DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure
The DASH diet emphasizes the right portion sizes, variety of foods and nutrients. Discover how DASH can improve your health and lower your blood pressure.
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a lifelong approach to healthy eating that's designed to help treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet plan was developed to lower blood pressure without medication in research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.
The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
By following the DASH diet, you may be able to reduce your blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, the top number of your blood pressure (systolic blood pressure) could drop by eight to 14 points, which can make a significant difference in your health risks.
Because the DASH diet is a healthy way of eating, it offers health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure. The DASH diet is also in line with dietary recommendations to prevent osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy foods and moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry and nuts.
In addition to the standard DASH diet, there is also a lower sodium version of the diet. You can choose the version of the diet that meets your health needs:
Both versions of the DASH diet aim to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet compared with what you might get in a typical American diet, which can amount to a whopping 3,400 mg of sodium a day or more.
The standard DASH diet meets the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to keep daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day.
The American Heart Association recommends 1,500 mg a day of sodium as an upper limit for all adults. If you aren't sure what sodium level is right for you, talk to your doctor.
Both versions of the DASH diet include lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet also includes some fish, poultry and legumes, and encourages a small amount of nuts and seeds a few times a week.
You can eat red meat, sweets and fats in small amounts. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, trans fat and total fat.
Here's a look at the recommended servings from each food group for the 2,000-calorie-a-day DASH diet.
Grains include bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Examples of one serving of grains include 1 slice whole-wheat bread, 1 ounce dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta.
Tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens and other vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and such minerals as potassium and magnesium. Examples of one serving include 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables or 1/2 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables.
Many fruits need little preparation to become a healthy part of a meal or snack. Like vegetables, they're packed with fiber, potassium and magnesium and are typically low in fat coconuts are an exception.
Examples of one serving include one medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or 4 ounces of juice.
Milk, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products are major sources of calcium, vitamin D and protein. But the key is to make sure that you choose dairy products that are low-fat or fat-free because otherwise they can be a major source of fat and most of it is saturated.
Examples of one serving include 1 cup skim or 1 percent milk, 1 cup low-fat yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces part-skim cheese.
Meat can be a rich source of protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc. Choose lean varieties and aim for no more than 6 one-ounce servings a day. Cutting back on your meat portion will allow room for more vegetables.
Examples of one serving include 1 egg or 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry or fish.
Almonds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans, peas, lentils and other foods in this family are good sources of magnesium, potassium and protein.
They're also full of fiber and phytochemicals, which are plant compounds that may protect against some cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Serving sizes are small and are intended to be consumed only a few times a week because these foods are higher in calories.
Examples of one serving include 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons seeds or nut butter, or 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas.
Fat helps your body absorb essential vitamins and helps your body's immune system. But too much fat increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
The DASH diet strives for a healthy balance by limiting total fat to less than 30 percent of daily calories from fat, with a focus on the healthier monounsaturated fats.
Examples of one serving include 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons salad dressing.
You don't have to banish sweets entirely while following the DASH diet just go easy on them. Examples of one serving include 1 tablespoon sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup sorbet, or 1 cup lemonade.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that men limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day and women to one or less.
The DASH diet doesn't address caffeine consumption. The influence of caffeine on blood pressure remains unclear. But caffeine can cause your blood pressure to rise at least temporarily.
If you already have high blood pressure or if you think caffeine is affecting your blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your caffeine consumption.
While the DASH diet is not a weight-loss program, you may indeed lose unwanted pounds because it can help guide you toward healthier food choices.
The DASH diet generally includes about 2,000 calories a day. If you're trying to lose weight, you may need to eat fewer calories. You may also need to adjust your serving goals based on your individual circumstances something your health care team can help you decide.
The foods at the core of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. So just by following the DASH diet, you're likely to reduce your sodium intake. You also reduce sodium further by:
One teaspoon of table salt has 2,325 mg of sodium. When you read food labels, you may be surprised at just how much sodium some processed foods contain.
Even low-fat soups, canned vegetables, ready-to-eat cereals and sliced turkey from the local deli foods you may have considered healthy often have lots of sodium.
You may notice a difference in taste when you choose low-sodium food and beverages. If things seem too bland, gradually introduce low-sodium foods and cut back on table salt until you reach your sodium goal. That'll give your palate time to adjust.
Using salt-free seasoning blends or herbs and spices may also ease the transition. It can take several weeks for your taste buds to get used to less salty foods.
Try these strategies to get started on the DASH diet:
Remember, healthy eating isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. What's most important is that, on average, you eat healthier foods with plenty of variety both to keep your diet nutritious and to avoid boredom or extremes. And with the DASH diet, you can have both.
DASH diet: Healthy eating to lower your blood pressure ...