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How Do I Start the DASH Diet?

Part 2 from the series “Introduction to the DASH diet” By Dr. Donna Schwontkowski, D.C., M.S. Nutrition
Read the first one, “Why did my doctor recommend DASH?” here.

How do you start the DASH diet?

Start with reading this, and understanding what to eat and not to eat. Choose the approach you’ll use to change and whether you will use a meal plan or just recipes.

When you start the DASH Diet you’ll begin by eliminating high sodium and high sugar foods. You’ll eat more fruits and vegetables and consume fewer sweets. The types of fat you eat may also change.

Even if you’re a mom with teenagers, young children, and a fussy eater for a husband in your home, starting the DASH Diet really won’t be that much of a challenge once you know the rules and/or follow meal plans. Actually, the DASH diet can become an amazing eating experience for your entire family if you start it correctly.

First of all, you should know that the primary change is the reduction of processed foods and sugar from the diet. There are two approaches to making this change.

1. Quick Change with New Diet Almost Overnight

The advantage of making a quick change is that the sooner you make the change, the sooner everyone’s health in the family will improve. The truth is that if you’ve had high blood pressure for quite some time now, you’re taking a risk every day with your health. The biggest risk is that high blood pressure can cause a stroke.

And a stroke is not something pleasant to deal with, especially with the possibility of developing the inability to talk, recognize people, walk, or use an arm or leg. A stroke can mean you’re dependent on your family to care for you the rest of your life.

It’s a little difficult for children and spouses to understand why suddenly their favorite desserts and processed foods are no longer available. As a result, they may begin to revolt a little bit – or even a lot – if you make a quick change in their diet.

Many women who tried to change the diet of the whole family came to the conclusion that it’s best to start with themselves. Through example and education, and by seeing results, their families would join them in this journey.

The good news is that if you find good recipes from the DASH diet, they are still usable by the whole family. So if you cook for yourself, your spouse will likely eat your DASH meal with addition of more meat, and your children may like it with more cheese, sugar or salt. With time, you will be able to reduce proportion of these ingredients in their diet; but at first you will likely be by yourself.

Some doctors don’t believe their patients would make drastic changes in their diet, so they prescribe simple changes or don’t talk about dietary approaches at all. To help you select the approach, beware that people who made the change instantaneously and stuck to a stricter regimen were happier people because they started getting results faster than people who took longer road. Seeing results helped them to stick to the diet, and adopt healthier lifestyle.

Your Children Have Similar Arterial Changes

The bottom line is that truly, if your children are eating the same diet you have been eating before your diagnosis of high blood pressure, they similarly have the beginnings of high blood pressure in their arteries as well. Imagine how bad the situation will be once they’re on prescription medication for hypertension at the age of 25 or 30.

To eliminate all the processed foods and sugary desserts or foods from your diet, you’re going to need ideas on what to replace them with. This will be covered in another article. For now, know that once you have these new recipe ideas in place, you’re ready to make a quick changeover.

Clean out the cabinets of every boxed or canned food that contains more than 300 mg sodium in one serving. Then collect all the sugary desserts, placing them into boxes that will be delivered straight to the local food banks or churches that distribute food to the community. Engaging your children’s help in this is always helpful. It’s especially important to make a list of items that will be replaced. This way you can head out to the store with the teenagers and assign them to read labels, searching for a suitable replacement.

The more you can make this changeover to the DASH Diet a discovery process filled with fun, the easier the transition will be.

2. Slow Change with Total Family Effort

To make a slow change to the DASH Diet, pick one group of foods each week to make changes in. Then explain to your family that you’ll need their help to create a new diet that’s healthier over the next 6 weeks.

For example, the first week you can replace all the processed meats in your refrigerator and freezer with ‘real’ meats; the type you have to cook yourself. This means when you go shopping, you’ll primarily focus on the meats you’ll need for the entire week.

If you have a family of four, then a list similar to this will do:
• 2 whole chickens
• 1 five to six pound beef roast
• 3 pounds pork chops
• 5 pounds lean ground beef
• 3 pounds frozen salmon
• 2 dozen eggs

Then choose one day on the weekend to engage the family in cooking the meats for the week. Most children will love looking for new recipes on the internet for these dishes.

For example, 16-year-old Jessica chooses the chicken recipe and the chickens are baked Saturday morning between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. Then 12-year-old Jason helps you make spaghetti and meatballs. Next 17-year-old Julie starts the crock pot with the beef roast at 8 a.m. and the cooking is finished by 12 noon. You’ll easily discover that in four hours, all the meats could be prepared for the entire week.

This Method Saves Time During a Busy Week

Once cooked, all that needs to happen with these meats is reheating for the meal. And since you’re using more fresh herbs and spices, these foods will taste better as the flavor sets in the refrigerator for a day or two.

This method of slowly replacing foods one food group at a time is the easiest and the least intrusive to everyone’s lifestyle. Making small changes over time is always the best way to make habit changes. It may be slower to lower your blood pressure, but easier to stick to in the long run.

Other Food Group Replacements

For week 2, you could change foods in the grain category. During Week 3, change the fruits and vegetables. During Week 4, change the nuts, seeds, fats and oils. And during week 5, change the desserts and sugary foods. The reason why your changes should follow this week-by-week elimination plan is because you’re giving everyone in your family the time to change their taste buds. As greater nutrient levels go into their tummies, the cravings for sweets will decrease. This lessens the chance that they’ll miss those sweet foods.

This is your overall strategy on how to start the DASH Diet so your family won’t throw you out of the house! But keep reading; there’s more to it. Just know right now that you really can do this – and make it all work out quite well for your entire family.

After you’ve decided whether you’ll be initiating the Quick Change or the Slow Change to the DASH Diet, it’s time next to plan specific alternatives to the foods you’ll eliminate from your diet.

Alternatives for the DASH Diet Conscious Woman

Here’s a list of some ideas to get you on the right track:
• Cold cuts – Cooked meats such as baked chicken, beef roast and roasted turkey (bake an entire turkey)
• Canned spaghetti, ravioli, and other pasta/tomato dishes – Lean ground beef or turkey with tomato sauce made from fresh tomatoes (or low sodium tomato sauce), fresh herbs and whole wheat pasta
• Whole milk – 1% or 2% fermented milk products such as yogurt or kefir milk; replace whole milk with almond, soy or rice milk
• High fat cheeses – Lower fat cheeses or less cheese
• Salted nuts, nut butters, and seeds – Salt-free nuts and peanut butter or seeds
• Canned beans with salt – raw beans, baked or boiled; low sodium canned beans
• Butter – use very little; choose low fat baking recipes to avoid large amounts of saturated fats
• Vegetable oil – omega-3 flax oil
• Breads – low sodium breads
• Pastas – low sodium pastas
• Sugary desserts – sugar-free desserts
• Chocolates – dark chocolates
• Hard candies – fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, and nectarines
• Muffins – homemade muffins (These may be baked on the same day you cook your meats.)
• Pancake and waffle mixes – homemade mixes. Reduce these and replace with oatmeal for breakfast

Continue to Part 3, How To Start Cooking Foods By The DASH Diet and learn smart food replacements, how to make your own seasonings and muffin mixes, and how to cook like a gourmet chef without years of training.