DASH Diet for High Blood Pressure
Doctors may recommend the DASH diet for kids who have ever had a blood pressure reading that was higher than normal. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (high blood pressure).
Diet can impact blood pressure, so high blood pressure can often be treated with dietary changes. The DASH diet is not a strict diet, but more of a lifestyle. It’s fairly easy to follow and doesn’t restrict any type of food. While following this diet, kids can still have favorite treats on occasion as long as they get most of their calories from whole, unprocessed foods.
Who Is the DASH Diet for?
Anyone who wants to prevent or lower high blood pressure would benefit from following the DASH diet. High blood pressure has a variety of possible causes, including:
- eating an unhealthy diet
- eating too much sodium (salt)
- smoking cigarettes
- not managing stress
Kids don’t have to be diagnosed with high blood pressure to follow this diet. Many kids (and adults) at risk of developing high blood pressure can benefit from it.
What Can My Child Eat While on the DASH Diet?
The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan that focuses on nutritious foods while limiting processed and unhealthy foods. This diet separates foods into three broad categories: Foods to fill up on every day, foods you can have in moderation, and foods to eat rarely (or avoid). The following lists give a broad overview of these categories as outlined by the DASH diet.
Foods to fill up on every day:
- fresh or frozen fruits
- fresh or frozen vegetables
- steamed, lightly sauteed, or baked vegetables with minimal oil and salt
- whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc.)
Foods to have in moderation (once or twice a day):
- legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, etc.)
- nuts and seeds with little or no oil and salt
- lean meats like fish or poultry
- eggs (mainly egg whites)
- fat-free or low-fat dairy products, or plant-based dairy products fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12
Foods to eat rarely (no more than once or twice a week):
- pork or red meat (beef, lamb, venison, etc.)
- processed meats (deli meats, bacon, hot dogs, etc.)
- deep-fried foods (fried chicken, French fries, etc.)
- full-fat dairy products (whole milk, butter, cream, full-fat cheese, etc.)
- soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
- highly processed foods (frozen or instant meals, salty snacks, canned foods, candy, sugary breakfast cereals, etc.)
- restaurant meals
You’ll also want to limit added salt and oil in your child’s diet. If you must use these when cooking, use just a few teaspoons of oil or add just a sprinkle of salt. Keep in mind you can add flavor in other ways. Try using different spices and herbs to see which ones your child likes. Kids’ taste buds will adjust to low-salt food relatively quickly, and they may even start to find restaurant food too salty.
Sample Menus From the DASH Diet
There are many ways to follow this diet, so you can do so based on your child’s likes and dislikes. Here are some sample breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. These are just suggestions, and you can adjust them however you’d like, as long as you don’t add too much salt or oil.
Breakfast might include any of these main dishes:
- a bowl of cooked steel-cut oats with berries and pecans
- multigrain toast with low-sodium peanut butter and cinnamon
- a whole-fruit smoothie with spinach and chia seeds
To make breakfast more filling, you can add one of these side dishes:
- low-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt
- an orange
- a hard-boiled egg
- low-sodium whole-grain bran flakes
For lunch, consider:
- a whole-wheat wrap with hummus, avocado, spinach, tomato, and cucumber
- a salad with chicken or chickpeas and your favorite veggies
- grilled salmon or tofu with low-sodium teriyaki sauce
You can add one or two of these:
- a wild rice pilaf with veggies
- baked sweet potato spears with paprika
- low-sodium whole-grain crackers
- an apple or pear
- sliced melon or watermelon
Here are some dinner options:
- low-sodium white bean chili with turkey
- an herb-crusted baked cod filet
- whole-wheat or brown rice pasta with a low-sodium lentil-tomato sauce
Healthy side dishes include:
- steamed green beans with garlic and slivered almonds
- cooked brown rice
- a quinoa pilaf with your favorite veggies
- mixed greens with a splash of olive oil and vinegar
- a whole-wheat dinner roll
- a veggie medley with zucchini and yellow squash
How Can We Follow the DASH Diet Away From Home?
It’s better to avoid eating at restaurants or buying processed foods while on the DASH diet, but this might not be realistic for many families. It’s fine for your child to enjoy a treat once in a while.
These tips can help you keep things as healthy as possible:
- At restaurants, check with your server to see if any options are low-sodium, and ask for any sauces or dressings to be served on the side.
- When shopping for groceries, always check the food labels on any processed foods, and choose low-sodium versions if possible.
- At parties, let your child try a small portion of any desired treats so they won't feel deprived. It’s also a good idea to serve a healthy and filling meal before the party so kids are less likely to fill up on junk food and sweets.
What Else Should I Know?
One of the best ways to help your child stick to the DASH diet is to follow the diet yourself. Kids typically want to eat what the adults around them are eating, so making this a family goal can be fun for them. Show kids that healthy food can be tasty and enjoyable, and bring them into the kitchen to get them involved in how their food is prepared.
Take your child to all regular checkups so the doctor can see how things are going and make sure that your child's blood pressure stays at a healthy level.