DASH Diet Guidelines and Food Lists

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

Whether you are new to the DASH diet or looking to tune up your meal plan, here's everything you need to know about the best foods to eat for hypertension. Includes, daily guidelines, food lists, serving sizes, and a sample menu!

What is the DASH Diet?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension - and hypertension is really just a fancy way of saying high blood pressure. So a DASH Diet is designed specifically to help lower your blood pressure through changes in eating habits and food choices. 

The DASH diet originated in the early 1900’s when the National Institute of Health (NIH) started funding research to examine which foods and styles of eating impact blood pressure. What they found was that certain dietary approaches were extremely effective in helping to control blood pressure in people with hypertension and those without (1)! In fact, the results were so influential, that experts often recommend a DASH diet as the first line of defense in controlling hypertension, even before medication. 

It is crucial to note that the DASH diet is intended to be a lifelong approach to healthy eating, not a quick-fix solution. 

Health Benefits of DASH Diet Plan

Besides the potential to lower blood pressure, a DASH diet is associated with other positive health benefits like lowered LDL "bad" cholesterol (2). Additionally, because it is built on healthy eating habits and emphasizes nutritious food choices and portion control, a DASH diet looks similar to suggested dietary approaches for weight loss, and reduced risk of diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease (3,4).

What Foods Lower Blood Pressure?

The relationship between food and health is complex to say the least. It is extremely difficult to prove that certain foods or diet styles directly effect the incidence of disease or vice versa. This is because we are all extremely different and lifestyle factors account for a wide range of variables, not to mention the need to consider age, gender, and genetics. Regardless, with enough quality studies, we can get fairly close to knowing which diet styles and specific foods are most strongly associated with increased risks.

For hypertension, it is well understood that sodium intake and potassium intake strongly impact blood pressure. Additionally, blood pressure strongly impacts overall heart health and risk factors, so including more heart healthy foods is key. 

Thus, the DASH diet emphasizes the following food types:

Low Salt Foods 

Salt is a common ingredient found in just about all prepared and packaged foods, making it easy to come by. It is also the most common source of sodium in the diet. And while some sodium is needed for health, too much sodium can negatively impact your heart health.

Scientists agree that sodium impacts blood pressure, but how this happens is not well understood - mainly because blood pressure is regulated through multiple complex systems (5). 

It is thought that consuming excess sodium can signal your kidneys to set off a hormonal and vascular response that contributes to increased blood pressure. Moreover, these effects may even be harmful to your vascular health, even when blood pressure is not impacted (6).

The easiest way to cut back on salt is to eat more of your meals at home where you can control the ingredients. This means cooking more things from scratch and using whole, fresh ingredients wherever possible. You can also limit your intake of packaged foods and eating out at restaurants. Additionally, getting more savvy at digesting nutrition facts labels can help you control your sodium intake by selecting more low sodium foods. 

The most common sources of sodium in the diet are:

  • Restaurant Food
  • Packaged Meals and Snacks
  • Sauces
  • Breads and Baked Goods
  • Cheese
  • Soup
  • Canned and Processed Meat
  • Salty Snacks

A DASH Diet recommends to keep your sodium intake below 2,300 mg for most, and in some cases as low as 1,500 mg or less. 

High Potassium Foods

Potassium works to counteract and balance out sodium negative effects. Which is why it’s no wonder, higher intakes pf potassium are associated with positive heart health benefits, and potential to help lower blood pressure (7,8). However, the foods that are highest in potassium - mainly fruits and vegetables - are often the least consumed in the typical American diet (9).

Potassium can be found in the following types of foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Fish

The recommended potassium intake for an average adult is 4,700 mg per day.

Other Heart Healthy Foods 

Reducing sodium intake and increasing the intake of potassium-rich foods can have major heart health benefits for some people. However, consideration should also be paid to dietary fat, added sugar, and fiber. 

The American Heart Association recommends a balanced diet with emphasis on unsaturated fats, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and suggests to limit the intake of the following:

  • Animal Fats
  • Partially Hydrogenated Oils
  • Processed Red Meat
  • Sweets
  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages

A DASH diet includes heart health principals by encouraging plant-based foods, lean protein choices, low fat dairy, low-fat desserts, and limited sweets.

How to Start a DASH Diet

A DASH diet plan can be customized to you based on your unique food preferences and daily needs. This starts by understanding how many calories you need to eat a day.

Once you have that, you can use the chart below to balance your food choices each day. Find the column associated with your daily calorie needs and note how much of each food group you should consume. Then use the food list below to build your eating plan - spreading out your choices throughout each day and week accordingly. 

Portion control is key for any successful DASH meal plan, so if you are not familiar with weighing and measuring your food, you may want to consider getting a food scale or using measuring cups and spoons over eyeballing it. This will help you limit certain foods accordingly and control your overall calorie intake better.

DASH Diet Chart: Recommended Food Servings per Daily Calorie Needs

Here is a breakdown of how many servings of each food group are suggested on a DASH Diet, based on your individual calorie needs.

 

1,400 Calories

1,600 Calories

1,800 Calories

2,000 Calories

2,600 Calories

Daily Sodium Limit

<2,300 mg

<2,300 mg

<2,300 mg

<2,300 mg

<2,300 mg

Grains and Starches Servings

5 to 6 per day

6 per day

6 per day

6 to 8 per day

10 to 11 per day

Veggie Servings

3 to 4 per day

3 to 4 per day

4 to 5 per day

4 to 5 per day

5 to 6 per day

Fruit Servings

4  per day

4  per day

4 to 5  per day

4 to 5  per day

5 to 6  per day

Low-fat Dairy Servings

2 to 3  per day

2 to 3 per day

2 to 3  per day

2 to 3 per day

3 per day

Protein Servings

3 to 4 per day

3 to 4 per day

6 per day

6 per day

6 per day

Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Legumes Servings

3 per week

3 to 4 per week

4 per week

4 to 5 per week

1  per week

Butter and Oil Servings

1 per day

2 per day

2 to 3 per day

2 to 3 per day

3 per day

Sweets and Added Sugar Servings

<3 per week

<3 per week

<5 per week

<5 per week

≤2 per week

Chart Reference

DASH Diet Food List and Serving Sizes

Here is a complete food list, including portion sizes, that you can use to create a DASH meal plan. Be sure to pick and choose the foods you enjoy eating most, as this will not only help you stick the diet better, but also makes it more likely to become a lifestyle change for the long-haul. 

Grains and Starchy Foods

  • 1 ounce Sliced Bread
  • 1 ounce Tortilla
  • 1 ounce Roll
  • 1 ounce (1-half) Bagel
  • 1 ounce Crackers (low sodium)
  • 1 ounce Dry Cereal And Granola
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Rice
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Pasta
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Quinoa
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Oats
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Grits
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Polenta
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Barley
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Couscous
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Ancient Grains
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Sprouted Grains
  • 1/2 cup Corn
  • 1/2 cup Lima Beans 
  • 4 ounces (1 small) Yam 
  • 4 ounces (1 small) Potato
  • 4 ounces (1 small) Sweet Potato

Vegetables

  • 1 cup Romaine Lettuce
  • 1 cup Kale 
  • 1 cup Spinach 
  • 1 cup Arugula
  • 1 cup Collard Greens
  • 1 cup Cabbage
  • 1 cup Swiss Chard
  • 1 cup Mustard Greens
  • 1 cup Other Lettuce
  • 1/2 cup Celery
  • 1/2 cup Bok Choy 
  • 1/2 cup Cucumbers 
  • 1/2 cup Radishes 
  • 1/2 cup Edamame
  • 1/2 cup Mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup Squash
  • 1/2 cup Zucchini 
  • 1/2 cup Asparagus 
  • 1/2 cup Onion 
  • 1/2 cup Eggplant
  • 1/2 cup Broccoli 
  • 1/2 cup Tomatoes 
  • 1/2 cup Cauliflower 
  • 1/2 cup Bell Peppers
  • 1/2 cup Okra
  • 1/2 cup Green Beans
  • 1/2 cup Brussel Sprouts
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup Low Sodium Vegetable Juice

Fruit

  • 1 Medium Fruit (Apple, Orange, Banana, Peach, Pear, Nectarine, Banana, Plum, Kiwi)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh or Frozen Fruit (Cherries, Berries, Mango, Pineapple, Kiwi, Grapes, Melon)
  • 1/4 cup Dried Fruit
  • 1/2 cup 100% Fruit Juice

Dairy

  • 1 cup Low Fat Milk
  • 1/2 cup Low Fat Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Low Fat Cottage Cheese (low sodium)
  • 1 1/2 ounces Low Fat Cheese

Protein

  • 1 ounce Chicken
  • 1 ounce Turkey
  • 1 ounce Basa
  • 1 ounce Cod
  • 1 ounce Mahi Mahi
  • 1 ounce Pollock
  • 1 ounce Tilapia
  • 1 ounce Fresh Tuna
  • 1 ounce Wahoo
  • 1 ounce Whitefish
  • 1 ounce Salmon 
  • 1 ounce Oysters 
  • 1 ounce Mackerel 
  • 1 ounce Herring 
  • 1 ounce Shrimp
  • 1 ounce Mussels
  • 1 ounce Pork loin
  • 1 ounce Grass-Fed Beef
  • 1 ounce Antelope
  • 1 ounce Elk
  • 1 ounce Venison
  • 1 ounce Ostrich
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup Tofu 
  • 1/2 cup Tempeh
  • 4 ounce Pea Protein Burger/Veggie Burger

Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Legumes

  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Almonds (unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Pistachios (unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Cashews (unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Walnuts (unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Peanuts (unsalted)
  • 1/3 cup or 1 1/2 ounces Other Nuts (unsalted)
  • 2 tablespoons Peanut Butter
  • 2 tablespoons Almond Butter
  • 2 tablespoons Tahini
  • 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce Chia Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce Flax Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce Hemp Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce Sunflower Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce Sesame Seeds
  • 2 tablespoons  or 1/2 ounce Other Seeds
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Beans 
  • 1/2 cup Green Beans
  • 1/2 cup Cooked Lentils

Butter, Oil, and Other Fats

  • 1/3 Avocado
  • 1 teaspoon Soft Margarine
  • 1 teaspoon Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Avocado Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Canola Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Other Oil
  • 1 tablespoon Mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Salad Dressing (full fat)

Sweets and Added Sugar

  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Honey
  • 1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Molasses
  • 1 tablespoon Agave
  • 1 tablespoon Jelly or Jam
  • 1/2 cup Sorbet
  • 1/2 cup  Frozen Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Pudding
  • 1/2 cup Jello
  • 1 small Low Fat Muffin
  • 1 ounce Dark Chocolate
  • 1 cup Lemonade
  • 1 piece (50g) Angel Food Cake

7 Tips to Reduce Sodium Intake

Opting for more low sodium food choices is a great start at reducing your intake, but staying below 2,300 mg a day can still feel like a challenge. Sodium is found in a lot of different foods - and almost every recipe on the planet calls for salt. Here are some simple tricks to help you cut your intake and stay on top of your DASH eating plan:

  1. Use other seasonings, herbs, and citrus when cooking to flavor your food besides salt.
  2. Track your daily food intake using an app to calculate exactly how much sodium you are eating.
  3. Always check the nutrition facts and ingredients labels for hidden sources of sodium.
  4. Avoid poultry packed with “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution”. (This is typically written on the package). 
  5. Drain and rinse canned beans, proteins, and veggies before eating.
  6. Ask for your meal to be cooked without salt when eating out. 
  7. Watch out for anything that is pickled, brined, cured, smoked, or barbecued,  or seasoned with broth, au jus, soy sauce, miso, tomato sauce or asian sauces.

Sample DASH Diet Menu

To help you visualize further what a DASH eating plan looks like, here is a sample menu for a 2,000 calorie diet. This one day menu contains:

  • 6 grain servings
  • 6 protein servings
  • 4 fruit servings
  • 4 vegetable servings
  • 2 low fat dairy servings
  • 2 nut servings
  • 2 oil servings
  • 1 sweet serving

Breakfast

  • 2 slices whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons of almond butter 
  • 1 cup sliced melon
  • 1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt
  • Coffee

Lunch

  • Pilaf made with:
    • 3 ounces chicken breast
    • 1 cup brown rice
    • 1/2 cup roasted veggies
    • 1/4 cup dried fruit
    • 1/4 cup chopped pistachios (unsalted)
    • dressing: 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

Dinner

  • 3 ounces basa cooked 
  • 1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes (no oil or sugar added)
  • 1 cup steamed broccoli
  • 1 small wholegrain roll

Snacks/Desserts

  • 1/2 cup carrot sticks with 2 tablespoons of hummus
  • 1 apple w/ 1 piece of low fat cheese
  • 1 piece of dark chocolate

DASH Diet Meal Plans

Work with your doctor and nutritionist on creating the best hypertension diet plan to meet your needs. Then, curate the menu to fit your lifestyle.

Need more help? Here are pre-cooked proteins, grains, and veggies with little to no salt added to help you build your own DASH diet meal plan with ease. 

LEARN MORE

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