Food for Thought with Morgan Atherton, RD, LD


The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, also known as the DASH diet, is consistently ranked as one of the top diets in the world to follow. The main purpose of the diet is to help treat and/or prevent hypertension, the term for high blood pressure. While hypertension is usually the main focus, this diet can be beneficial for overall heart health as well as general health.

One of the biggest contributing dietary factors to hypertension is sodium intake. The recommendation of sodium for the majority of Americans is 2,300 milligrams or less per day. However, studies show that the standard American diet can provide well over 3,400 milligrams a day on average! Consuming that amount continuously overtime can increase the risk of developing hypertension, which if uncontrolled can increase you risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Unlike some diets out there, the DASH diet does not have strict rules in place, making it a bit easier to follow long term. The DASH diet allows for flexible meal planning and for individuals to choose foods that they enjoy. The emphasis is on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, health fat sources, and lean meats. The diet aims to reduce the overall consumption of items such as fatty meats, fried foods, oils that are solid at room temperature, sweets, and sugary drinks. These foods are not eliminated entirely, just eaten less often and smaller portions.

While recommendations will vary for each individual, a standard DASH diet usually includes:

  1. Grains: 6-8 servings a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 slice whole wheat bread
      • 1 ounce dry cereal
      • ½ cup cooked cereal, rice, pasta
  1. Vegetables: 4-5 servings a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 cup raw leafy greens
      • ½ cup chopped, raw, or cooked vegetables
  1. Fruit: 4-5 servings a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 medium fruit
      • ½ cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit (not in syrup)
      • ½ cup 100% fruit juice
  1. Dairy: 2-3 servings a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 cup 1% or skim milk
      • 1 cup low-fat yogurt
      • 5 ounce part skim cheese
  1. Lean meat: 6 ounces a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 egg
      • 1 ounce meat
  1. Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes: 4-5 servings a week
    • 1 serving =
      • 1/3 cup nuts
      • 2 tablespoons seeds or nut butter
      • ½ cup cooked beans or peas
  1. Fats and Oils: 2-3 servings a day
    • 1 serving =
      • 1 teaspoon margarine
      • 2 tablespoons salad dressing
      • 1 tablespoon liquid oil
  1. Candy and Sweets: approximately 5 servings per week


These recommendations can be altered based on each individual’s needs and health status.

While some of the recommendations may seem overwhelming at first glance, there are several ways you can slowly incorporate changes based on your current intake such as:

  • Adding a serving of vegetables at one meal
  • Choosing fruit or a vegetable for a snack
  • Switch at least have of refined grains to whole grains
  • Choose lower fat dairy products
  • Have a leaner meat such as poultry or fish for dinner more often than red meat
  • Use liquid oils such as olive or canola instead of palm or coconut oil
  • Switch a few sodas or sweet tea a week to something unsweetened of your choice

It is also important to note that fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or canned as long as they are not in a sauce or gravy, are no salt added, and/or are in 100% fruit juice or water. They can also be cooked in any way including steamed, roasted, sautéed and seasoned with various spices, herbs, or seasonings without salt. Try trimming excess fat off of meats and grill, bake, roast, or slow cook most often. While it may not be feasible for everyone to switch their entire intake to a DASH style immediately, small changes overtime can make a big difference and help reduce your risk of heart complications and benefit your overall health for years to come.