A to Z Health Guide

Tips to Tackling the DASH Diet

Adopt a diet that has been proven to lower your risk for kidney disease, kidney stones, and heart disease! The DASH diet -- an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- is aptly named as it has been shown to improve health by reducing blood pressure and therefore reducing the risk of heart and kidney diseases.

The DASH diet is high in potassium, an essential mineral that affects blood pressure, muscle contraction, and many vital processes in your body. Potassium is found in many foods including fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy. The DASH diet also has a moderate amount of sodium, is low in fat, and is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

The DASH diet is a great tool for lowering your risk of developing kidney and heart disease. If you already have chronic kidney disease, you should speak with your doctor and dietitian before starting the DASH diet as you may have special restrictions to consider. This diet should not be used by people on dialysis. Individuals on dialysis have special dietary needs that should be discussed with a registered dietitian.

When you take a look at the DASH diet, it might at first seem hard to reduce the amount of sodium you consume, especially because sodium seems to be found in so many of the foods we eat. Here are a few tips to help keep the sodium to a minimum and eat healthfully on a DASH diet.

Top Tips for Starting the DASH Diet

Limit salt when cooking.

Instead, add flavor without adding salt. Try:

  • Aromatic vegetables (examples: onions, peppers, garlic)
  • Flavor with fruit (examples: citrus juice and fruit zest).
  • Herbs (examples: rosemary, parsley, cilantro)
  • Spices (examples: black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg)

Read food labels.

  • The Nutrition Facts label is your guide to what is inside all processed or packaged foods. Low sodium foods have ≤ 140 mg of sodium per serving, and very low sodium products have ≤ 35 milligrams sodium per serving.

Snack smart; make low sodium snack swaps.

  • Look for products that are unsalted, have no added salt, or are lower sodium substitutes for your favorite snacks to make healthy, lower sodium choices.

Make your plate colorful.

  • Add fruits or vegetables to every meal. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. And, aim to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. These simple steps help increase the amount of potassium you eat, limits your sodium intake, and fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat!

Choose low fat dairy products.

  • Low fat dairy products include 1% or skim (nonfat) milk, light yogurt, and 2% cheese. If you are currently eating or drinking high fat dairy products, try the next step down. For example if you are drinking whole milk, try 2% milk. If you are drinking 2% milk, try 1% milk. With these two small steps, you are now drinking low fat milk.
  • Order your favorite coffee beverage with non-fat or skim milk. This one, simple request is a small change that can have a positive impact on your diet and health.
  • Choosing low fat dairy products helps to decrease the saturated fat (read "bad fat") in your diet and increases your consumption of vital nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Dairy products are naturally low in sodium too!

If you need a more specific guide, here is a sample meal plan for your first three days on the DASH diet.

As always, please check with your primary care physician before starting a new diet or exercise plan.

Written by Denon Stacy, MS, RD, CSP, LD

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.