The DASH Diet for Vegetarians and Vegans
Given that the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has secured the distinction as the healthiest diet and the best diet overall by US News & World Report, and the diet is recommended by the American Heart Association to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, DASH seems to be the way to improve your health and even lose weight. But what if you are a vegetarian or vegan—is the DASH diet for you?
The DASH diet is easy to modify
The DASH diet is doctor-recommended for people who have high blood pressure (hypertension) or prehypertension, and it has been designed for the whole family. So, yes, the DASH diet is for you if you are a vegetarian or vegan and you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
The DASH diet is a low-sodium, high-fiber, low to moderate fat diet based on a firm foundation of lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat dairy. That part fits the bill for most vegetarians, except those who choose not to eat dairy products, and there are nondairy substitutions that can be made.
Yes, the DASH diet includes fish and poultry and small amounts of beef, but plant proteins can be easily substituted for these animal protein sources, even in DASH recipes.
Therefore, with some tweaking, the DASH diet can be modified to fit the needs and desires of both vegetarians and vegans.
Let’s consider the two categories that need adjustments: dairy and meat/fish/poultry. In the dairy department, vegans and vegetarians who choose not to eat dairy can substitute nondairy soy and grain products, such as soy beverages, soy and grain “cheeses,” soy sour cream, and soy yogurt. These products are available in low-fat forms and typically are low in sodium.
The slightly more challenging category is meat, fish, and poultry, your primary protein source. Fortunately, there are excellent plant protein options, including tempeh (very high in protein and very low in sodium), tofu (fermented, baked, and regular), and seitan, a wheat gluten product, also known as “wheat meat,” that is high in protein, low in sodium, and available in a number of forms that resemble “real” meat.
In the DASH diet, the recommended consumption in the legumes, nuts, and seeds category is 4 to 5 servings per week when following the 2000-calorie-per-day plan. You could substitute an occasional additional meal that includes high-protein beans, lentils, or split peas as a meat/protein option. Two other complete high-protein options are the grains amaranth and quinoa.
A vegetarian/vegan version of a DASH recipe
Taking a recipe from the dashdiet.org website (Blackened Chicken with Berry Salad), it is easy to transform it into a vegan dish. The recipe calls for:
- A variety of vegetables, such as grated carrots, radishes, tomatoes, peas, strips of bell pepper, and red cabbage
- Various berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries—your choice)
- 4 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast—substitute 4 oz of tempeh
- 1 tsp blackening spice mixture (low sodium, of course)
- 1 cup romaine lettuce
- Olive oil and vinegar or raspberry vinaigrette dressing (low-sodium)
Rub the tempeh with the spice mixture and grill it (or pan sear using spray-on oil in a skillet). Place the romaine lettuce on a large plate. Top with the vegetables and berries. Cut the cooked tempeh into strips and place on top of the salad. Top with your chosen dressing.