How the DASH Diet Can Help You Manage High Blood Pressure

Heart Health, High Blood Pressure, Nutrition, Preventive Service, Stroke Steward Health Care

The latest diet making the health news circuits these days is the DASH diet, and it’s peeking a lot of curiosity.

What is the DASH diet?

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure and decrease someone’s risk for stroke and heart disease. The diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy product intake. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts and has low amounts of fats, red meat, sweets and sugared beverages.

Why DASH Works

“The DASH diet is effective at reducing blood pressure because it combines many nutrients that have been shown to help reduce blood pressure,” explains Miranda Boyer, RDN, LD, a Steward Health Care clinical dietitian. “Those nutrients include calcium, potassium, magnesium, protein, and fiber, as well as lower sodium, total fat and saturated fat.”

The diet aims to reduce the amount of sodium you get from food and drink (mostly in the form of salt). The DASH diet recommends menus containing 2,300 mg of sodium. The lower sodium DASH diet contains up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day. (One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.)

Further, following the DASH diet may delay the need to take blood pressure lowering medicine, reduce the amount one takes, or may even help someone from needing to take it at all.

Doing the DASH

The following DASH eating plan is based on a 2,000-calorie diet (the number of servings that is right for you may vary, depending on your caloric need):

  • Six to 8 daily servings of grains and grain products, such as whole wheat bread, cereal, oatmeal, crackers, unsalted pretzels, and popcorn. A serving size is 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or a half-cup of rice, pasta, or cereal.
  • Four to 5 daily servings of vegetables — the darker in color, the better. A serving size is 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, a half-cup of cooked vegetables, or 6 ounces of vegetable juice.
  • Four to 5 daily servings of fruit. A serving is 1 medium fruit, quarter-cup of dried fruit, half-cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or 6 ounces of fruit juice.
  • Two or 3 daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products. A serving is 8 ounces of milk, 1 cup of yogurt, or 1½ ounces of cheese.
  • Six or fewer daily servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish. A serving is 1 ounce of cooked meats, skinless poultry, or fish.
  • Four to 5 servings per week of nuts, seeds, and dry beans. A serving is one-third cup or 1½ ounces of nuts, 1 tablespoon or half-ounce of seeds, or half-cup cooked dried beans.
  • Two to 3 small daily servings of fats and oils like olive oil and low-fat salad dressing. A serving is 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons light salad dressing, or 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.
  • Five or fewer servings per week of sweets like maple syrup, sorbet, or gelatin. A serving is 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon jelly or jam, half-ounce jellybeans, or 8 ounces of lemonade.

Although the DASH diet isn’t designed for weight loss, it can promote it if you reduce the number of servings you eat. Most of the food the diet features are big on volume and low in calories.

If you’re serious about following the diet, first talk with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your blood pressure readings and if the DASH diet is right for you. Then work with a registered dietitian for support and guidance.

To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.

*Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-pressure