Reducing Sugar in Your Diet: 12 DASH Diet Sugar Tips

How to reduce DASH diet sugar intake
If you like sweets, DASH diet sugar limit is really easy to blow past without even noticing it. I’ve had to get strategic about reducing sugar in my diet in order to maximize my sugar-induced happiness.

I don’t have a problem with daily limits for many of the DASH diet food categories, while a few are more difficult to adhere to. My suspicion is that everyone struggles with different food categories of the DASH diet, since everyone lives and eats differently. The most difficult challenge for me in the DASH diet framework is reducing sugar in my diet.

(And to clarify, I’m talking about added sugar, not carbohydrates, or sugar that occurs naturally in things like fruits, milk, vegetables and grains.)

Thankfully, I dislike sweet beverages, so avoiding sugary sodas and juices aren’t a problem at all, which is great, since a 12-oz bottle of Sprite contains 38 grams of sugar, about 4-5 days’ worth of sugar for DASH diet adherents. However, sweet foods are a different story: I love them all. Ice cream, cakes, cookies, chocolate–you name it, I love it. Good-quality sweets make me happy, and I can’t imagine giving them up entirely. So, in order to stay under the “5 servings per week” limit, I really have to be strategic about maximizing my happiness quotient from the sugar I consume.

I’m still figuring out how to consistently stay below the DASH diet’s sugar guidelines without developing a void in my gluttonous heart, but I’ve found some tactics that work. (Well, most of the time). If you need a refresher on the DASH diet daily sugar intake guidelines or how to figure out how many DASH diet servings of sugar/sweets a particular item is, here‘s a handy guide.

If you look at the tips to reduce sugar intake below, you might notice some of them are about knowing what makes me happy. To me, knowing what works for me is just as important in reducing sugar intake as knowing where sugar tends to hide and how many servings of sugar a slice of cake, say, contains.

Tips for Reducing Sugar in Your Diet (Without Feeling Too Deprived)

  1. Know where sugars tend to hide. Nutrition fact labels are your friend. Check the nutrition fact label and get a sense of how many servings of sugar a particular item might have.
  2. Don’t do a sweet breakfast if you want to have anything sweet the rest of the day. I’d rather have a piece of chocolate at work or ice cream after dinner, so most days I don’t have anything sweet for breakfast. When I do, it’s with the understanding that that’ll be it for the day.
  3. Greek Yogurt with Strawberries & Maple Syrup
    I like to buy plain Greek yogurt and add my own flavorings, rather than buying flavored ones. Doing so lets me control the amount of sugar in my yogurt, as well as the overall serving size. This helps me stay under the fairly low DASH diet sugar limit.

    Instead of buying flavored yogurt, get a plain yogurt and add your own flavoring at home, like fresh fruits, jam, maple syrup, grape molasses, dried fruits in honey, etc. This lets you control how sweet you make your yogurt and how much of it you eat in one sitting. I usually find store-bought yogurts too sweet anyway, so this works well for me.

  4. If you snack at work (like I do) bring non-sugary snacks. Some that I’ve tried and liked: Roasted nuts, peanut butter crackers, string cheese and pre-sliced cheese, dried fruits, pretzels, hummus with celery and fresh fruits.
  5. Dried fruits are your friend. They do still have fructose, so it’s probably not a good idea to gorge on them especially if blood sugar is a concern, but they satisfy my sweet tooth and keep me from reaching for cookies and chocolate.
  6. Apple & Raspberries
    Apple and giant raspberries, oh my. Fresh fruits are an important part of my DASH breakfast (and dare I say, my overall happiness, too).

    Fresh fruits are also great when you want something cool and sweet (like ice cream!).

  7. Go for quality over quantity. Better-quality stuff satisfies you with less. I find it to be especially true for chocolates and cakes. (This applies to significant others, too. :P)
  8. Share a slice of cake with someone else. I do this with Hubby unless it’s a special occasion (or unless we are being particularly bad). While it doesn’t completely eliminate sugar (which is not my goal anyway with DASH diet), it does help us reduce it.
  9. Drink an interesting beverage instead. At home, I brew high-quality loose-leaf tea after dinner. At work, I have a stash of different tea bags that I rotate through. We also keep a stash of flavored sparkling water. And ah, yeah, we drink beer and wine, too.
  10. Use a smaller bowl for ice cream and other scoopable desserts. We use small ramekins from IKEA. They don’t sell the exact same one anymore, it appears, but these VARDAGEN ones might be the replacement.
  11. Don’t be bored. This is really true for me. When I have nothing to do, or I’m not in the “deep work” mode with whatever I’m doing, I tend to mindlessly snack on sweet stuff. (This blog is quite helpful here. It’s been a lot of engaging work!)
  12. Make sure your meals are satisfying. This is also an important point for me. When I’m not satisfied with dinner, whether because it wasn’t quite tasty enough or just wasn’t enough food, chances are, I’ll want something sweet to get my food happiness gauge up.

Spending the “Sugar Budget” My Way

The beauty of DASH diet is that there is room for tasty desserts and cookies, unlike some restrictive diets that tell you those things are evil and absolutely off-limits. With DASH diet, it’s a bit like budgeting. I sometimes ask myself “Is this really what I want to spend today’s sugar budget on?” I can answer yes and go ahead and eat a crappy candy because I’m stressed out at work and need a quick pick-me-up. That’s certainly a suboptimal way to spend my sugar budget, but I’ll have made a conscious decision, rather than mindlessly–or unknowingly–blow through my day’s limit and regret it later, when I want an ice cream but don’t have room left for it. But the decision is still mine, and I like that. A lot.

How About You?

Do you have a hard time limiting your added sugar intake? What tricks have worked for you in reducing sugar in your diet?

A DASH Diet Daily Sugar Intake Guide

Daily Sugar Intake: How Much is Too Much?

Added sugar is this decade’s fat. I won’t get into the alarming/alarmist arguments against added sugar, but it’s safe to say a lot of us who want to eat healthy are probably trying to cut back on sugar intake. American Heart Association recommends 36 grams of sugar a day for men, 25 grams for women, which is about the same as the WHO’s recommendation. Yet, an average American consumes 82 grams of added sugar every day. Clearly, many of us need to rein in our sugar intake to live a long, healthy and tasty life.

Since I started following the DASH diet framework in early 2017, I’ve been trying hard (really hard!) to stay within its sugar intake limit. DASH diet’s sugar guideline is even stricter than AHA’s. Since I absolutely love flaky pastries, creamy cakes and other sweets, it’s been a challenge, to say the least. But first, I had to figure out what my daily sugar intake limit was in this framework, and get comfortable calculating and guesstimating the amount of added sugar in different foods. Below is a handy guide that’ll help you figure out your sugar limit, guesstimate servings and decide which strategy work best for you. (I also have tips for reducing sugar in your diet!)

DASH Diet Guidelines for Daily Sugar Intake

Daily Sugar Intake on DASH Diet
Daily sugar intake on DASH diet is pretty easy to exceed, if you have a sweet tooth like I do. Knowing how many DASH diet servings of sugar is in your favorite sweets and baked goods is key.

In the DASH diet framework, the guideline for daily sugar intake (i.e., the number of sugar servings per day) varies depending on how many calories you need in a day. For a typical 2,000 calories/day scheme, the recommendation is to limit the sugar to 5 servings per week. It goes down to 3 servings per week when your daily caloric needs are below 1,600. We are following the 2,000 calorie scheme, so we get 5 servings of sugar per week to play with.

But what does 5 servings of sugar look like? I found it somewhat confusing when I was figuring out the DASH diet framework, as one serving of sugar can mean a different amount depending on what source you look at. In DASH diet, this is what NIH lists as one serving of sugar/sweets:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar (12.5 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon jelly or jam
  • 1/2 cup sorbet

Translating Weekly Sugar Intake Limit to Daily Sugar Intake Limit

Note that the list above is one serving, so if you are averaging out the weekly limit of 5 servings of sugar/sweets over 7 days, you don’t get a full amount listed here each day. Your daily sugar intake limit would be around 0.7 serving, so, it’d look like this:

  • a tad less than ¾ tablespoon of sugar
  • a bit less than 3/4 tablespoon of jam
  • a little less than ½ cup of sorbet

This really isn’t a lot. You can SO easily reach this limit. I know I can. 🙁 This is why I try to be really strategic about when I eat sugar and from what source. Figuring out the realistic but healthy daily sugar intake for us was a big part of the effort when I set up my own DASH diet plan!

Figuring Out DASH Diet Serving Sizes for Foods Not Listed

Half a tiramisu. I usually share a slice of cake with Hubby, rather than have a full slice, in order to stay close to the DASH diet’s daily sugar intake guidelines.

When it comes to sweet things, the DASH diet table has a glaring hole. I mean, where are the cookies and cakes? Chocolate? Ice cream? They are a part of a healthy diet, right? Right?

Joking aside, if you are like me, you’ll probably want to incorporate some baked goods and desserts into your DASH diet framework. The good people at NIH probably excluded them from the table in order to discourage us from eating (too much) baked goods and desserts, but I’m of the opinion that they’re fine to eat for (more or less) healthy people, as long as we don’t exceed the daily sugar intake limit (or the weekly one) of DASH diet.

…which means that I have to figure out how to count the sugar servings of various baked goods and desserts. This is relatively easy for packaged goods that come with “nutrition facts” labels.

(Tangent alert!)  This will be even easier once all the food manufacturers comply with the new nutrition label requirements. The new format of the label separates out the added sugar from the naturally occurring ones. Unfortunately, the deadline for compliance was pushed back to 2020 and later. I’ve noticed, though, that some smaller manufacturers like this one have already started using the new format. Kudos to them!

How to Calculate Sugar Servings in Baked Goods & Desserts

Packaged Goods

Nilla Wafers Nutrition FactsFor example, if I’m eating 5 vanilla wafer cookies with this nutrition facts label, I can guesstimate the sugar content this way:

5 (wafers) x 11g (sugars per manufacturer’s serving) / 20 (wafers per manufacturer’s serving) = 2.75g

Now, there are 12.5 grams of sugar in 1 tablespoon of sugar. So, 2.75 grams of sugar in 5 cookies is:

2.75g / 12.50g (sugar per 1 tablespoon)  =  0.22 tablespoons (DASH diet servings)

Since 1 DASH diet serving of sugar is 1 tablespoon, 5 vanilla wafer cookies is about ¼ serving of sugar. Since I have ¾ serving of sugar/sweets per day according to the DASH diet framework, 5 vanilla wafer cookies seems like a sensible amount to snack on.

Bakery Items and Others without Nutrition Facts Labels

Things get far more difficult when I have a cake or muffin that don’t come with nutrition facts, like those from a bakery. For those, I just have to make an educated guess based on nutritional information available online for similar things. “Similar” is the operative term here–those of us who’ve baked even a few things know that recipes vary wildly for items with the same name, and when recipes vary, so do the sugar content. I can’t know for sure, but I can estimate.

For example, if I have a 3 oz slice of a cheesecake, Google says it contains 17 grams of sugar. Other sites show higher or lower amounts. Using the Google amount, I can do the same calculation:

17g (per 3 oz of cheesecake) / 12.5g (sugar per 1 tablespoon) = 1.35 tablespoon (servings)

This calculation shows that the 3-oz slice of a cheesecake is close to 1.4 servings of sugar, about 2 days worth of sugar in the DASH diet framework. Am I allowed to eat the cheesecake? Of course I can, as long as I avoid other sugars for those 2 days to keep my average daily sugar intake more or less under the DASH diet guidelines! This flexibility is a part of why I think DASH diet is one of the best ways to eat healthy.

Following the DASH Diet Guideline for Daily Sugar Intake

Mango Sticky Rice, Grass Jelly & Sago
This mango sticky rice and grass jelly and sago pearls in vanilla milk was definitely a splurge. We should have gotten one and shared it; even then, we’d have been way over the DASH diet’s daily sugar intake limit for the day!

I just use this kind of calculations as a rule of thumb rather than try to be super-precise about my daily sugar intake. I have to strike a sustainable balance between being precise and not driving myself crazy.

One question I’ve been trying to figure out for myself is this: Do I “save” the daily sugar intake “budget” over multiple days and have a nice slice of cake one day? Or do I enjoy a much smaller amount of sweets every day instead? This might be a personal preference thing, but so far I’ve been going the second route with varying degrees of success.

As imperfect as the “small bit of sweets most days” model is, I suspect the “feast and famine” model might not work for me. I’m not sure if I can completely abstain from sugar and stay happy for one thing. For another, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I went the feast and famine route, I might end up having more feasts than famines. Knowing myself is the key here. 😛

One evidence supporting my decision to go the “small bit of pleasure most days” route is a book by Sonja Lyubomirsky, which I found via a personal finance blog post a few years ago. She found that small and frequent pleasures generated more happiness overall than big, infrequent pleasures. Think multiple weekend trips versus one big international trip each year–multiple weekend trips tend to keep people happier even though they are shorter and not as epic as a big international trip. I feel the same way about sugar. (I know, I know, it sounds stupid, but I do.) So, for now, I’m having a small dessert most days rather than save them up for a big weekly splurge.

How about you?

How do you follow the DASH diet’s daily sugar intake guidelines?

8 Reasons Why the DASH Diet is the Best Diet

…even though “best diet” is a misnomer

US News & World Report ranked the DASH diet as the best diet. Again. In their 2018 best diet ranking, the DASH diet is tied at the top with the Mediterranean diet. Do I believe their expertise in making this judgment? I’m not so sure–but I do have my own reasons to believe that this is indeed one of the best ways to eat healthy. It sure has been working well for me and Hubby!

1) DASH “diet” is an approach, not a diet.

Best diet has room for an occasional breakfast burger.
Not that I should be eating this breakfast burger and tator tots every day, but I can occasionally do that within the DASH diet framework. I just need to balance it out with other meals heavy on vegetables and low in fat and meat. That approach sounds like the best diet to me!

This might seem like semantics, but I think it’s important. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. I know, I know, this is a horribly unsexy name, but it does signify that it’s an approach, a philosophy, a framework–not the restrictive set of rules and allowed and prohibited foods we think of when hearing the word “diet.”  I think I’m allergic to that word at this point, lol.

2) DASH diet is not extreme.

…which is probably one reason it’s not flashy enough to be a media darling, but it’s a-o-kay for me. Eating is something I do every day of my life, so any way of eating I follow has to fit naturally and easily into my life. Otherwise I’d abandon it once the initial fervor wears off. If everyone follows a diet for 2 weeks or 3 months and abandons it in frustration and self-loathing, that can’t be the “best diet.” In this regard, it helps that I already like a lot of the foods that the DASH diet, but even for picky eaters, I think it’s inclusive and flexible enough to work!

3) DASH diet is flexible.

Miso Soup with Pork & Root Vegetables
Pork miso soup with root vegetables (tonjiru) is a classic Japanese soup full of daikon radish, carrot, burdock, sweet potato, shiitake, little bits of pork and more. A perfect vehicle to meet DASH diet’s vegetable goals.

Since it’s an approach or a framework, DASH diet doesn’t tell you what to eat or how to eat them. You are free to pick and choose the ingredients, cuisines and cooking methods to fit your preferences and lifestyle, within the overall framework. It’s like being given a skeleton and freedom to flesh it out in any way I see fit.

I absolutely value this freedom. For one thing, Hubby and I both love food, so we need to be able to truly enjoy every meal we have, to the extent possible. For another, the creativity and fun in the cooking process is something I really cherish. The simple, instant gratification of cooking is hard to give up, too,  when so much of life and work is mid- or long-term goals with no immediately satisfying result. So, a more strictly regimented diet wouldn’t work for me in this regard, either.

This unspecificity and need for creativity and  improvisation might be a challenge for some. I’ve also seen related complaints that “it’s just common sense.” Well, it is and it isn’t, which brings me to my next point.

4) DASH diet guides you with easily measurable goals.

DASH Diet Graph 1/6/2018-1/9/2018
I use radar graphs to see how my meals and snacks align–or not–with the weekly DASH goals. Visualization makes it easier to see where I need to adjust.

Much of DASH diet is indeed common sense for people who have been exposed to healthy eating and healthy life in general. I’m one of those people (thanks, mom). However DASH diet does give this “common sense” an organized structure and measurable goals. Even relatively well-informed eaters can benefit from them.

Have you ever heard of SMART goals? SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited. Those are the traits that are supposed to comprise a good goal, i.e., goals that help people achieve them. DASH is good in this regard: Instead of just saying “you should eat more vegetables and less meat,” DASH diet provides the numerical, measurable goals for each category of food. I know I’m doing well when my vegetable/fruit serving count is above 5 by lunchtime. Conversely, it’s easy to realize that my fat/oil intake is getting out of control when I see the fat/oil serving stays above 3 for a couple of days.

And because the serving sizes are mostly volume-based, it’s pretty easy to measure where you stand. Those that aren’t can easily be converted to eyeball-able volume measures. This is in contrast to calorie counting and point systems, which, I assume without ever trying them, have a pretty steep learning curve because you can’t see calories or points just by looking at the food on your plate.

The nerdy, Fitbit-loving side of me also gets a kick out of visualizing how our daily meals measure up to the DASH diet goals (hence the radar graphs in the What We Ate posts). That doesn’t mean you need to do all this tracking and graphing. Eyeballing and checking the boxes on a sheet of paper totally works, too.

5) DASH diet is not expensive.

Or shall I say, it doesn’t have to be expensive. I mean, you can follow the DASH diet by feasting exclusively on low-fat artisan Greek yogurts from free-range camels, artful heirloom vegetables from a environmentally conscious CSA and imported ancient grains from some exotic country (the DASH diet being flexible and all), but you don’t need to make it expensive.

Glorious plums from the farmers' market.
The one item on the DASH diet list that can get expensive is fruits… I wish that wasn’t the case! I combine the vegetable and fruit categories into one so I can load up on the vitamins, fiber and other good stuff from more vegetables and less fruits.

Following the DASH diet almost inevitably requires you to cook most of your meals, because otherwise a) it’s pretty hard to stay under the daily limit for fat, sodium and sugar; and b) you never really know how much of what you are eating, which makes it impossible to know whether you are following the DASH diet guidelines reasonably well or not. So, home cooking it is. Barring some exceptional circumstances, cooking at home is cheaper than eating out. At least in my experience, our food cost has gone down quite a bit since we started following the DASH diet more closely. Since I am also flirting with the idea of financial independence, that was a nice surprise bonus!

There are some diets designed to fatten the bank accounts of some entrepreneurial entity. These would tell you to purchase expensive smoothies or meal delivery services for health, weight loss, endless glory or whatever. These Wouldn’t be the best diet in my book. For DASH diet, all you need is a decent kitchen and grocery store.

There are also diets known to be expensive, even if you mostly cook at home. Paleo diet comes to mind, because steaks = moola. Not DASH diet. DASH diet favors foods that tend to be cheaper: Grains, veggies, eggs and dairy. So, yeah, it’s a nicely inexpensive diet.

6) DASH diet doesn’t “ban” anything…

I dislike diets that label certain foods as “bad” and ban them. Elimination diet does have a place for people with health problems, but for me, trying to avoid certain foods completely is a fool’s errand. That approach usually finds me sneaking and gorging on the very food I’m not supposed to be eating. (Hello, ice cream!) The very concept that I cannot eat something somehow makes that thing that much more compelling. And, really, stoicism is not the kind of life I want to live!

Instead, when following the DASH diet, you always have room for things you like, as long as you eat them in moderation. Even if you go over the recommended daily limit on some days, that’s okay. There’s no shame or self-loathing attached to it in this framework. Having a juicy burger one day is not a failure. A greasy slice of pizza isn’t the end of the world. The only thing you need to do is to look ahead and course-correct. This is why you find many instances of “balancing things out” on this blog.

7) …not even beer

Yes, it’s important. 🙂 Consistent with its general philosophy of “everything in moderation,” DASH diet has a line item for alcohol. One glass of wine or a pint of beer a day can totally be a part of your healthy diet. If beer is proof that God loves us, this, right here, is proof that DASH diet is the best diet on earth.

8) And perhaps most importantly, this: DASH diet seems to work.

Theology aside, many studies have shown the DASH diet to significantly lower blood pressure, its original aim. The reduction in blood pressures in single digits seems insignificant to my untrained eyes, but that’s a different story.  The best diet has to achieve its goal, whatever it is. And DASH diet squarely checks that box.

DASH diet’s effects on other conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity are less certain, it seems, but the overall agreement in the scientific/medical community seems to be that it’s a generally good, healthy diet for most people.

Aside from that, I lost the weight I wanted to lose, even though DASH is not supposed to be a weight loss diet and it wasn’t my primary focus. (To be clear, I didn’t lose a huge amount. It was just the 5-6 lb I gained while in grad school part time while working full time. I lost it gradually over the course of maybe 2-3 months.) It felt as though the DASH diet helped me get back to my healthy equilibrium in the most gentle, natural way possible. To me, this is sign that DASH diet is a good guideline to follow for the long term.

What do you think?

I hope that was enough to make you at least consider the DASH diet as a framework for healthy eating, even if you don’t think it’s the best diet. What do you think?

8 Reasons Why DASH Diet is the Best Diet
8 reasons why I think DASH diet is the best diet to follow. It’s flexible, forward-looking and fun!

How I Set up My Own DASH Diet Plan

When I started thinking about following the NIH-endorsed DASH diet back in April 2017, I read up a bit on the details of the plan. In one relatively easy-to-follow page, NIH provides almost all of the information you need to get started on the DASH eating plan, but I did need to adjust some things so I can follow this way of eating for the long term. Here are the steps I took to understand the basics and tweak the DASH diet for myself:

Determine the Caloric Needs

Based on my age (late 30s), sex (female), activity level (sedentary on weekdays, moderately active on weekends), I determined my daily caloric needs: 1,800. My weekend activity level can be a lot higher, but I decided to keep things simple and use the weekday as the basis. This led me to the table of food servings goal for someone who eats that many calories a day. The table on the NIH’s DASH page looked like this:

Daily Goals (Servings) Weekly Goals
Grains Veggies Fruits Dairy Meats & Fish Fat & Oil Sodium Nuts & Beans Sweets
6 4-5 4-5 2-3 6 2-3 2300 mg 4 5

So, I’m supposed to eat 6 servings of whole grains a day while limiting the meat/fish intake to less than 6 servings, for example. On the weekly side, I can eat 5 servings of sweets (i.e., added sugar) per week. That seemed moderately difficult for someone with sweet tooth like me, but maybe doable.

Understand the Serving Sizes and Categories

Next, I looked at the helpful table that lists what counts as one serving of each food group. (It’s still on the same NIH DASH page.) This table was full of surprises. For example, I’d assumed that 1 serving of grain = 1 cup of cooked rice. Wrong. It’s actually ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta, which made sense once I thought about it–I don’t think I can eat 6 bowls of rice per day!

Strawberries & PeachesThere were other surprises. One serving of fruits was bigger than I thought: to get one serving of fruits, you need to eat a whole fruit or ½ cup of cut-up fruit. 4-5 servings of fruits started to feel like waaaaaay more fruits than I can manage in a day as fruits are not something I eat a lot of. (And I must admit, a diet this heavy on fruits would get expensive pretty fast!) Conversely, one serving of meat and fish was way smaller than I thought. The conventional serving of meat is “the size of your palm,” but that’s about 3 oz of meat, while one DASH serving of meat is 1 oz, cooked. That was a surprisingly tiny amount, though achievable unless I go the meat n’ potato route all the time.

There were some oddities, too. One teaspoon of olive oil is a fat/oil equivalent of one tablespoon of regular salad dressing. I know from making my own dressings that there’s more olive oil than one teaspoon in a tablespoon of salad dressing. Unless I’m using bulkier ingredients like grated onion in my dressing, usually about half the volume of a salad dressing is oil, with the other half the acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice.

Read the Fine Prints

Well, maybe “the fine prints” is not the right word here, but I do recommend reading all the text in and around these tables. There were a lot of “oh by the way, you should do this and avoid that” type of recommendations. You probably know most of them already, if you’ve been exposed to some level of food education. Stuff like “low-fat or non-fat dairy is better” and “go for chicken breast rather than fatty cuts of beef,” that sort of thing.

Tweak the DASH Eating Plan for Your Lifestyle and Preference

Asparagus & FiddleheadsI thought the servings goal table was a bit more complicated than it needed to be. I also immediately knew that there were some goals recommendations that wouldn’t fit my preference and culinary style, like the large amount of fruits. So I decided to tweak the goals a bit without killing its core. I wanted the goals to be as simple as possible and suit my life. Both Hubby and I love eating good food, and I decided that certain restrictions would drive me away from gradual improvements of our diet. I may come back to the goals later and introduce some of these “not for now” items into our lives, but for now, this is what I’ve decided to aim for:

Daily Goals (Servings)


Veggies & Fruits Dairy Meats & Fish Fat & Oil Sodium Nuts & Beans Sweets
6 8-10 2-3 6 2-3 2300 mg 0.75



  1. I converted everything into daily goals for simplicity’s sake, rather than have some daily and some weekly goals.
  2. I combined the fruits with vegetables, with the goal of 8-10 servings a day. They serve similar nutritional purposes (and some of what we consider vegetables are actually fruits anyway), so I figured this simplification won’t do too much harm. Combined, I can aim for 8-10 servings, but I wouldn’t ever get to 4-5 servings of fruits a day.
  3. I decided full-fat dairy is acceptable. This… might be on a shaky ground: I just don’t like the low- or non-fat milk, and I know I wouldn’t drink milk if I had to go low- or non-fat, which would almost entirely eliminate my source of calcium, which wouldn’t be good.
  4. I also decided one egg a day is fine, for a few reasons. (DASH diet recommends limiting the eggs to 4 a week.) Neither of us has a problem with cholesterol. An egg for breakfast keeps me going until lunch, and egg dishes are an easy vehicle for a serving or two of vegetables.
  5. I would follow the nuts & beans category only very loosely, mostly because when I rely on beans and tofu, it would naturally cut down on the amount of meats we’d eat, and that’s not a bad thing.

Remaining Questions

There are some things I still wonder about. Some are about foods that fall into more than one category, like peanut butter. Do I count it toward “fat and oil” or “nuts and beans?” Or both? (I lean toward the latter, when I remember to–otherwise it goes into “fat and oil.”) Are mushrooms vegetables? (I think so.)

Others are more cultural. The DASH table rightly focuses on food items common in American diet, so common ingredients in other cuisines might be missing. Case in point: Coconut milk. It’s obviously not dairy, though it’s sometimes treated as a milk substitute. I know coconut milk is pretty high in fat. Do I count it toward “fat and oil?” And if so, how much is one serving? I have no idea! Another example: Seaweed. Is that a vegetable? I’d probably put it there, because it doesn’t really fit anywhere else, but again, how much is one serving?

The DASH Trifecta: Ready to Cook and Eat?

But I don’t stress out about small mysteries too much; the important points of DASH diet are pretty simple:

  1. Use whole grains as well as lots of vegetables and fruits as the basis of your diet
  2. Eat lean meats and fish, low-fat dairy, oil/fat and sweets with moderation
  3. Limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day

It took me a couple of hours to understand the details and adjust the goals to make them achievable for me and Hubby, but overall it wasn’t a difficult process. (This easy adaptability is another beauty of the DASH plan in my book.) And I was ready to start cooking!