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DASH diet: Shopping, cooking and a well-stocked kitchen
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The DASH diet can help keep your blood pressure under control and reduce your risk of serious health complications. Known officially as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), the DASH diet isn't a weight-loss diet, but rather a lifelong eating style.

Whether you're already faithful to the DASH diet or want to give it a try, you can easily make it work for you in your own home. To get started, take stock of your shopping list, your cooking habits and your kitchen essentials. A few practical tips can help you master the DASH diet and stick with it over the long term. You may also find yourself trying out new dishes in unexpected ways.

A fresh approach to shopping using the DASH diet as your guide

Sticking to the DASH diet starts with the foods you buy. When you go grocery shopping, think first and foremost in terms of fresh and unprocessed foods. That means spending more time in the produce section, where you can stock up on fruits and vegetables, which are staples of the DASH diet, along with whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

Here are some other tips for healthier shopping with the DASH diet in mind:

  • Make a list. Before shopping, decide which meals you're going to make during the coming week and include the ingredients on your shopping list. Don't forget to plan for breakfast and snacks, too. With a list at hand, you're less likely to stray from the DASH diet to the tempting but unhealthy foods. As a bonus, you may also save time and money on grocery shopping by using a list.
  • Eat before you shop. This is a cardinal rule of grocery shopping, whether you follow the DASH diet or not. Don't hit the aisles hungry. If you do, everything will look appealing, especially those higher fat, higher sodium items.
  • Stick to the perimeter. The outer aisles of most grocery stores are where you'll find the healthier DASH diet items, such as produce and dairy goods. The inner sections and special displays are designed to entice shoppers with more snacks, sweets and processed foods.
  • Buy fresh. Fresh foods often are better choices than processed foods because they naturally contain less sodium and fat, two items the DASH diet cuts back on. In addition, you — not the manufacturer — can control the ingredients that go into your meals. Fresh foods also often have more flavor, color and health-promoting vitamins, minerals and fiber than their packaged counterparts do. If you do buy convenience foods, such as frozen pizzas, lunch meats or soups, choose those with reduced fat and sodium.
  • Read nutrition labels. Most foods in the United States carry a Nutrition Facts label that can help you figure out how they fit into your DASH diet. These labels may be a little confusing at first, but once you learn how to interpret them, they make it much easier to shop and plan your meals. Compare like items and choose the one with less fat and sodium and fewer calories.

While you don't need to map out a strategy as if you were planning a corporate takeover, it does help to plan for your grocery shopping. After a while, it may become second nature to follow these tips.

A well-stocked kitchen makes it easier to stick to the DASH diet

You're more likely to prepare healthy dishes if you have healthy foods stocked in your kitchen. In the spirit of the DASH diet, try to keep these staples in your pantry or refrigerator all the time:

  • Fruits. Choose a variety of fresh fruits, such as apples, oranges and bananas. Others beyond the ordinary, such as apricots, dates and berries, can help add interest to your diet. Select canned fruit in its own juice or water, not heavy syrup, and frozen fruit without added sugar.
  • Vegetables. Buy fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and spinach. Choose frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces, canned tomato products low in sodium and canned vegetable soups low in sodium.
  • Dairy products. Look for low-fat, fat-free or reduced-fat milk, buttermilk, cheeses, yogurt and sour cream.
  • Grains and grain products. Aim for whole-grain and low-fat varieties of bread, bagels, pitas, cereal, rice, pasta, crackers and tortillas.
  • Nuts, seeds and dry beans. Almonds, walnuts, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas (garbanzos) and sunflower seeds are healthy options. Look for unsalted or low-salt varieties.
  • Meats, poultry and fish. Opt for lean selections, such as skinless chicken and turkey, unbreaded fish, pork tenderloin, extra-lean ground beef, and round or sirloin beef cuts.
  • Baking items. Low-fat egg substitute, low-fat margarine, fat-free cooking spray, fat-free or reduced-fat evaporated milk, unsweetened cocoa powder and angel food cake mix help keep cooking and baking healthier. When possible, try using applesauce, mashed bananas or pumpkin in place of half of the shortening or oil in baked goods. Commercial fat substitutes specially designed for baking are also available in the baking aisle.
  • Condiments, seasonings and spreads. Light salad dressings, herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, salsas and olive oil can add zest to your meals.

Replacing some carbohydrates in the DASH diet with low fat protein and unsaturated fats may reduce blood pressure even more than with the standard DASH diet. Low-fat protein sources include nuts and seeds, poultry, fish, egg substitutes and fat-free dairy products. Sources of unsaturated fats include olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Although following the DASH diet doesn't mean you must cut out all sweets, moderation is key. With a well-stocked kitchen, you can reach for an apple just as easily as a cookie — although your willpower may take some work.

Healthy cooking techniques keep you on the DASH diet path

The foods that make up a healthy diet are usually simple to prepare. The difficult part is breaking away from ingrained cooking habits. To manage your blood pressure better and improve your health, learn to cook with less salt and fats — it's the DASH diet way.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Invest in nonstick cookware to saute or brown foods so that you don't need to add fat, such as vegetable oil or butter. Fat-free cooking sprays are also good options.
  • Grill, broil, poach, roast or stir-fry your foods instead of frying them. Use smoked or salt-cured meats sparingly, and trim excess fat and skin from beef, pork and poultry.
  • Cook fish in parchment paper or foil to seal in flavor and juices.
  • Saute onions, mushrooms or other vegetables in a small amount of low-sodium broth or water instead of butter or oil.
  • Substitute lower fat dairy products, such as reduced-fat cream cheese and fat-free sour cream, for their higher fat counterparts.
  • To enhance a food's flavor without adding salt or fat, use onions, herbs, spices, flavored vinegars, fresh peppers, garlic or garlic powder, ginger, lemons, limes, sodium-free bouillon, or even small amounts of reduced-sodium soy sauce.
  • Dress up vegetables with herbs, spices or a light sprinkling of butter-flavored flakes.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna and vegetables, before using to wash away some excess sodium.
  • Reduce the sugar in baked goods by about half and season with a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or fruit to enhance sweetness.
  • Prepare stews and casseroles with only two-thirds of the meat the recipe calls for, adding extra vegetables, rice, tofu or pasta instead.
  • Since water softeners may be a hidden source of sodium, use unsoftened water for drinking and cooking.

If you tend to cook or bake in traditional or ethnic ways that call for lots of fat and sodium, don't be afraid to modify your recipes. Give yourself permission to experiment with spices, substitutions or recipes you wouldn't normally try. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you create — and it could be the start of new family traditions.

New opportunities abound with DASH diet strategies

You now have some new ideas about shopping strategies, what foods to eat and how to prepare them with the principles of the DASH diet in mind. With these tips to guide you, you're less likely to sabotage your goal of healthy eating.

Chances are, you'll also discover new flavors and textures in foods that you had been accustomed to eating disguised under salt, butter or oil. With new habits under your belt, you may find your struggles with willpower melting away, too. You'll resist that extra shake of salt, that extra pat of butter.

And before long, the DASH diet will be just another routine part of your healthy lifestyle.

  • DASH diet: Guide to recommended servings
  • Doing the DASH: Taking the guesswork out of healthy eating
  • DASH diet: Avoid hidden dangers when dining out
  • Sample menus for the DASH eating plan
  • January 30, 2006

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