Back to Basics: 5 Quick Tips for DASH Diet Beginners

By: StacyAtZeel

The U.S. News and World Report recently released their list of the most nutritionally sound diets, crowning DASH as No. 1 and revealing what pragmatic consumers have known for years: Moderation may be the key to a long, healthy life.

The DASH diet encourages nutritious habits that ultimately lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health. Unlike more restrictive programs, like Atkins and veganism, DASH dieters nosh on reasonable amounts of nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts. Sodium, sweets, sugar and red meat-found in copious amounts on the typical American menu-are limited.

As 2011 draws to a close and you start pondering the New Year, jump start your resolution with the DASH diet and these five simple tips on how you can get started today.

1. Determine your calorie intake. The DASH diet doesn't restrict calories in the traditional sense. It instead helps men and women determine the number of calories they should be consuming per day based on their level of physical activity. Women aged 19 to 50 can expect to eat somewhere between 1,800 and 2,400 calories daily; for men this number jumps to between 2,400 and 3,000.

2. Increase your fiber intake.
Fiber is one of the five key ingredients on the DASH diet (the others are potassium, magnesium, calcium and protein). Fiber in the DASH diet comes from fruits, veggies and whole grains, most of which are naturally high in the bulky nutrient. Add these foods to your diet incrementally to avoid painful (and unattractive) stomach problems.

3. Boost your dairy consumption.
While not all diets embrace dairy products, on to the DASH program, fat-free or low-fat milk products are considered important to health. DASH dieters consume two to three servings of dairy every day, like a cup of low- or no-fat milk, a portion of low- or no-fat yogurt, or an ounce and a half of reduced-fat cheese.

If you're lactose intolerant or have trouble digesting milk products (it's more common than you think!), you have two options: Take lactase-enzyme pills or buy lactose-free milk.

4. Limit salty foods.
Sodium control is at the core of the DASH diet. How much sodium you can consume depends on how sensitive your body is to this saline element. According to the standard DASH diet, 2,300 milligrams of sodium is permitted per day. The low sodium DASH diet allows just 1,500 milligrams per day.

Either way, considering that a normal American diet boasts upwards of 3,500 milligrams of sodium, you can expect a significant reduction in the amount of salt in your daily intake.

5. Get moving. Physical activity is a key aspect of the DASH diet, which calls for at least 30 minutes of exercise "most days of the week." Dieters who want to both boost their health and slim down should aim for 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. Beginning exercisers may choose to split their workouts into segments, since three 20-minute sessions can seem more manageable than a single hour-long workout.

Have you tried the DASH diet or any other nutrition programs on U.S. News and World Report's list? The TLC diet came in at a close second and the Mediterranean diet was third.