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I tried the heart-healthy DASH diet for a week. I had more energy and felt less anxious in the morning.

green salad (left) writer Kim Schewitz (right)
Kim Schewitz enjoyed salads and spaghetti on the DASH diet.Kim Schewitz
  • I followed the heart-healthy DASH diet, designed to lower high blood pressure, for a week.

  • The low-salt diet focuses on unprocessed, whole foods, and limits red meat and high-fat foods.

  • I read up on the diet and picked some recipes but didn't measure my salt intake or portion sizes.

Breakfast was light enough for me to eat first thing

Breakfast bowl of Greek yogurt, blueberries and oats
I was worried eating breakfast every morning would be tough but it actually turned out to be the best part.Kim Schewitz

I can't stress enough that I am a beginner when it comes to nutrition and meal prep. My diet isn't bad, I eat fruit and vegetables every day, and avoid sugary drinks and highly processed foods such as Pop-Tarts.

But, until recently, I hadn't thought about the macronutrients I should be getting in each meal or considered checking the sugar or salt content of food. However, I had to learn quickly while trying the DASH diet because limiting salt and added sugar is key.

I am also not what you'd call a morning person and my breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee, but I decided to eat it while I tried the DASH diet to prevent me reaching from for an emergency sugary snack to tide me over before lunch.

I managed to stick to eating a DASH-approved breakfast each morning and I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

I usually had zero-fat Greek yogurt with some low-sugar granola and blueberries, and some days I added almond butter. On a few mornings, I had 100% whole grain oatmeal with no added sugar.

I made sure my morning meals were super quick to prepare, so I would actually eat breakfast. Usually, eating anything in the morning makes me feel nauseous, but I found that they were light enough for me to stomach, and even enjoy first thing at 8 a.m.

After I'd eaten, I found that I didn't even need a coffee because I felt awake and my energy was stable. This helped me to manage the spike of anxiety I usually wrestle with in the first few hours of the day.

Lunch was easier at home than in the office

homemade lunch (left) green salad (right)
My at home lunch of avocado toast with a fried egg (left). The salad I bought for lunch (right).Kim Schewitz

On the days I worked from home I usually made avocado toast with a fried egg for lunch, which is one of my favorite lunches already and is quick and easy to make. When I went into the office, however, it was a bit trickier.

The idea of prepping my lunch the night before was just one step too far for me. Luckily, there is a salad place right by Insider's London office, where you can choose from a range of leafy greens, whole grain rice, vegetables, and proteins — perfect for the DASH diet.

I made my own salad, which consisted of salad leaves, cucumber, pickled onions, corn, chicken, and some dressing. The salad was delicious, and nutrient-dense, but also expensive, and I didn't think to check how much salt was in the dressing or in the marinade the chicken had been cooked in until later.

Buying food out meant I couldn't control how much salt I was eating

Turkish chicken dish and salad
One night I went to a Turkish restaurant with a friend (the fries were not mine!).Kim Schewitz

Not knowing how much added salt something contained was an issue I encountered whenever I got food in a restaurant or takeaway spot.

As Insider previously reported, the standard DASH diet allows for 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, which is about one teaspoon of table salt, to target hypertension. The average American eats 3,400 mg of salt a day, according to the American Heart Association, most of which comes from packaged, prepared, or restaurant foods.

When we eat too much salt, more water enters our bloodstream, which puts pressure on our blood vessels, leading to higher blood pressure.

I do not have high blood pressure, as far as I am aware, but if I did, this is something I would have to navigate more carefully.

Avoiding processed snacks was a little tricky

Healthy snacks, an apple and nuts.
My nutritious but boring snacks.Kim Schewitz

Avoiding sugary and salty snacks, particularly when people around me were eating them, was challenging at times.

Throughout the week, my DASH-approved snacks mainly consisted of nuts or fruit because they are healthy and uncomplicated. Although by the end of office day two, I couldn't resist eating a chocolate-covered rice cake, which broke my previous streak of avoiding packaged foods.

While I was proud of myself for choosing the foods that would provide the most health benefits, I did find that they didn't bring me the boost of joy that a sweet treat does, and I got kind of bored of eating them.

Perhaps if I had done the diet for longer I would have found some snacks that bridged that gap. Besides, dietitians say that entirely cutting out certain foods is unsustainable when it comes to healthy eating, so I tried not to feel too bad.

My social life got in the way a little

Artichoke pizza
Ok yes I did have a pizza when I was out with friends on Saturday night.Kim Schewitz

The issue of going out versus eating at home also applied to dinner time. On nights when I stayed in, eating a balanced meal that focused on whole foods was pretty easy.

A stand-out dinner was cannellini beans with roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic, and brown rice.

But I happened to have a lot on my social calendar that week, including an intimate engagement dinner party and a Rosh Hashanah family dinner — not exactly things I could miss.

I wanted to participate and be able to eat the food that was lovingly prepared for me, but some traditional Jewish foods, for example, challah, a slightly sweet, white bread loaf, or fried fish balls, don't really fit into the DASH diet.

I decided to eat them in moderation because the diet isn't about cutting out foods but rather limiting foods that are high in added sugar, and monounsaturated fats.

I didn't measure or count my serving sizes

Tomato, bean and rice dish.
Cannellini beans with roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic, and brown rice.Kim Schewitz

When I was researching the DASH diet before starting it, I decided to focus on eating the right foods the majority of the time, rather than burdening myself with counting the number of servings of vegetables I had each day or measuring out my salt intake.

This was just more realistic for me than drastically changing the way I eat and navigate my diet overnight, but possibly meant I followed it more liberally than is intended.

I avoided processed foods as much as possible, stuck to whole grains the majority of the time, and seriously limited any junk food or sugary beverages.

I found this manageable but it may not have been enough if I was doing this for medical reasons, and I sometimes felt confused over whether or not it was OK for me to eat something.

I had more energy throughout the day and avoided sugar crashes

Writer Kim Schewitz holding a plate of pasta.
I was proud of myself for making healthier choices throughout the week.Kim Schewitz

I am glad I tried the DASH diet because even if I didn't follow it to a tee, I still ate more healthily than usual.

The breakfasts I ate kept me feeling full until lunch and gave me a base level of energy that boosted my mood and helped me manage my morning anxiety better. This is definitely something I will continue doing.

I also noticed that I didn't have sugar crashes or get as hungry in between meals as I usually do, which I think is probably down to eating more whole grains and protein, and less added sugar.

If I were to do it again I would aim to meal prep a little more, but I think the fact that the DASH diet allows for some, shall we say, unhealthier foods in moderation makes it a more realistic option for me than other stricter diets.

Read the original article on Insider