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DASH Eating Plan

Have you heard of the DASH diet and ever wondered what it stood for?

DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension (high blood pressure).  In our Keeping the Pressure Down classes, we talk about the DASH eating because research studies have repeatedly shown that the DASH eating plan will help reduce blood pressure and can also be used to prevent high blood pressure.

In general the DASH eating plans increases the servings of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat or skim milk and reduces the amount of fats, sweets and sodium in the diet.

Recommended Serving Sizes in DASH Diet

For a 2000 calorie DASH eating plan this would mean eating 6 – 8 servings of grains, where at least half of the grains should be whole grains.  A serving of grains would be equal to 1 slice of whole wheat bread or half a cup of cooked pasta, cereal or rice.

For fruits and vegetables, DASH recommends 4 – 5 servings of each for a total of 8 – 10 servings a fruits and vegetables per day.  A serving size would a half cup.

For dairy, 2 – 3 servings per day are recommended and a serving size is equivalent to 1 cup of milk or 1.5 ounces of cheese.

For protein, 2 or less servings of lean meat, poultry or fish per day is recommended where a serving size is 4 ounces.  This is roughly about the size of your pam or a deck of cards.

For nuts, legumes, and seeds, DASH, recommends 4 – 5 servings per week where a serving size for seeds is 2 tablespoons, for legumes such as dried beans a serving would be half of a cup cooked, and for nuts a quarter cup would be a serving.

Fats, oils and sweets should be limited with 5 or fewer sweets per week and 2 – 3 servings of fats and oils per day.  DASH also focuses avoiding saturated fats which are fats that would be solid at room temperature.  Some examples of a serving of fats or oils might be 1 teaspoon of margarine or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing.

One of the reasons the DASH diet is effective is because it help reduce sodium intake and it also helps increase consumption of minerals that help maintain a healthy blood pressure.

Recommended Sodium Intake

The American Heart Association recommends a sodium intake of 1500 mg or less per day to reduce blood pressure.  2300 mg of sodium per day is recommended normally, but most Americans far exceed this in a day.

A typical American male consumes over 4000 mg per day. While not adding extra salt at the table is important, the biggest source of our sodium intake is from mixed foods and processed foods so you want to make sure to keep an eye on those labels when making choices at the grocery store.

Minerals Help Regulate Blood Pressure

Potassium is an important mineral that helps the kidneys remove sodium from the blood stream and excreted through urine.

Calcium helps regulate blood pressure by enabling blood vessels to constrict and relax as needed and according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans it is an under consumed nutrient.

Magnesium is another mineral that is associated with regulating blood pressure.

The adequate intake recommendations for adults ages 19 – 50 for these minerals is 1500 mg of sodium, 4700 mg of potassium, and 1000 mg of calcium.  For magnesium the recommended intake for men is 420mg and for women is 320mg.

Overall, studies have shown that even a partial adherence to the DASH diet can reduce blood pressure and also lower total cholesterol.

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