The DASH Diet Basics for Beginners

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The DASH Diet (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was developed as a lifelong dietary approach to treating or preventing the onset of hypertension, or high blood pressure. The diet emphasizes reducing daily sodium intake and portion sizes while increasing the variety of fresh and whole foods and nutrient intake. There are numerous resources available today for the DASH Diet from tips and suggestions on how to get the right amounts of food to meal plans and recipes.


Following the DASH Diet is primarily meant to significantly reduce blood pressure naturally, either alone or in conjunction with current blood pressure medications. But in addition to lowered blood pressure, the DASH Diet also offers a structured, healthy way of eating that can offer health benefits beyond blood pressure including healthy weight loss.

There is a variation of the DASH Diet that has been shown to have the most dramatic effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It's a little more restrictive than the original DASH Diet, but it might be just what you need to get kick-started into this lifestyle and quickly lower cholesterol and blood pressure with healthy food choices.

Fruits and Vegetables: 11 Servings

To keep things simple, think of a serving here as 1/2 cup raw or cooked vegetables or 1 cup of leafy greens. A serving of fruit is a piece of fruit or 1/2 cup of sliced fruit.

Grains: 4 Servings

This one is pretty easy. A serving is equivalent to 1 slice of bread or 1/2 cup of rice, pasta, or cereal. Measure these at first; you might be shocked to see how little 1/2 cup of pasta really looks on the plate.

Low-Fat Dairy: 2 Servings

1.5 ounces of cheese (for reference, one string cheese stick is usually 1 ounce while 2 American cheese singles are almost 1.5 ounces) or 1 cup of milk or yogurt.

Legumes and Nuts: 2 Servings

These foods are measured slightly different with a serving of cooked beans measuring to ½ cup and a single serving of nuts weighing in at 1/4 cup.

Meat, Poultry, and Fish: 1 Serving

Anyone new to watching portions is going to be shocked when they see the daily ration of meat or poultry; it's about the size of a deck of cards. If you like fish, you are in luck, as it is okay to eat more fish a day.

Desserts and Sweets: 2 Servings

Don't get too excited by this one. While a serving is 1 cookie or 1 teaspoon of sugar, you likely have already eaten it before you even get to lunch. For instance, if you eat flavored yogurt, you have definitely used up this ration in added sugar (and probably exceeded it by a couple of teaspoons).

There is enough sugar added to almost anything processed (e.g., breakfast cereal, bread, stir-fry sauces) that you are pretty sure to be at your limit before you even start looking at cookies. Our suggestion here would be to forget about this category altogether, occasionally allowing yourself to have a bite or two of your dining companion's dessert for a treat.

Oils and Fats: 2 Servings

A serving here is 1 tablespoon of healthy oil. Again, this is not a serving that you will have to go looking for. One serving of salad dressing or oil for cooking your veggies will use up this daily allowance.

Your Choice: 1 Serving

This is one serving of pretty much anything up there: fruits, vegetables, meat/poultry/fish, oil, grains, or sweets. Again, if you are really serious, we would suggest forgetting about this category, as a couple extra nuts, an extra teaspoon of salad dressing, and a smidge of meat in pasta sauce (even lean), easily use up this category.

Bottom Line

Anyone interested in following the DASH Diet whether for blood pressure or general health should download the free National Institute of Health (NIH) guide.

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Article Sources

  • A Day's Worth of Food. Nutrition Action Health Letter. September 2010.
  • National Institutes of Heart, Lung, and Blood of the National Institutes of Health. Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH. Revised 2006.