Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

February is Heart Month which is a great time to learn more about heart disease. Did you know that heart disease refers to a group of conditions, from angina to valve disorders, that affect the structure and function of the heart? How about the fact that 1.3 million Canadians live with heart disease? Or that nine out of ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease?

DASH to a Healthy Heart


Risk factors for heart disease

Heart disease has a number of risk factors that can be classified in two ways:

  • Risk factors you cannot control, such as age and gender
  • Risk factors you can control, such as high blood pressure, being overweight and smoking

To learn more about the different types of risk factors for heart disease, take the Risk Assessment from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Focus on high blood pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension. Hypertension means that your blood is moving through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal. This causes the heart to work harder, damages blood vessels and increases risk for heart disease, kidney problems and stroke.

The DASH diet

A specific pattern of eating called the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet lowers blood pressure which reduces risk for heart disease.

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH diet promotes a variety of nutrient-rich foods with an emphasis on vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low-fat milk products and meat alternatives, such as nuts and pulses. As a result, the DASH diet is rich in calcium, potassium and magnesium and high in fibre. Limiting sodium intake is also recommended as part of the eating pattern.

Table 1 shows the number of recommended servings from the DASH diet based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. You may need more or less calories to maintain your healthy weight, however this table can still serve as a helpful guideline of which foods to focus on.

Table 1. The DASH Eating Plan

FoodNumber of daily servingsExample of serving size
Grains6 – 81 slice whole wheat bread, 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal*choose whole grains such as oats, millet, barley, bulger and quinoa most often
Vegetables4 – 51/2 cup raw or cooked vegetable, 1 cup raw leafy vegetable, 3/4 cup vegetable juice
Fruit4 – 51 medium fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit
Low fat milk products2- 31 cup skim or 1% milk, 1 cup low fat yogurt (2% milk fat or less), 1.5 oz low fat cheese (19% milk fat or less)
lean meat, poultry and fish2 or fewer3 oz cooked lean meat, skinless poultry or fish, 2 eggs
nuts, seeds and pulses4 – 5 times per week1/3 cup unsalted nuts (e.g.almonds, walnuts), 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 2 Tbsp seeds (e.g.sunflower, pumpkin), 1/2 cup cooked pulses (e.g. kidney beans, chickpeas)
Fats and oils2 – 31 tsp non hydrogenated margarine, 1 tsp oil (e.g. olive, canola), 1 Tbsp low fat mayonnaise or light salad dressing

For more information visit The Dash Diet to lower high blood pressure by the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Research behind the DASH diet

The Dash Diet is based on two studies provide evidence that the DASH diet is effective in lowering blood pressure.
In the initial DASH study, participants followed one of three eating patterns:

  • Typical North American diet
  • Typical North American diet, plus extra vegetables and fruit
  • DASH diet, emphasizing vegetables, fruit and low fat dairy foods

Blood pressure was lower in both groups that consumed additional vegetables and fruit. However, participants who followed the DASH diet had the lowest blood pressure within two weeks of following the plan.

The second study found that the more the amount of sodium was reduced in the DASH diet, the greater the blood pressure was reduced.

Article revised December 2018

February is Heart Month which is a great time to learn more about heart disease. Did you know that heart disease refers to a group of conditions, from angina to valve disorders, that affect the structure and function of the heart? How about the fact that 1.3 million Canadians live with heart disease? Or that nine out of ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease?

Jaclyn Chute

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Alberta Milk. Integrating the science of nutrition with the taste of great food is her passion, whether at work or in her kitchen.

Article posted on February 1, 2012



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The Expert Says

“The research around the DASH diet shows the powerful positive effect that a healthy diet can have on our bodies. That is great encouragement to eat healthily for life,” says Jaclyn Chute, registered dietitian at Alberta Milk.