Five Things I Learned My First Week on the DASH Diet

Overall, I have enjoyed good health most of my life but my recent physical revealed my blood pressure, while not of an immediate concern, has reached a level where it could cause long-term problems. Choosing not to put me on a pill for it just yet (one of the reasons why I like my doctor), I was instructed to make some lifestyle changes, including going on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

I'm going to admit, I wasn't a big fan of this at first but after just one week, am noticing results, both with my blood pressure and weight. And in that first week, I learned a few things that will hopefully help me stick with it.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

First, pay attention to the labels and be ready for "sticker shock." The funny thing is, I was already doing this, but must not have been paying close attention to things like sodium levels. Now that I've been more careful about it, I have been downright flabbergasted by what I discovered. Things I thought were healthier options for me turned out to have more salt than a serving of bacon or a serving of ramen noodles (and you literally dump salt on the latter). Frankly, if it comes from a can, box or jar, there's a good chance it will have an overabundance of salt in it.

As part of this, it's also important to pay attention to the serving size. I won't accuse manufacturers of purposely misleading people this way, but it can make a big difference. I've seen plenty of items out there that look to be only one serving at first glance, but the nutrition information divides the contents of the box/can into two or three servings, meaning you need to double or triple everything on the label.

Fitness Apps are really helpful. I've been tracking everything I eat using my FitBit app. This especially works great when it's an item that doesn't necessarily have a nutrition label you can refer to (like fresh meats). However, you do need to occasionally do some additional research just to make sure what your app says is accurate, especially if you have multiple choices for the same item. 

It also helps to plan your meals in advance. This is something I've never been great at but have been making an effort to do. It is paying dividends. Knowing what I'm going to have for lunch or dinner allows me to make edits to stay within acceptable limits and leave a buffer for snack foods.

Focus on small changes. One of my biggest concerns with this diet (and the reason I never considered dieting) is I would have to give up something I liked. I haven't had to do that because there are ways to tweak the foods I like to make them healthier. For example, instead of buying frozen pizza, I made pizza from scratch last week, giving me control over what sauce was used, how much cheese was on it, etc. Instead of buying canned vegetables, I buy frozen or fresh - I use mushrooms multiple times per week and fresh mushrooms have little or no sodium while canned mushrooms have 300 mg.

Portion size also makes a difference too. I am a Mountain Dew addict but have managed to limit that by filling up on water before opening a can (meaning I sip it rather than gulp it and don't drink as much over the course of a day).  

It's not as life changing as it sounds. OK, it is life changing, but in a good way, because it will make your heart healthier. However, as far as day-to-day goes, other than the small changes I mentioned before, there's no reason for it to completely alter your lifestyle. Heck, my wife and I were even able to have a date night this past Saturday and, because I planned ahead, I stayed within my diet restrictions while enjoying a good restaurant meal.

As I said, I was a skeptic about this DASH thing but thanks to what I mentioned above, it seems to be working and I'm not feeling the need to cheat on it. Hopefully my follow-up physical will go a lot better than the first one as a result.


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