DASH Diet Guidelines, Food List, Menu Plan for Hypertension

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major public health concern across the globe. It affects 26% of the world’s population and close to 90 million adults in the United States alone. The exact cause of most cases of hypertension is unknown but it is closely linked to dietary and lifestyle factors. Obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco smoking and a high sodium intake are come of the contributing factors to high blood pressure. The DASH diet has been found to be quite effective in lowering high blood pressure and even delaying the onset of hypertension.

What is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension. It is a guideline for eating that aims to lower blood pressure and maintain it within a normal range. High sodium intake is a well known contributor to hypertension. Naturally a low sodium intake is recommended.

What is the DASH diet about?

The DASH diet is not only about dietary sodium intake. It also encourages the consumption of foods that are rich in micronutrients such as calcium, potassium and magnesium which are beneficial in lowering blood pressure to normal levels. The focus on fruit, vegetables and wholegrains may also have other benefits in hypertension.

How long on the DASH diet?

It is not a dietary change just for a specific period of time. The DASH diet should be a lifelong dietary commitment, particularly for adults over the age of 45 years who are the most prone to hypertension. However, the DASH diet should not preclude the need for antihypertensive drugs unless otherwise advised by a medical professional.

What are the different types of DASH diet?

There are two versions of the DASH diet depending on sodium content allowed in the eating plan. There is the standard DASH diet where up to 2,300 mg of sodium can be consumed daily and the lower sodium DASH diet where the daily sodium consumption should not exceed 1,500 mg.

Guidelines for DASH Diet

The DASH guidelines are simple and easy to follow. DASH is not a typical diet where there are specific meals that must be consumed at specific times. Rather there are certain groups of foods that should be included or excluded in the daily meals.

  • Vegetables, fruits and wholegrains should be included or increased in meals.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products must be chosen over full fat dairy.
  • Fish, poultry, beans and nuts should be the protein sources of choice.
  • Saturated fats should be avoided and this includes certain meats, full fat dairy and oils.
  • Sugary foods and beverages should be removed from the diet.
  • Do not exceed 2,300mg of sodium daily (1,500mg sodium for the lower sodium DASH diet).
  • Aim for a maximum of 2,000 calories a day.

Read more on diet to lower blood pressure.

List of Foods for DASH Diet

The daily servings for each food group has been listed below except for nuts, seeds and beans which are listed according to weekly servings.

Grains

  • 6 to 8 servings.
  • Bread, cereal, pasta and rice.
  • Preferably wholegrains.
  • Avoid preparing with butter, cream and sauces.

Meat

  • 6 servings or less.
  • Lean meat, poultry and fish.
  • Choose oily fish.
  • Trim fat and skin from poultry and meat.

Nuts, Seeds, Beans

  • 4 to 5 servings (weekly).
  • Almonds, dry beans, lentils, peas, soya and sunflower seeds.
  • Do not prepare with high fat condiments.

Vegetables

  • 4 to 5 servings.
  • All types of vegetables prepared with minimal fat.
  • Fresh and frozen vegetables are both suitable.
  • Canned vegetables must be low sodium varieties.

Fruit

  • 4 to 5 servings.
  • Eat a variety of fruits.
  • Fresh fruit is preferable but frozen and canned fruit is also suitable.
  • Avoid canned fruit with added sugar.

Dairy

  • 2 to 3 servings.
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy.
  • Opt for low-fat or fat-free.
  • Beware of high sodium content in some dairy products like cheese.

Fats and Oils

  • 2 to 3 servings.
  • Avoid lard, shortenings and oils such as palm or coconut.
  • Opt for vegetable oils in moderation.
  • Do not avoid fats and oils completely.

Sweets

  • 5 servings or less.
  • Moderate sweet intake.
  • Portions must be small.
  • Beware of fats within sweets like confectionaries.

Hidden Sodium

Table salt is not the only source of sodium. In fact this accounts for only about 5% to 10% of sodium intake in the modern diet. The majority of sodium is acquired in foods that do not have an overtly salty taste. Processed foods, like pickles and cured meats, are laden with sodium. It is therefore important that food labels are carefully studied to ascertain the sodium content and maintain it within the daily limit.

Read more on high sodium in food.

Menu Plan

In order to plan a menu according the DASH diet it is important to define the portion sizes for the different food types. The following food quantities have been allocated to daily servings as recommended by the DASH diet, except for nuts, beans and seeds which are allocated according to weekly servings.

  • GRAINS
    2 slices of bread, wholewheat
    2 cups of rice
    2 cups of pasta
    = 6 servings / day
  • MEAT
    6 ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish
    = 6 servings / day
  • NUTS, BEANS, SEEDS
    2/3 cup of nuts
    1 cup of cooked beans
    1 tablespoons of seeds
    = 5 servings / week
  • VEGETABLES
    2 cups of leafy green vegetables, raw
    1 cup of chopped vegetables, raw or frozen
    = 4 servings / day
  • FRUITS
    8 ounces of fresh fruit juice
    2 medium fruits
    1/2 cup of chopped fruit, fresh or frozen
    = 5 servings / day
  • DAIRY
    1 cup of low fat milk
    1 cup of low fat yogurt
    1½ ounces of low fat cheese
    = 3 servings / day
  • FATS and OILS
    1 teaspoon soft margarine
    1 tablespoon mayonnaise
    2 tablespoons salad dressing
    = 3 servings / day

By following these portion sizes, the daily calorie intake can be maintained around 2,000 calories and the sodium content should not exceed the upper limit of 2,300mg of salt.

Weight Loss with DASH Diet

The DASH diet was not formulated specifically for weight loss but rather for lowering and managing high blood pressure. However, many people report weight loss due to a lower calorie intake daily. The daily calorie intake to maintain the body weight within a normal range is 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 calories for women. People who are overweight or obese consume substantially more calories on a daily basis. Therefore the DASH diet may result in weight loss which in turn helps with lowering and maintaining blood ressure within a normal range.

References:

  1. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash
  2. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

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