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DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure
DASH diet and weight loss
The DASH diet is not designed to promote weight loss, but it can be used as part of an overall weight-loss strategy. The DASH diet is based on a diet of about 2,000 calories a day. If you're trying to lose weight, though, you may want to eat around 1,600 a day. You may need to adjust your serving goals based on your health or individual circumstances — something your health care team can help you decide.
Tips to cut back on sodium
The foods at the core of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. So just by following the DASH diet, you're likely to reduce your sodium intake. You also reduce sodium further by:
- Using sodium-free spices or flavorings with your food instead of salt
- Not adding salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereal
- Rinsing canned foods to remove some of the sodium
- Buying foods labeled "no salt added," "sodium-free," "low sodium" or "very low sodium"
One teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 mg of sodium, and 2/3 teaspoon of table salt has about 1,500 mg of sodium. When you read food labels, you may be surprised at just how much sodium some processed foods contain. Even low-fat soups, canned vegetables, ready-to-eat cereals and sliced turkey from the local deli — foods you may have considered healthy — often have lots of sodium.
You may notice a difference in taste when you choose low-sodium food and beverages. If things seem too bland, gradually introduce low-sodium foods and cut back on table salt until you reach your sodium goal. That'll give your palate time to adjust. It can take several weeks for your taste buds to get used to less salty foods.
Putting the pieces of the DASH diet together
Try these strategies to get started on the DASH diet:
- Change gradually. If you now eat only one or two servings of fruits or vegetables a day, try to add a serving at lunch and one at dinner. Rather than switching to all whole grains, start by making one or two of your grain servings whole grains. Increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains gradually can also help prevent bloating or diarrhea that may occur if you aren't used to eating a diet with lots of fiber. You can also try over-the-counter products to help reduce gas from beans and vegetables.
- Reward successes and forgive slip-ups. Reward yourself with a nonfood treat for your accomplishments, such as renting a movie, purchasing a book or getting together with a friend. Everyone slips, especially when learning something new. Remember that changing your lifestyle is a long-term process. Find out what triggered your setback and then just pick up where you left off with the DASH diet.
- Add physical activity. To boost your blood pressure lowering efforts even more, consider increasing your physical activity in addition to following the DASH diet. Combining both the DASH diet and physical activity makes it more likely that you'll reduce your blood pressure.
- Get support if you need it. If you're having trouble sticking to your diet, talk to your doctor or dietitian about it. You might get some tips that will help you stick to the DASH diet.
Remember, healthy eating isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. What's most important is that, on average, you eat healthier foods with plenty of variety — both to keep your diet nutritious and to avoid boredom or extremes. And with the DASH diet, you can have both.Previous page
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- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed Feb. 21, 2013.
- Blumenthal JA, et al. Effects of the DASH diet alone and in combination with exercise and weight loss on blood pressure and cardiovascular biomarkers in men and women with high blood pressure. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2010;170:126.
- Nelson JK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 8, 2013.
- Fung TT, et al. Adherence to a DASH-style diet and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2008;168:713.
- Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. 4th ed. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons; 2012:159.
- What is the DASH eating plan? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash. Accessed Feb. 21, 2013.
- Sodium fact sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/sodium.htm. Accessed Feb. 22, 2013.
- Frequently asked questions about sugar. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Frequently-Asked-Questions-About-Sugar_UCM_306725_Article.jsp. Accessed Feb. 23, 2013.
- Potassium and high blood pressure. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Potassium-and-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_303243_Article.jsp. Accessed Feb. 23, 2013.