The DASH Diet is one of the most popular dietary approaches to stop high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension and includes foods from food groups that support your health. This includes low sodium foods, high potassium foods and minimizes the use of processed and packaged foods.
Most people are guided toward the DASH way of eating by a doctor they trust to provide medical advice. You may have been given plenty of information on the relationship between healthy eating and controlling high blood pressure, but it can still be a bit confusing once you’re on your own and ready to put it into action.
Here are the guidelines to follow for a DASH eating plan, including each food group that should be included in a well-rounded, healthy DASH Diet meal plan.
Main Sources of Sodium
The average person eating the typical American diet consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium each day. This far exceeds the recommended maximum sodium limit of 2,300 mg. It isn’t really that we’re pouring spoonfuls of table salt on our plates at dinner, but rather that sodium is hidden in so many of the foods we eat.
Many of the convenience foods (aka processed foods) that we reach for every day to make our lives easier are loaded with sodium. Packaged meals and snacks, canned foods, cheeses, canned soup, canned meats, premade sauces, and salty snacks top the list of high sodium foods.
If it has been suggested that you follow the DASH Diet, it’s important that you keep your daily sodium intake below the suggested 2,300 mg guideline. In some cases, your physician may want you to go even lower, sometimes down to as little as 1.500 mg per day, depending on your individual health concerns.
To lower blood pressure and stop hypertension with the DASH Diet, always check the food labels of any processed food you eat and be aware of the sneaky places sodium hides, like breads and tortillas made with baking soda. Processed meats, including most lunch meats, sausages, and hot dogs, are also high in sodium. A lunch meat sandwich on high sodium bread with a pickle and a few pretzels is enough to use up most of your daily sodium intake in just one meal.
DASH Diet Food List
The DASH Diet food list includes foods that are low in sodium and foods that are rich in potassium. The DASH Diet doesn’t specifically detail how many calories you should consume each day, but most people find that they end up eating fewer calories simply because they’re eating healthier, more filling foods.
Following any new healthy diet can be confusing at first, but fortunately, the DASH Diet is pretty straightforward. You’re not worried about counting macronutrients or keeping track of your calorie intake. The DASH Diet emphasizes foods that are high in potassium and low in sodium. When following the DASH dietary approaches, there’s no shortage of delicious foods to eat.
To simplify things, we’ve compiled a list of the most important foods to include while following the DASH Diet. Any portion sizes or servings that are recommended are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. If your suggested daily caloric intake is more or less than this, you should adjust accordingly.
Foods to include while following the DASH Diet guidelines:
Whole Grains & Starches
If you’re someone who just doesn’t understand the following around keto because you love bread and pasta and never want to give them up, you can have your bread and eat it too with the DASH Diet.
The one thing you have to watch out for with prepackaged breads and grain products is that they don’t contain too much sodium. Always opt for whole grains over refined grains. Choose grains like oats, barley, cereal, whole grain pasta, and whole wheat bread products.
This category also includes starchy plant-based foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams. Potatoes are also high in potassium, so recommended on the DASH Diet. Sweet potatoes and yams are packed with fiber and add nutritional variety to your daily diet.
The DASH Diet recommends 6-8 servings of whole grains and starches per day. An example of serving would be one slice of bread or one cup of granola.
Vegetables of all types are something you can pile your plate high with when following the DASH Diet for high blood pressure. Of course, potassium-rich veggies like potatoes, cooked spinach, and mushrooms are extra good for you.
Fresh and frozen vegetables are best, but canned are more practical for many households. Choose low sodium canned vegetables, but if low sodium isn’t an option, make sure to give them a rinse to get rid of any extra sodium clinging to the surface.
Aim for 4-5 servings of vegetables per day. An example of a serving of vegetables would be 1 cup of fresh spinach or ½ cup of fresh broccoli florets.
Fruits satisfy your sweet tooth, contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are available in your local produce section, the freezer section, or canned section (or a garden if you’re lucky enough!). When choosing canned fruits, opt for low sugar or fruits that aren’t packed in heavy syrup. Bananas are also a great source of potassium, so make sure those are at the top of your list.
Aim for 4-5 servings of fruit per day, with a serving being equal to 1 medium piece of fruits, ½ cup of cut-up fresh or frozen fruit, or ¼ cup dried fruit.
Low-Fat Dairy Products
You can enjoy the low-fat dairy products that you love while following the DASH protocol. You want to avoid or limit full-fat dairy products and choose low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, and low-fat cheese instead.
Some cheese is deceptively high in sodium, so make sure you check food labels, especially on any cheese product that comes in a container.
Aim for 2-3 servings per day, with a serving being 1 cup of low-fat milk or ½ cup low-fat yogurt.
Protein, whether it comes from animal or plant sources, is an important part of any diet. Protein also has a major satiety factor and can help you feel full, even with smaller portion sizes.
Your best options for protein include lean meat, like chicken or turkey. Fish like salmon is also a great choice, as are plant-based proteins like tofu. Be careful with shrimp, as it can have some natural sodium to it. You also want to go easy on red meat, eating sparingly, if at all, along with processed meat, canned meat, and bacon.
Aim for six servings of protein a day, with a serving only being 1 ounce of chicken or fish. The typical sized food servings of protein are usually 3-4 ounces, so two of these sized servings per day would meet the guidelines.
Beans, Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes
Nuts, seeds, and beans are good choices for the DASH Diet because of their nutritional density, fiber, and how filling they can be. The only word of caution here is to watch out for added salt. Choose nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews but make sure that they’re unsalted.
If you have the time to cook dry beans, these are best because you can control the amount of sodium that goes into them. Canned beans, like kidney beans, are notoriously high in sodium, so remember to always rinse canned foods or choose low sodium options if they’re available.
Aim for 4-5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes. A serving size is 1.5 ounces of nuts or two tablespoons of unsalted nut butter.
Oils & Fats
The DASH Diet isn’t a zero-fat diet, but the plan does emphasize healthy, monounsaturated fats in moderate amounts. A little oil or fat helps your body absorb some nutrients from the food you eat, so don’t hesitate to add a dash of olive oil to a salad or whole wheat pasta.
You can have 2-3 servings per day of fats and oils. Choose healthy fats like whole avocado slices, olive oil, or avocado oil. A serving size is one teaspoon of oil, so watch portions carefully.
Sugars & Sweets
You can have a small amount of sugars and sweets on the DASH Diet. The best option is to add in more fruits when you’re craving a little sweetness, but added sugar isn’t completely out of the question if you keep moderation in mind.
Aim for less than five servings of sugar per week, with a serving size being one tablespoon of sugar or honey or 1 ounce of dark chocolate.
DASH Diet Shopping Tips
Grocery shopping isn’t always a barrel of fun, especially when you’re facing the challenge of adapting to a new way of eating. The best advice here is not to let yourself become completely overwhelmed and take it one step at a time. Here are a few tips for shopping with your DASH Diet grocery list.
- Plan at least 3-5 days worth of meals for your first trip to the store, and make a list of everything you need
- Even if you think you have it all memorized, make a shopping list of DASH foods and stick with it
- Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry or indulging in a little self-pity about having to change your dietary lifestyle
- Shop the edges of the store first – this is where all the fresh food is
- Stay away from packaged foods as much as possible
- If a food has a label, read it and pay attention to portion sizes when considering sodium content
- Make friends with fresh and dried herbs – they will replace your craving for salt
- Choose fresh produce whenever possible and shop for local seasonal foods for peak freshness
DASH Diet Meal Delivery
Taking control of your health and winning the battle against high blood pressure isn’t something you have to do on your own. Some people love meal planning, making grocery lists, shopping, and cooking, but this isn’t for everyone. DASH Diet meal delivery services are an option that makes it easier to follow DASH guidelines, stick to the diet, and enjoy every meal at the same time.
We’ve tested all of the meal delivery services that offer DASH-friendly meals. You can read the full DASH Diet meal delivery review, but our favorites ModifyHealth, Mom’s Meals, and also Splendid Spoon as plant-based, DASH-friendly options.
These types of meal delivery services offer a selection of meals that are already prepared. To make it onto the list of DASH-friendly services, they have to offer meals that are designed to help you reach your health goals, including lowering blood pressure, eating healthy, and using the cleanest, unprocessed ingredients possible.
What foods are on the DASH Diet?
The DASH Diet emphasizes healthy eating that’s designed to lower blood pressure and protect your heart health. Foods that help support this are fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, nuts, beans, plant-based natural sources of protein, and healthy non-saturated fat. Low sodium and high potassium are the main things to aim for.
Are eggs allowed on the DASH Diet?
Yes, you can enjoy eggs on the DASH Diet but keep moderation in mind. A good rule of thumb is to stick to 2-4 eggs per week.
Are potatoes allowed on the DASH Diet?
Potatoes are not only allowed on the DASH Diet; it’s also encouraged that you eat them. Potatoes are also one of the potassium-rich foods, which also helps to lower blood pressure. They make the list of healthy foods as long as you don’t load them down with extra salt.
Enjoy a Heart Healthy Eating Style with the DASH Diet
The DASH Diet is one of the most effective dietary approaches for reducing blood pressure and offers many other health benefits. Lean on nutrition that can help control blood pressure, protect your heart health, and even help if you’re interested in weight loss. Always follow your doctor’s advice, but the DASH lifestyle for controlling high blood pressure is one of the best decisions you can make for your health.