Heart-Healthy Habits for the Whole Family: the DASH Diet

Meal preparation, monitoring sodium intake, and more

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet helps to keep blood pressure in check, while including whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, low sodium, and high potassium. Professor Anding answers frequently asked questions regarding it.

Family preparing dinner together
Plan ahead by prepping the whole foods of the DASH diet when you are not as busy, chopping fruits and vegetables to store for the week so that food preparation will be faster at meal time. Photo By Photographee.eu / Shutterstock

Sodium Questions

One question regarding the DASH diet is: “If my food doesn’t taste salty, does that mean I have a low-sodium diet?” Keep in mind that “instant” or processed foods generally contain higher levels of sodium and don’t necessarily taste salty. 

“My favorite example is from two or three years ago—there was a brand of pudding on the market that you could just add water to and shake it,” Professor Anding said.

You have multiple options to choose from when making pudding by using skim or low-fat dairy products. You can make homemade pudding, pudding that takes 24 hours to set, or instant pudding. The sodium content for homemade pudding contains about 120 milligrams (mg) of sodium, middle-of-the-road pudding contains about 300 mg, and instant pudding contains 590 mg.

By the same token, just because a food tastes salty, it doesn’t mean that it is high in sodium. The salt could be on the outside. A small vending-machine-size bag of potato chips has about 150 mg of sodium, which is significantly less than the instant pudding. 

On the packaging, look at the nutrition facts panel for the sodium that is listed; it can be sodium chloride (table salt), sodium propionate as a food additive, or baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). 

Sodium and salt are not interchangeable terms. There can be many places where sodium is sneaked in and the food doesn’t necessarily taste salty. It’s the sodium content that rules.

Whole Fruit Vs. Fruit Juice

Here’s another frequently asked question regarding the DASH diet: “If I have to eat 8 to 10 servings of fruit, can’t I just drink more fruit juice?”

It’s true that by drinking more juice, you can get more potassium into your diet. That may be a strategy for people who can’t tolerate digesting whole fruit. However, if you need to lose weight in order to control your blood pressure, you don’t want to over drink juice and not pay attention to portion size. 

Also important to remember, key to succeeding on the DASH diet is integrate nutrients with portion sizes. And, whole fruits are good sources of fiber and potassium.

Preparing Meals

You may also be wondering if the DASH diet is something that your whole family can do or whether there’s something you can do to make the food preparation easier. The answer is yes, your whole family can be on this diet. 

Keep in mind that foods on this diet are less instant and you’re using whole ingredients, so food preparation might take a little longer than usual. You can plan ahead by prepping on a night where you are not as busy, chopping fruits and vegetables to store for the week. 

If you are short on time and end up getting fast food occasionally, you can still look for healthier options. For example, if you’re ordering a burger, you might get a fruit or vegetable side to balance out the high sodium content of the burger.

Your body remembers what you do most of the time. Just like in the management of high blood pressure, it’s not that singular value we’re concerned about. 

We’re looking at changes over time, and your body works the same way. If you make a higher sodium meal because of your family demands, that is fine as long as you adhere to the diet for most meals.

“Because this is a whole food approach—and certainly, most Americans are going to develop high blood pressure in their lifetime—why not put your three- or four-year-old daughter, son, grandson, or granddaughter on this diet?” Professor Anding said. “It is a wellness approach for your whole family. Most of the time, we consume more sodium than we need, and so teaching our children that fruits and vegetables and grains can be delicious without salt is a gift that only you can give them.”

As far as cookbooks go, Professor Anding recommends anything from the American Heart Association, which integrates all the science and puts it into a usable form for consumers. Additionally, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers DASH pamphlets and recipes.

Monitoring your blood pressure and taking initiatives when it comes to controlling your blood pressure will help you have thriving health for years to come.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.