By Jessica Goldman Foung
When these four letters come together, they can have a multitude of meanings. In the dictionary, the term “dashing” refers to something elegant in appearance. In cooking, a “dash” implies the addition of a flavor-enhancing ingredient. And yet, to those trying to control blood pressure and prevent kidney disease, DASH can be synonymous with lifestyle restrictions.
But this does not have to be true. With a dash of creativity, meals created within the DASH guidelines can mean more than just health and wellness. They can be eye-catching, bright and delicious too.
Before we dive into the tasty possibilities, though, let’s start with the basics. Through research studies, the National Institute of Health found that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet–heavy in fruits, vegetables and grains–helped lower the risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer, and even reduced the risk of kidney stone formation. The National Kidney Foundation recommends this diet as it can slow the progression of kidney disease and reduce blood pressure.
Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, the guide provides consumers (like you!) the recommended number of servings and serving sizes for each food category–fruit, vegetable, grain that provide nutrients to help lower blood pressure–as well as the recommended foods to avoid, such as salty, high-sodium products, added sugars, fats, and red meats. In sum: it’s a super guidebook of what to eat and what not to eat.
Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s the funny thing about rules and regulations: they can get overwhelming. And this is where the DASH diet starts to lose its good reputation. At home, it’s easy to cook in the kitchen, keep to the recommended portions and steer clear of the discouraged ingredients, all while keeping flavor and ease in your life and on your plate. But when it comes to living a full life and generally DASH-ing around, staying within restrictions becomes much trickier. It requires changing that breakfast and lunch routine and skipping go-to convenience foods. Which could mean bland food and lifestyle restrictions. But with simple tricks and low-sodium swaps, you’ll discover easy solutions that keep you full, on-the-move and within the guidelines.
The following tips will help you create your own DASH-friendly, time-friendly, and palate-friendly versions of your favorite fast meals–from sandwiches to pasta. Just remember to always consult your doctor and dietitian to adjust meals to your personal food, health, and medical needs.
Now get DASHing.
Spice it up: Turn simple oatmeal into something special with more exotic ingredients like coconut shreds, cardamom and dried apricots
Pack and go: Turn boiled eggs into a complete meal by slicing and layering over leftover dinner grains (like brown rice and quinoa) and spicy arugula
Switch and swap: Lose the bagel, cream cheese, and lox and give rice cakes satisfying crunch with a smear of tangy Greek yogurt, cucumber, and honey
Wrap, don’t roll: Skip the sandwich and pack fresh lettuce leaves and vegetarian filling for fresh wraps without all the added sodium and sugar. You can fill those leaves with red potato salad (add scallions, dill, olive oil and black pepper to the cooked baby red potatoes) or sautéed onion, green pepper and brown rice smothered in low sodium tomato sauce. Another option is sautéed frozen spinach with slivered almonds to which you can throw in some shredded fresh carrots.
Keep it raw: Like the idea of seven layer dip? Try a raw and quick-to-make seven layer salad with a mix of finely chopped asparagus, cucumber, apple, corn, white mushrooms, grapes, fresh chives, or parsley. Or any other DASH friendly ingredients.
Halve the meat, lengthen the time: Keep protein low and flavor high by cooking meaty meals in a slow cooker even if you only use half the serving of protein, the longer cooking time will bring out huge amounts of savory flavor. For slow cooked stews or casseroles, try doubling the vegetables and using half of the meat and be sure the meat is lean. You may want to cook on high for an hour and then use the low setting the rest of the time.
“Green” the protein: Make a chunky pasta sauce with “meaty” vegetables, like sautéed eggplant and mushrooms
Twist tradition: Keep cooking fun and get creative, like using thinly-sliced squash and zucchini, instead of white linguine or spaghetti. DASH encourages lots and lots of vegetables but if you like pasta, go ahead and use the whole grain variety, that’s perfectly acceptable on the diet.