Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects almost one in three Americans. The DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is an approach to eating healthy that is designed to prevent or help treat hypertension. To follow this diet, you should reduce your sodium intake and consume a variety of foods rich in nutrients to help lower blood pressure.
The DASH Diet Explained
The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy foods with moderate amounts of whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. Red meat, sweets and fats are allowed in small amounts. The DASH diet is also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat.
The typical American diet can include a sodium intake of 3,400 mg of sodium per day or more! The standard DASH diet meets the recommendation from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to keep sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. The lower sodium DASH diet keep sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less per day.
Here are the recommendations for each food group, if you’re following a 2,000 calorie diet:
Grains: 6-8 servings per day
Whole grains have more fiber and nutrients than white, refined grains. For example, use brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta, and whole wheat bread instead of white bread. Grains are naturally low in fat; keep them this way by minimizing the use of butter and other added fats.
Grains include bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Examples of one serving of grains include 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 1 oz. of dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked pasta.
Vegetables: 4-5 servings per day
Most vegetables are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium and potassium, which help lower blood pressure. Vegetables aren’t just for side dishes anymore either! Try cutting the amount of meat required in a recipe in half and double up on vegetables to increase your daily vegetable intake. Fresh and frozen are both good choices. If you choose canned vegetables, be sure to purchase ones that have no salt added or are low sodium.
Examples of one serving of vegetables include 1 cup of raw vegetables or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables.
Fruits: 4-5 servings per day
Fruit can help round out a well-balanced meal or can be used as a healthy snack. They are packed with fiber, potassium, and magnesium. Leave on the edible peels whenever possible for the extra fiber. Fresh and frozen options are both great options. If you choose canned fruits, make sure to purchase those canned in their own juice so there is no added sugar.
Examples of one serving of fruits include one piece of fruit, 1 cup of berries, or 2-3 Tbsp. of dried fruit.
Dairy: 2-3 servings per day
Dairy is a major source of calcium, which may help lower blood pressure. The important fact is to choose dairy products that are low in fat or fat-free to lower saturated fat intake. Be sure to eat cheese in moderation as they can be higher in sodium. If you have trouble digesting dairy products, try choosing lactose-free products that are fortified with calcium.
Examples of one serving of dairy include 1 cup of skim or 1% milk, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt, or 1 oz. of cheese.
Lean Meat, Poultry, and Fish: 6 servings or fewer per day
Meat is a great source of protein, B vitamins, and iron. Choose lean varieties such as chicken, turkey, or whitefish. The best cooking options are to bake, broil, grill, or roast instead of frying meat in added fat. Stick with heart-healthy fish such as salmon and tuna, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids and may help lower total cholesterol.
Examples of one serving of meat and poultry is 3 oz. and seafood is 4 oz.
Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes: 4-5 servings per week
Nuts, seeds, and legumes are good sources of magnesium, potassium, and protein, which help with lowering blood pressure. These foods are generally higher in calories and sometimes fats, so be sure to stick with the proper serving sizes.
Examples of one serving of nuts, seeds, and legumes include 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 Tbsp. of seeds, or 1/2 cup of cooked beans.
Fats and Oils: 2-3 servings per day
We need fat to help absorb fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. However, too much fat in our diet may increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The DASH diet aims to keep total fat intake to less than 30% of daily calories, while focusing on healthy, unsaturated fat sources such as nuts, olive oil, and avocado. Limit your intake of saturated fats from sources such as meat, butter, cheese, cream, and eggs.
Examples of one serving of fats and oils include 1 tsp. of butter, 1 Tbsp. of mayo, or 2 Tbsp. of salad dressing.
Sweets: 5 servings or fewer per week
Sweets are still allowed on the DASH diet, just in smaller amounts. Choose sweets that are fat-free or low fat such as sorbets, fruit ices, or hard candy. Be aware of added sugar in all of your packaged and processed foods as this can pack on the calories with no nutritional value.
Examples of one serving of sweets include 1 Tbsp. of jelly or jam, 1/2 cup of sorbet or 1 cup of lemonade.
If You Have High Blood Pressure…
If you think you’d like to try the DASH Diet or would like other nutrition recommendations, you should meet with me and we can discuss your dietary needs.Schedule a Nutrition Consultation
Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD; Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.