What It Is, Meal Plans & Recipes – Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials


Many diet plans have come and gone (cabbage soup diet, anyone?) – but DASH is here to stay. The DASH diet plan (or DASH diet) has been around for decades because it has solid science to prove it works.

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Find out what the DASH diet is and how you can use it to improve your health with a dietitian Kate Patton, Med, RD, CSSD, LD.

What is the DASH diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet was designed to reduce the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). Arterial hypertension affects 1 in 3 American adults and is a major risk factor for heart disease.

When you follow the DASH diet, you consume higher amounts of the heart-healthy mineral potassium. You also consume less sodium, which can help lower your blood pressure and improve heart health.

The benefits of DASH are well documented. Many studies have shown that people who take DASH can lower their blood pressure within weeks, Patton explains.

But it’s not just about improving blood pressure. The DASH diet can help you lose excess weight and lower your risk for certain health problems. Research has shown that taking DASH may lower your risk of:

The best part about the DASH diet? It’s flexible. “It doesn’t require special foods and you don’t have to be hungry or cut out treats,” Patton notes. Instead, DASH recommends incorporating heart-healthy foods into your daily life.

Foods to eat on DASH

The DASH diet focuses on eating heart-healthy foods that you can find in your grocery store. These foods are naturally rich in fiber, magnesium, potassium and calcium. They are also low in sodium.

If you are on the DASH diet, you will eat a lot of:

  • Fruits.
  • Vegetables.
  • Whole grains.
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Low fat dairy products.

Foods to minimize on DASH

DASH also encourages you to reduce your intake of foods that may increase your blood pressure. These include:

  • Fatty meats, such as red meat and poultry with the skin on.
  • Whole dairy products, such as whole milk, cream and butter.
  • Oils that are solid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oils.
  • Foods high in sugar such as candy, baked goods, and desserts.
  • Drinks high in sugar, such as soda, juice, and sweetened coffee or tea.

If you follow DASH, you don’t have to eliminate these foods, says Patton. Instead, take steps toward healthier choices every day. The plan will be easier to follow. For example, consider replacing a meat dish with a meatless option once a week.

Most Americans eat more meat than they need at the expense of their vegetable intake. DASH recommends consuming no more than 6 ounces of meat per day. Instead, eat more fruits and vegetables, which contain antioxidants, fiber, and other disease-fighting nutrients.

DASH sodium limits

Many Americans eat too much sodium (salt). And a diet high in sodium can increase blood pressure and the risk of heart disease.

The standard DASH diet limits sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day. But if you want stronger results, go for the low sodium DASH diet. On that plan, you’re aiming for 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less per day.

The DASH combination of nutrient-dense foods and low sodium intake has a proven effect on blood pressure. Numerous studies have shown that following the DASH diet quickly lowers blood pressure – in as little as two weeks.

Ways to reduce sodium

Most of the sodium people eat does not come from the salt shaker. “Processed and packaged foods are often high in salt, even though they don’t taste salty,” says Patton. Restaurant and takeout foods can also be very high in sodium.

If you follow DASH, read food labels for sodium content and write down how much you eat. If you eat out, try these tips for reducing your sodium intake:

  • Ask for the sodium content of dishes if available. Request that your food be prepared without added salt, MSG, or seasonings containing salt.
  • Limit or avoid sauces and condiments, which tend to be high in salt, or order them separately.
  • Look for words that indicate high sodium: smoked, salted, pickled, soy sauce, and broth.
  • Choose fruits and vegetables as a side dish rather than salty snacks like chips or fries.

DASH diet for weight loss

If you follow the DASH diet, you will likely lose weight. Combine the DASH diet with calorie reduction if you want to lose more weight. Find out how many calories you should eat based on your age and activity level. Keep track of your calorie intake and reduce it bit by bit.

But don’t go to extremes, Patton warns. “If you try to cut calories quickly and drastically, you’ll probably be hungry and tired,” she says.

If you need help creating your weight loss plan, talk to your health care provider. Your doctor can help you get started or refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian.

Planning DASH Diet Meals

A DASH diet meal plan may seem different to everyone. The key is to focus on healthy foods and to put aside the less healthy ones, Patton explains.

When you go to the grocery store, fill your cart with whole foods and choose low sodium canned, bagged or canned options. For example, original or quick-cooking oatmeal in the box contains zero milligrams of sodium, but instant oatmeal packets have added sodium.

Beans are also an important part of the DASH diet. If you don’t have time to prepare dry beans, canned beans are a good alternative. Look for versions with no added salt and be sure to rinse them off.

Build your meals around foods you love and that fit into the DASH plan. Don’t like green peppers? Instead, enjoy red peppers, celery or carrots. Make your favorite stir-fry, but use less salt, add more veggies, and swap whole grain brown rice for white rice.

DASH diet recipes

Take recipes you already love and make them DASH friendly by:

  • Reduce the salt content by skipping the salt shaker and cutting back on sauces high in sodium.
  • Add more vegetables and fruits to your recipe.
  • Cut down on meat or choose lean, skinless meats.
  • Replace butter or solid oils with unsaturated oils such as olive, canola or avocado oil.
  • Swap processed white bread and cereals for whole grains.

Are you looking for inspiration? There are many recipes suitable for DASH to explore. These tasty recipes contain higher amounts of fruits and vegetables that are low in saturated fat and sodium.

DASH Breakfast Recipes

Start your day off right with a nutrient-dense breakfast:

DASH Breakfast Recipes

Avoid the afternoon crunch by stocking up on nutritious foods during your lunch break:

DASH Dinner Recipes

These recipes help keep dinner simple and healthy after a long day:

Pairing exercise with DASH

If you’re looking to increase your weight loss and health benefits, pair the DASH plan with more movement and activity, Patton explains.

That doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or start a heavy workout. Instead, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Walking, cycling and swimming are good options. And you don’t have to do it all at once. Divide it into two 15-minute pieces or three 10-minute pieces.

You will improve your health even more if you get 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week. Moderate intensity means your heart rate is about 50% higher than your resting heart rate. There are endless options for moderate intensity exercise, from brisk walking to swimming or basketball.

Other lifestyle changes to consider

These steps can also improve your heart health:

  • Limit alcohol consumption: If you drink, limit it to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
  • Do not smoke : If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, try to quit. Ask your doctor if you need help quitting smoking.
  • Get enough sleep: Aim for at least seven hours of sleep every night.

Gradual change is powerful

You don’t have to follow DASH perfectly to reap its benefits. “Take small steps towards eating healthier every day,” says Patton. “Over time you will start to feel better and lose weight, which can motivate you to keep going. “

The flexibility of DASH makes it possible to adapt healthy eating to your tastes and lifestyle. And it helps you stick to it for the long haul.

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