The DASH Diet

Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with the DASH Diet Eating Plan

DASH diet facts

  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a flexible and balanced eating plan that has been shown to lower high blood pressure.

  • The DASH eating plan:

    • Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat

    • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products

    • Is rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts

    • Contains fewer sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, and red meats than the typical American diet

  • The DASH eating plan also is lower in sodium (salt) than the typical American diet. This is because eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure.

  • Following the DASH eating plan and eating less sodium can lower your risk of high blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, following the DASH eating plan and eating less sodium can lower your blood pressure.

  • If you take medicines to control your high blood pressure, keep taking them. However, you should tell your doctor that you're now following the DASH eating plan.

  • The DASH eating plan is easy to follow using common foods available in your grocery store. The plan includes daily servings from different food groups. The number of servings you should have depends on your daily calorie (energy) needs.

  • Making other heart healthy lifestyle changes while following the DASH eating plan is the best way to prevent and control high blood pressure. For example, try to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, make healthy eating choices, and don't smoke.

  • To get started on the DASH eating plan, make changes over a few days or weeks. This will give you a chance to adjust to the changes and make them part of your daily routine.

  • You may stray from the DASH eating plan or your other lifestyle changes. If so, don't let it keep you from reaching your health goals. Ask yourself why you got off track, and start again with the DASH eating plan. Make small changes so you don't overwhelm yourself. Write down what you eat and the amount of physical activity you do each day. Celebrate meeting your goals with something you would like to do, not with food.

What is the DASH eating plan?

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a flexible and balanced eating plan that has been shown to lower high blood pressure.

The DASH eating plan was one of three eating plans that were compared in research studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The goal of this research was to study the effects of diet on high blood pressure.

The results of the research showed that the DASH eating plan lowers blood pressure. The plan:

  • Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat

  • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products

  • Is rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts

  • Contains fewer sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, and red meats than the typical American diet

The DASH eating plan also is lower in sodium (salt) than the typical American diet. This is because eating less sodium can help lower blood pressure.

The DASH research showed that an eating plan containing 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day lowered blood pressure. An eating plan containing only 1,500 mg of sodium per day even further lowered blood pressure.

The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" advise people who have high blood pressure, African Americans, and middle-aged and older adults to aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.

The DASH eating plan also includes foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables. In general, potassium should come only from food sources and not supplements. For a list of the potassium content of selected foods, visit http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR22/ nutrlist/sr22w306.pdf.

Reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes likely contain potassium chloride as a main ingredient. Potassium chloride may harm people who have certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease and diabetes. Check with your doctor before trying reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride.

You can limit salt intake without using salt substitutes. For example, use herbs and spices to add flavor to foods. For examples of how to season foods without using salt, visit the NHLBI's Flavor That Food Web page.

Below is a table that shows the daily nutrient goals, including potassium, used in the DASH studies.

Daily Nutrient Goals Used in the DASH Studies (for a 2,000-Calorie Eating Plan)

Total fat 27% of calories
Saturated fat 6% of calories
Protein 18% of calories
Carbohydrate 55% of calories
Cholesterol 150 mg
Sodium 2,300 mg*
Potassium 4,700 mg
Calcium 1,250 mg
Magnesium500 mg
Fiber30 g

* 1,500 mg of sodium was a lower goal tested and found to be even better for lowering blood pressure. It worked very well for middle-aged and older adults, African Americans, and people who already had high blood pressure.
g = grams; mg = milligrams


Blood Pressure Guidelines

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The concept of blood pressure is sometimes difficult to understand because it is usually described with numbers. However, adequate pressure within arteries is important to allow blood to be pumped throughout the body to deliver oxygen and other nutrients to areas of the body. This allows for normal metabolism and organ function.

The blood pressure recording, measures pressures within the arteries at two different times. The first reading, the systolic pressure, measures the pressure when the heart is pumping blood to the body through the arteries. The second reading, the diastolic pressure, measures the pressure within the arteries when the heart is receiving blood returning from the body.

There needs to be an underlying pressure within arterial blood vessels regardless of whether the heart is pumping or not. This intrinsic pressure is maintained by smooth muscle cells that surround all artery walls, great and small, and in effect squeeze and support the walls. Without this wall support, arteries would collapse in diastole (between each heart beat).


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