If your doctor recently put you on the DASH diet and you’re utterly confused as to what it is, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. It sounds like a diet for athletes who partake in 50-yard dashes and 100-yard dashes, but that’s not what DASH means in this case.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This “diet” is not so much a diet as a lifelong approach to healthy eating with the intent of treating or preventing high blood pressure. Through the DASH diet, you lower your blood pressure in two ways: 1) decreasing your sodium intake and 2) increasing your intake of a variety of whole, nutrient-rich foods while cutting back on saturated fats and sugars.
Individuals on the DASH diet may be able to reduce their blood pressure by a few points in just a couple of weeks. With time and commitment, systolic blood pressure can drop significantly, helping patients avoid dangerous health risks.
But the DASH diet offers even more benefits to those who follow the plan. Because this approach entails a healthier way of eating, individuals may lower their risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes as well.
What can you expect to eat on the DASH diet?
The standard DASH diet will allow you to consume up to 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. Depending on the severity of your hypertension, your doctor may require you go on the lower sodium DASH diet, which only allows up to 1,500 mg of sodium per day. Consider that traditional American diets, which often include packaged and processed foods, tend to contain a whopping 3,500 mg of sodium or more per day.
Both versions of the diet include eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and low-fat dairy products. As for protein intake, expect to eat mostly fish, poultry, legumes and some nuts. You may eat red meat (and some fats and sweets), but in very small amounts.
Tips for successfully following the DASH diet.
If you’re used to eating pizza and chips and other processed or fast foods, the DASH diet may seem like some sort of punishment. But think of it this way: your diet and lifestyle choices up to this point have significantly contributed to your hypertension, so it’s going to take some commitment and self-discipline on your part to get your health back.
Here are Some Tips to Help You Stick to the DASH Diet
Make small daily changes
Change is difficult, particularly when it comes to the foods we eat. Human beings become emotionally attached to foods easily, and changing our diets affects our minds and hearts as well. For this reason, take it slow and make small daily changes. For instance, if you eat very little fruit or veggies now, try adding just one serving each day. After a week, make it two servings per day. You will start to feel better, which will help you to want to eat more produce and less garbage.
Forgive your slip-ups
When it comes to making changes in life, everyone slips; it’s just the reality. Don’t beat yourself up and then decide to quit. Instead, figure out what triggered your unhealthy decisions so you can be ready when that trigger presents itself in the future.
If you find you’re really having trouble sticking to your diet, speak to your doctor or dietician to get some extra support. They most likely will have advice that will keep you on your path back to health.
Unfortunately, the DASH diet has the word “diet” in it, but don’t think of it as something that is going to deprive you joy; think of the DASH diet as a way of life that will keep you living longer and healthier!