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What DASH Can Do for You

The DASH Diet can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which is good for your heart. In fact, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or high blood pressure. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, the DASH Diet is worth a look. It may help you lose weight because it’s a healthier way of eating. You won’t feel deprived. You’ll have lots of vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products while cutting back on fats, cholesterol, and sweets.

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Cut the Salt

Too much salt causes fluids to build up in your body. This puts extra pressure on your heart. On DASH, you’ll lower your sodium to either 2,300 or 1,500 milligrams a day, depending on your health, age, race, and any medical conditions. Here are some ways to cut back:

  • Choose low- or no-sodium foods and condiments.
  • Watch foods that are cured, smoked, or pickled.
  • Limit processed foods. They're often high in sodium.

 

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Get Your Grains

Eating whole grains like whole wheat breads, brown rice, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, and popcorn is a good way to get fiber. Some fiber helps lower your cholesterol and also keeps you feeling full longer. For a diet of 2,000 calories per day: Eat six to eight servings a day. One serving is a slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry cereal, or ½ cup of cooked whole wheat pasta, rice, or oatmeal (about the size of half a baseball). 

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Load Your Plate With Vegetables

Vegetables give you fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They don't have a lot of calories or fat -- a good recipe for controlling blood pressure. Have four to five servings of vegetables a day. That’s 1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables, 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, or 1/2 cup of vegetable juice for each serving. Iffy about veggies? Start by adding a salad at lunch and dinner.

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Don't Forget Fruit

Fruits offer lots of fiber and vitamins that are good for your heart. Many also have potassium and magnesium, which help lower blood pressure. Eat four to five servings of fruit every day. One serving is a medium apple or orange, or 1/2 cup of frozen, fresh, or canned fruit. One-half cup of fruit juice or 1/4 cup of dried fruit also counts as a serving. Try adding bananas or berries to your breakfast cereal or have fruit for dessert.

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Have Some Yogurt

Low- and no-fat dairy foods are good sources of calcium and protein, which can help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Try to get three servings of dairy every day. Choose skim or 1% milk and low- or no-fat cheeses and yogurt. Frozen low-fat yogurt is OK, too. One serving equals 1 cup of yogurt or milk, or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese -- about the size of three dice.

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Go for Lean Meats and Fish

You can still eat meat. Just make sure it’s lean. Meats are good sources of protein and magnesium. Skinless chicken and fish are also on the menu. Limit your servings to six or fewer a day. A serving is 1 ounce of cooked meat, fish, or poultry, or one egg. A good rule is to have no more than 3 ounces of meat at a meal -- the size of an iPhone. 

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Add Nuts and Legumes

Nuts, legumes, and seeds are rich in magnesium, protein, and fiber. Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart disease. Enjoy as many as five servings of these foods each week. That’s 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds, or a 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans or peas in each serving. Grab a handful of seeds or nuts as a snack. Or add beans to your salads or soups.

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Cut Back on Fats and Oils

Eating too many fats can cause high cholesterol and heart disease. With DASH, you’ll limit fats and oils to two to three servings a day. A serving is 1 teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons of low-fat salad dressing. When cooking, use vegetable oils like olive or canola instead of butter.

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Watch the Sweets

You don't have to skip all sweets. But you should try to have five or fewer servings a week. That’s 1 tablespoon of sugar or jam, 1 cup of lemonade, or 1/2 cup of sorbet at a time. Choose sweets that are low in fat, such as gelatin, hard candy, or maple syrup. Instead of high-fat desserts, try having fresh fruit over low-fat ice cream.

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Get Enough Potassium

Potassium is another important part of the DASH diet. Getting enough of this mineral may help lower your blood pressure. It's best to get potassium from food instead of supplements. Aim for 4,700 milligrams (mg) a day. Try these potassium-rich foods:

  • Potato: 610 mg
  • Sweet potato: 542 mg
  • Banana: 422 mg
  • Avocado (1/2): 487 mg
  • Cooked spinach (1/2 cup): 419 mg
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Getting Started on DASH

DASH isn’t hard to follow, but you’ll have to make some changes. Start by keeping a food diary for a few days and see how your diet stacks up. Then start making changes. You’ll aim for around 2,000 calories a day. It may vary some depending on your body and how active you are. Ask your doctor for advice.