The DASH diet stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” It is commonly prescribed (or adopted individually) for people who have, or at risk for developing high blood pressure. This low salt, low fat, high nutrient diet can also help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Much like any other diet, it may come as a drastic change in the way you purchase and prepare food, but the health benefits of the DASH diet can prove to have tremendous long term health benefits. Following the DASH guidelines when shopping will make the transition to the new, healthier you a proverbial piece of cake.
Prepare in Advance
First and foremost, never go to the supermarket on an empty stomach – this would only lead to impulse shopping of unhealthy foods your body craves. Eat a well-balanced healthy meal or nutritious snack before heading out.
Sit down and make a meal plan for the week – be sure to include breakfast, lunches and healthy DASH snacks. Make a list that sticks to the plan – low sodium and high nutrient cereals and grains, lean proteins and plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Even make a note of low sodium condiments, salt and seasoning alternatives. You don’t need to add a lot of salt to your food for a lot flavour!
Fresh is Best!
Prepackaged, highly processed foods are often loaded with extra fat, sodium and sugars – high fructose corn syrup being one of the main culprits for unhealthy added calories. Fresh produce and meats contain more vitamin, minerals, fiber and overall nutrients than processed foods. Any frozen meals, sliced lunch meats or canned soups that you cannot live without need to be labeled as low fat and reduced sodium.
Read the Labels
Packaged foods should have nutrition facts clearly labeled on the box. No matter how small the fine print is, be sure to read the entire list of ingredients. Familiarize yourself with what some of those unpronounceable ingredients actually are – you will be surprised at how many hidden sugars and chemicals are often present in these processed foods. Low sodium doesn’t necessarily mean low fat, or nutritious in general. Educate yourself and opt for the most nutrient rich foods, not just the ones marketed as “diet” or “low fat.”
Fill Your Cart with Healthy Choices
If your home is filled DASH foods, it will be much easier for you to stick to this diet plan. Stock up on fresh fruits and avoid canned fruits if possible. Canned fruits should only be purchased if it is canned in juice, without heavy syrup or added sugar.
A variety of fresh veggies is also an important staple. Frozen vegetables without sauces or added salt and low sodium canned veggies are also acceptable.
When buying milk, cheeses, sour cream and yoghurt, choose low fat options.
Highly processed, bleached white flour is not nearly as healthy as whole wheat and whole grain varieties. Whole grain breads, breakfast cereals, pasta and crackers are just as tasty as old fashioned (low nutrient) white bread. Remember to check those labels for nutrition value and sodium content.
Almonds and walnuts, while high in unsaturated fats, are good to have on hand for a small snack from time to time while sticking to the diet. Avoid the salted varieties and pay attention to serving size.
Lean meats and fish are a healthy part of the DASH diet as well. Try to always buy them fresh, and avoid high fat, high sodium processed meats. Lentils, beans and chickpeas are all good vegetarian sources of lean protein – if you buy them canned, choose the lower sodium options.
Don’t forget the condiments! Adding herbs, low sodium seasoning mixes, olive oil, garlic, pepper and spreads can add all the flavour you need to your meals without straying from this heart healthy diet.
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