The DASH diet is something that I really enjoy counseling clients about! DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is an eating plan that has been shown to reduce high blood pressure. It’s a diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, very high in fiber, and rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Two different studies that were conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute showed how effective the DASH diet is in lowering blood pressure. Here’s what the DASH diet is, with a range of servings, depending on your calorie requirements.

Grains: you need six to eight servings a day of grains. Whole grain breads, pita bread, whole wheat pasta, cereals, oatmeal, and grits. The key here is whole grain- no white breads, rice, or pastas. You need the fiber and energy that the whole grain provides.

Fruits and vegetables: four to five fruit servings and four to five vegetable servings a day. Apricots, bananas, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, melons, strawberries, tomatoes, peas, carrots, broccoli, squash, leafy greens. Fruits and vegetables provide lots of potassium and magnesium, but are also great sources of fiber, too!

Dairy Foods: two to three servings a day. Low fat or fat free. Skim or one percent milk, non fat or low-fat yogurt, non-fat or part-skim cheese. You all know that dairy foods provide calcium, but they also give us muscle building protein.

Meats, poultry and fish: two or fewer servings daily. Lean meats only. Trim visible fat, remove skin from poultry; broil, roast or boil meats only — don’t fry. Meats provide protein and magnesium, but can have too much fat, so you want to limit to just two servings a day.

Nuts, seeds and legumes: four to five servings per week. Almonds, peanuts, mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, lentils. Great sources of energy and protein!

Fats and Oils: two to three servings a day. Teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil, salad dressings, mayonnaise.

Sweets and added sugars: five or less per week. one tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, ˝ cup sorbet or gelatin, one cup of lemonade

One reason I love counseling clients about the DASH diet is that it hardly seems like a diet at all when you get to eat this many servings of food every day! Usually, clients are very surprised when they see how much they eat with this diet.

This eating plan can take some getting used to because there are a lot of fiber servings. People who aren’t used to eating a high fiber diet should gradually add in servings of high fiber foods to avoid bloating and diarrhea.

The greatest reductions in blood pressure have been shown in people who combine the DASH diet with a diet that is low in sodium, too. Because the DASH diet is so high in fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium, you may find it easier to eat a lower sodium diet while you are eating the DASH diet. That’s great! Keep up that momentum — check out the National Institute of Health (NIH) Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure with Dash (, which has more information on the DASH diet, as well as how to combine the DASH diet with a low sodium diet for optimum blood pressure control.

Beth Heath is the county nurse manager for the Madison County Health Department.

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