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DASH to a Healthier Heart

By Nanci Stolar, Dietetic Intern, Montclair State University

With spring in full bloom, there is no better occasion to take care of your heart, The longer days, shining sun, and warmer temperatures make it easy to take advantage of what the season has to offer and stay healthy by eating seasonal produce and engaging in more outdoor physical activity.

There is much information available about the effects of diet and exercise on cardiovascular health. Both can influence cholesterol, triglyceride levels, blood glucose, and blood pressure control. Many people who want to start eating better and exercising more wonder where to begin. Amongst the various articles discussing healthy eating strategies, many show scientific evidence-based research to indicate a connection between eating well and optimizing health. Choosing the foods that have illustrated this evidence is the place to start.

Using scientific data from The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Study, a two-art study that examined the effects dietary adjustments had on blood pressure, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services came up with an alternative to the typical American diet, which can be high in saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and processed foods. The DASH diet offers healthier substitutes and emphasizes consuming less sodium and increasing the use of foods abundant in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which appear to be more effective working in combination than alone in lowering blood pressure. An added benefit to eating the DASH way is that it meets the daily recommendations for fiber, and limits saturated fat and cholesterol along with sugary foods. Foods emphasized on the plan are also “nutrient dense,” so overall dietary requirements coincide with the USDA dietary reference intakes to prevent nutrient deficiencies. The plan also emphasizes reducing sodium, since the study continued to show the connection between dietary sodium intake’s effects on blood pressure. Daily intake should be no higher than 2300 mg, which is equal to 1 teaspoon of table salt. Newer recommendations from the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage us to reduce sodium intake to 1500 mg per day for a most successful outcome. Eliminating table salt and salty condiments are helpful, as well as reading food labels for sodium content.

The following foods are recommended as healthier DASH options to the typical American diet:

Sources of potassium, magnesium and fiber:

• broccoli, carrots, collards, green beans, green peas, kale, lima beans, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Sources of potassium:

• Melons, oranges, bananas, pineapples, grapefruit, mangoes, tangerines, strawberries, apples, grapes, dates, apricots, and raisins.

Sources of fiber:

• Whole wheat breads and pasta

• Whole grain products, cereals, grits, oatmeal, brown rice, and popcorn

Sources of energy, fiber and protein:

• Almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, kidney beans, lentils, and split peas.

Sources of energy, magnesium, and protein:

• Lean meats, poultry with skin removed, and fish (not fried)

Sources of calcium and protein:

• Fat free (skim) or low fat (1%) milk or buttermilk

• Fat free or reduced fat cheese

• Fat free or low fat regular or frozen yogurt.

Sources of monounsaturated fats:

• Olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, and sesame oils for cooking and salad dressings

• Avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.

Depending on calorie needs, serving amounts may vary.

The following amounts would provide a range of 1600-2000 calories per day.

• Grains: 6-8 servings (one serving size would be equivalent to 1 oz weight bread, ½ c cooked starch, 1 oz cereal)

• Vegetables: 4-5 servings (one serving size would be equivalent to 1 cup uncooked or ½ cup cooked vegetables)

• Fruits: 4-5 servings (one serving size would be equivalent to 1 medium fresh fruit, 1 cup cut up melon, berries, pineapple, ½ c mixed fruit cup or ½ c juice)

• Low or non-fat dairy: 2-3 servings (one serving size would be equivalent to 8 oz milk, yogurt, 4 oz low fat cottage cheese, 1 oz low fat cheese)

• Lean meats, poultry, fish: 6 oz or less ( 3 oz equivalent is considered 1 serving)

• Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4-5 servings per week (one serving size would be equivalent to 1 oz or 2 tablespoons nuts/seeds or ½ cup cooked beans/legumes)

• Fats and oils: 1-3 teaspoons

• Sodium: 1500-2300 mg