To get started on the DASH eating plan, begin with the following changes over a few days or weeks. This will give you a chance to adjust to the changes and make them part of your daily routine:
- If you now eat one or two servings of vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner. Add a serving of fruit at one meal a day or as a snack.
- Choose whole-grain foods for most of your grain servings to get added nutrients, such as minerals and fiber. For example, choose whole-wheat bread or whole-grain cereals.
- Include three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products a day.
- Limit lean meats to 6 ounces a day. Have only 3 ounces of lean meat (about the size of a deck of cards) at a meal. If you usually eat large portions of meat, cut back over a couple of days—by half or a third at each meal.
- Include two or more vegetarian-style, or meatless, meals each week.
- Read the Nutrition Facts label on foods to compare the amount of sodium (salt) in products. Look for the sodium content in milligrams (mg) and the Percent Daily Value. Aim for foods that have less than 5 percent of the daily value of sodium. Foods with 20 percent or more of the daily value of sodium are considered high-sodium foods.
For more information and tips on how to adopt the DASH eating plan, including a week of DASH menus, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH."
More Helpful DASH Tips
The DASH eating plan might have more servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods than you’re used to eating. Slowly increase your servings of these foods over several weeks.
If you have trouble digesting dairy products, try taking lactase enzyme pills with these foods. These pills are available at drug stores and grocery stores. You also can buy lactose-free or lactose-reduced milk at the grocery store.
If you don't like nuts or are allergic to them, use seeds or legumes (cooked dried beans or peas) as part of your eating plan.
If you take medicines to control your high blood pressure, keep taking them. However, you should tell your doctor that you're now following the DASH eating plan.
How To Deal With Challenges and Setbacks
You may stray from the DASH eating plan or your other lifestyle changes. If so, don't let it keep you from reaching your health goals. Get back on track. Below are some ideas that may help you:
- Ask yourself why you got off track. Find out what triggered your setback, and start following the DASH eating plan again. Remember that changing your lifestyle is a long-term process.
- Begin with small changes. Trying to change too much at once can be overwhelming. Make one or two small changes at a time. This prevents you from trying to do too much at once and keeps the changes simpler.
- Write it down. Write down what you eat and the amount of physical activity you do each day. This can help pinpoint problems and ensure that you're getting the proper nutrition and enough physical activity. Use the form in box 14 of "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH" to record your food and physical activity habits.
- Celebrate success. Reward yourself for meeting your goals with something you like to do, not with food. Choose rewards that you'll enjoy, such as a movie, music CD, an afternoon off from work, a massage, or personal time.