brown rice
  • Vegetables and fruit: 4 to 5 servings of fruits and 4 to 5 servings of vegetables
    • 1 medium fruit
    • ½ cup of frozen, canned (no added salt), or chopped fresh vegetables
    • ½ cup of fresh, frozen, dried, or canned fruit (canned in light syrup or fruit juice)
    • ½ cup of vegetable or fruit juice
  • Dairy: 2 to 3 servings
    • 1 cup of nonfat (skim) or 1% milk
    • 1½ ounces of fat-free or low-fat cheese
    • 6 ounces of nonfat or low-fat yogurt
  • Lean mean, poultry, and fish: 6 ounces or less
    • Poultry (chicken, turkey) with no skin
    • Fish (especially fatty fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, or mackerel)
    • Lean beef and pork (loin, round, extra lean hamburger)
    • Egg whites and egg substitutes
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings each week
    • ½ cup of cooked beans and peas
    • 1½ ounces of unsalted nuts
    • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or seeds
  • Sweets and added sugars: 5 or less per week
    • 1 tablespoon of sugar, jelly, or jam
    • ½ cup of sorbet or gelatin
    • 1 cup of lemonade

Foods to avoid:

  • Grains:
    • Baked goods, such as doughnuts, pastries, cookies, and biscuits (high in fat and sugar)
    • Mixes for cornbread and biscuits, packaged foods, such as bread stuffing, rice and pasta mixes, macaroni and cheese, and instant cereals (high in sodium)
  • Fruit and vegetables:
    • Regular, canned vegetables (high in sodium)
    • Sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and other foods prepared in brine (high in sodium)
    • Fried vegetables or vegetables in butter or high-fat sauces
    • Fruit in cream or butter sauce (high in fat)
  • Dairy:
    • Whole milk, 2% milk, and cream (high in fat)
    • Regular cheese and processed cheese (high in fat and sodium)
  • Meats and protein foods:
    • Smoked or cured meat, such as corned beef, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and sausage (high in fat and sodium)
    • Canned beans and canned meats or spreads, such as potted meats, sardines, anchovies, and imitation seafood (high in sodium)
    • Deli or lunch meats, such as bologna, ham, turkey, and roast beef (high in sodium)
    • High-fat meat (T-bone steak, regular hamburger, and ribs)
    • Whole eggs and egg yolks (high in fat)
  • Other:
    • Seasonings made with salt, such as garlic salt, celery salt, onion salt, seasoned salt, meat tenderizers, and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
    • Miso soup and canned or dried soup mixes (high in sodium)
    • Regular soy sauce, barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and most flavored vinegars (high in sodium)
    • Regular condiments, such as mustard, ketchup, and salad dressings (high in sodium)
    • Gravy and sauces, such as Alfredo or cheese sauces (high in sodium and fat)
    • Drinks high in sugar, such as soda or fruit drinks
    • Snack foods, such as salted chips, popcorn, pretzels, pork rinds, salted crackers, and salted nuts
    • Frozen foods, such as dinners, entrees, vegetables with sauces, and breaded meats (high in sodium)

Other guidelines to follow:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Your risk of heart disease is higher if you are overweight. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you lose weight if you are overweight. You can lose weight by eating fewer calories and foods that have added sugars and fat. The DASH meal plan can help you do this. Decrease calories by eating smaller portions at each meal and fewer snacks. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how to lose weight.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise can also help decrease your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels. Get 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise each day of the week. To lose weight, get at least 60 minutes of exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise program for you.
  • Limit alcohol: Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.