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The DASH Diet

What you eat is as important as what you don't eat Research has shown that diet affects the development of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Called DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, this diet involves eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products-about twice the average amount consumed by many Americans-and taking a cautious approach to meat and fats. Medical researchers recently discovered that DASH not only helps control hypertension, but it may also help prevent this life-threatening condition.

Remember: this diet is as much about what you include in your diet as it is about what you avoid. It is low in cholesterol and fat; moderately low in sodium; and high in dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. If you think this sounds like a lot to bite off, start by making small changes in your diet. Then, move toward DASH diet recommendations over time.

Getting More Fruits and Vegetables
A large number of fruit and vegetable servings are required with the DASH diet. This may sound intimidating, but the serving sizes are small. For instance, one veggie serving equals only a handful of broccoli, and 15 medium grapes make up one fruit serving. Here are some tips to help increase your daily fruit and veggie quotient:

  • Add sliced bananas or berries to your morning cereal.
  • Heat frozen blueberries or strawberries in the microwave for a toaster waffle topping.
  • Pack an apple or a bag of carrot sticks, raisins, or dried apricots for handy snacking.
  • Stock up on canned and frozen fruits and vegetables. To reduce the salt content of canned vegetables, rinse them in water before eating.
  • Add a little curry or cinnamon to canned fruits, and heat.
  • Use your microwave to quickly prepare vegetables. Pop in a potato and top it with salsa and microwaved broccoli and corn.
  • Top low-fat frozen yogurt with sliced peaches or berries.

Easy Ways to Cut Back on Meat, Fish, and Poultry
The DASH diet limits meat, fish, and poultry to two servings a day or less. To cut back, begin thinking of meat as only one part of a meal, rather than as the main course. Three ounces-the serving amount called for in DASH-is about the same size as a deck of cards. Here are some other tips:

  • Make meatless meals at least a twice-a-week habit.
  • To ensure entrees are low in fat, select lean meat, trim away the visible fat, and remove the skin from poultry. Broil, roast, or boil rather than frying.
  • Include more vegetables, beans, nuts, rice, or pasta in casseroles or pasta dishes so you'll need less meat to fill you up.

Dairy Products Are Important, Too
DASH also calls for two to three daily servings of low- or nonfat dairy foods, such as yogurt, milk, and cheese. You can add dairy products to your diet by eating low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese as a snack and drinking skim or low-fat milk with meals. If you have trouble digesting dairy products, try taking lactase enzyme pills or drops (available at drugstores and groceries) with the dairy foods. Or, buy lactose free milk or milk with lactase enzymes added to it.

Choose Whole Grains
Whole grain foods provide added nutrients, especially the B vitamins and fiber. For example, choose whole wheat bread or whole grain cereals.

Sodium and High Blood Pressure
High Sodium intake may contribute to high blood pressure in "salt sensitive" individuals. Sodium occurs naturally in some foods and we need some sodium for our bodies to function properly. It is the excess sodium we want to avoid.

  • Don't add salt at the table. Use commercial or homemade seasoning blends that do not contain salt.
  • Avoid obviously salty foods. These include foods with salt you can see and foods in a brine.
  • Read labels carefully for hidden salt. A good rule of thumb is no more than 250 mg sodium per single item serving. Most "hidden" sodium comes from commercially prepared or packaged foods. In general fresh foods contain less sodium than processed foods.
  • In cooking, use alternatives to salt and salty ingredients. Try herbs and spices to perk up home-cooked dishes.

Be selective when eating out. Request that your food be prepared without salt, or that sauce or dressing be served on the side.