DASH Diet Challenge - Food Groups and Serving Sizes

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As I wrote in my DASH Diet Challenge Post, for the next 30 days, I will be following the DASH Diet.  

As with most diets, one must start by figuring out what you can eat.  The NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute includes several charts to help us decide an appropriate calorie intake and servings of various food groups.  Based on the calorie chart, I should take in 1,600 - 1,800 calories a day.

It's the next step that often stumps people.  What exactly does that mean in terms of what I can eat?  According to the chart, I can have:

  • 6 servings of grains per day
  • 3-5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 4-5 servings of fruits per day
  • 2-3 servings of fat free or low-fat dairy products per day
  • 3-6 servings of lean meats, poultry or fish per day
  • 3-4 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week
  • 2-3 servings of healthy fats and oils per day
  • 3-5 servings OR LESS of sweets per week
  • Maximum sodium intake of 2,300 mg per day

Hmm, sounds like a lot of food, right?  But now, I need to know just what a serving is for each type of food.  So, on to the next chart.

Grains.  In the grains category, a serving size is 1 slice of bread, an ounce of dry cereal, a 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.  The slice of bread is easy enough to visualize.  For the other items, I will have to use a measuring cup.  Accurate portion control is going to be important, especially for the grains, as they are high in carbohydrates.  For a visual reference, a 1/2 cup of rice is a lot less than you think - about the size of a half of a fist.

Vegetables.  The vegetables category is my favorite, since I especially like green, leafy vegetables and my lunch is usually a salad made from mixed lettuces and power greens.  A serving size of leafy vegetables is a cup (a good handful), or a half cup of cut up raw or cooked vegetables.  Starchy vegetables like potatoes should be eaten sparingly.

Fruits.  To be honest, I have not been eating a lot of fruit, since many are high in sugar, and I do seem to be very sugar sensitive.  However.  In the fruit category, a serving size would be a medium size fruit (think a medium size apple), or a 1/4 cup of dried fruit (about the size of an egg for visual reference - no scarfing down a whole bag of dried mangos!), or 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.  You may notice I haven't mentioned fruit or vegetable juice.  I don't particularly like either one, but if you do, a serving size would be 1/2 a cup.  I'll be going for lower sugar fruits such as berries and Granny Smith apples (delicious sliced and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon).  

Dairy.  A serving size is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1-1/2 oz of cheese.  People who are lactose intolerant (I am not) can drink lactose-free milk.  I've found that milk from grass fed cows seems to taste better, even when it's fat free, and I like Kroger's Simple Truth version.  If you are following this diet, or any others that allow dairy, be especially aware that Greek yogurts, although higher in protein, often have a lot of sugar in them. I've been choosing lower sugar yogurts like Siggis since I started eating breakfast every day.  You can also make your own yogurt so that you can control the sugar content.  For a visual reference for the cheese serving size, it would be the size of a 9 volt battery.

Lean Meats, Poultry, Fish.  A serving size is 1 oz of cooked meat, poultry or fish (for visual reference, 3 ounces is the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand).  One egg would also be a serving in this category.  That's way less meat than I am used to eating, so this will require me to manage my portions.

Nuts, Seeds, Legumes.  A serving size is 1/3 cup or 1-1/2 oz of nuts (much smaller portion than we are used to thinking about - I can easily scarf down a bag of pistachios at one go).  For nut butters, a serving size would be 2 tablespoons, and for seeds, the serving size is also 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce.  The serving size for cooked peas, lentils, legumes is 1/2 cup (the same as a serving size of rice).  Note that this category is 3-4 servings per week, not per day.

Fats and Oils.  A serving size is 1 tsp of margarine, butter, or oil, or a tablespoon of light mayonnaise or salad dressing.  (This one will be hard - I love my healthy fats!  But for the purposes of this challenge, I will do my best to follow the guidelines).  

Sweets and added sugars.  I'm pretty sure this category was added in so that people don't feel deprived by having to give up their sugar.  You are allowed a few servings a week of jelly or jam (1 tablespoon) or syrup, 1/2 cup sorbet or gelatin dessert, or a piece of hard candy.  

So that's the breakdown of what is allowed and how much.  Now, on to meal planning!

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Learn more about Women and Heart Health in my Love Your Heart series.