Do the DASH

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I’ve written a lot about the Mediterranean Diet and our Family and Consumer Science staff and volunteers teach about it frequently. It’s a plan for eating food similar to those who live in the Mediterranean area. Eating the “Med Way” has been proven to reduce many health risks.

But there is another healthy eating plan that has sometimes been called the American version of the Mediterranean Diet. This is the DASH diet. Like the Mediterranean diet, it isn’t a “quick fix” diet, but a healthy eating plan for life.

First, some background. DASH mean Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It was originally designed to help prevent high blood pressure and lower blood pressure without medication. The research to develop it came from the National Institute of Health. The DASH diet has been around for over more than 20 years and ranks as one of the best diets around.

The DASH plan is similar to the Mediterranean diet by encouraging whole foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables. It is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium—minerals that are usually lacking in the American diet. DASH differs from Mediterranean because it recommends less sodium, fat and sweets.

Here are the basic components:

  • Grains—recommends eating 6-8 servings of grain per day. Each serving is ½ cup of grain, rice or pasta or one slice of bread. These should be whole grains if possible.
  • Vegetables—aim or 4-5 servings per day. Best if these vegetables are plain, not seasoned and low in sodium or salt-free product.
  • Fruits—the goal is 4-5 servings every day. Whole fruits are the most nutritious choice. Eat the skins for fiber. Try to include fruits at every meal.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products – 2-3 servings are recommended each day. These foods contain potassium, magnesium and calcium—all key nutrients for blood pressure regulation.
  • Lean meats, poultry and fish—choose less than 6-ounces of low-fat protein a day. Avoid processed meats that contain sodium. Go for heart healthy fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna. If you have smaller portions of these, you’ll have room to fill up more with the vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes can be eaten – 4-5 times a week weekly as they contain monounsaturated fats and are plant sources of proteins. Can you go for Meatless Mondays?
  • Fats and oils—no more than 2-3 servings of fats and oils daily. One serving is only one teaspoon. Good rule of thumb is to select liquid fats such as canola or olive oils.
  • Controlling the amount of sodium eaten is key. Maximum sodium limit 2300 mg per day. This is very important for the DASH diet to reduce blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends the DASH plan but encourages even less sodium. They suggest keeping sodium intake at 1500 mg per day—especially if you already have high blood pressure.
  • Sweets and added sugars— eat 5 or less servings this is per week. One serving is a tablespoon (that’s about 2 teaspoons of added sugar a day).

Other tips—the DASH diet encourages other healthy habits such as being physically
active, quit smoking, limit alcohol intake, managing stress, adequate sleep and weight management.

So, which is the best for you…Mediterranean or DASH? Both promote a healthy
lifestyle. Both help reduce hypertension, can help you lose weight, reduce
cardiovascular disease risks and can lower the risks of osteoporosis, cancer, heart
disease and stroke.

Check them out—both are evidence-based and there are lots of recipes online. Talk with your health professional or a registered dietitian to see if either would be beneficial to you and easily fit into your long-term lifestyle.

Source: Penn State Extension’s Exploring the DASH Diet to Lower your Blood Pressure. Special thanks to Extension colleagues from Penn State Extension: Becky Smith, RDN, CDCES, Lori Klein, EDD, MPH, NDTR and Kaitlin Pandr, MS, RDN.

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at