The average American eats just two or three servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This is far below the average recommended by most diets, including the DASH eating plan. DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension and promotes a diet heavily focused on fruits and vegetables. A study from Harvard Medical School and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute indicated that following the program can lower blood pressure and reduce a number of health risks.
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Before you figure out how many fruits and vegetables to eat on the DASH diet, determine your daily calorie needs. Calorie requirements vary by age and activity level, so talk to your doctor to find what is best for you. In general, women ages 31 to 50 should eat between 1,600 and 2,200 calories daily. This calorie range calls for approximately four to five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. One-half cup of vegetables or vegetables juice or 1 cup of leafy green vegetables constitutes a single serving. A fruit serving is equivalent to a medium-sized piece of fruit, 1/2 cup of fruit juice, 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or 1/4 cup of dried fruit.
Fruit contains a number of healthy vitamins and nutrients, including fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and folate. You can incorporate fruit into just about every meal. Top morning cereal with berries, eat fruit salad at lunch or snack on fresh fruit mixed into low-fat yogurt. Whole fruits are more beneficial than juice, as these provide more healthful fiber. If you drink juice, select 100-percent fruit juice without added sugars. When you buy canned fruit, choose varieties that are canned in water or juice rather than in heavy syrup.
Vegetables are also rich in fiber and essential vitamins and nutrients. Serve vegetables as side dishes or snacks paired with dips or hummus, or make veggies the bulk of a meal in the form of a large salad or served over a whole grain like brown rice. Those who do not especially like the taste of vegetables can hide them in other foods by shredding vegetables such as carrots or zucchini into any meal from meatloaf to muffins. Look for frozen or canned vegetables that are low in sodium when you cannot purchase fresh.
The DASH eating plan was developed to help lower your blood pressure and, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can do so in as little as two weeks. High blood pressure can lead to serious conditions including heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. In addition to reducing blood pressure, a DASH diet can also help control your weight, lower cholesterol, protect against diabetes and other chronic diseases and reduce your risk of certain types of cancer.
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The most effective way to make such a drastic change in your eating habits is to do so gradually. Incorporate small changes until they become a habit. Try to add one extra serving of fruits or vegetables per day until you are up to the recommended DASH levels. Because of their high-fiber content, adding fruits and vegetable gradually may also help control bloating and digestive issues. To help add fruits and vegetables to your diet, keep them close at hand. Buy dried, frozen or canned fruits and veggies when fresh produce is unavailable. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the table to take for eating on-the-go or buy cut celery sticks or baby carrots for a quick, easy snack.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What Is the DASH Eating Plan?
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Your Guide to Lowering High Blood Pressure: Healthy Eating
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: Following the DASH Eating Plan
- Mayo Clinic: DASH Diet: Healthy Eating to Lower Your Blood Pressure
- The DASH Diet Eating Plan: US News & World Reports: Best and Healthiest Diet Plan
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Foods Are in the Fruit Group?
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Foods Are in the Vegetable Group?
- The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide: Low-Sodium DASH Diet Lowers Blood Pressure
Lauretta Claussen has been writing professionally since 1999. Specializing in health and fitness topics, her work has been published by a variety of print and online media outlets. She earned her journalism degree from Lewis University in 2001.