DASH to Lower Blood Pressure

What you eat has a lot to do with good blood pressure control. Find out what delicious foods to include in your diet to help combat high blood pressure.

Want to lower your blood pressure? Try the DASH eating plan, short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

If your first thought is that the DASH is bland and boring, think again. The DASH is as much about adding tasty, nutrient-rich foods as it is about limiting fats and sugars.

What the studies say
Two large studies, both supported by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, have offered proof that DASH works.

The first study looked at the effects on blood pressure of eating a varied, wholesome diet versus the typical American diet.

  • Results showed that compared to the typical American diet, blood pressure could be lowered by eating combinations of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • DASH eaters also ate reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.
  • Noteworthy is that blood pressures were reduced on the DASH, even though this first study did not restrict sodium intake.

The second study then looked at the added effect of a reduced sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH eating plan or a typical American diet.

  • Results showed that reducing sodium lowered blood pressure even further for those already on the DASH eating plan. It also lowered pressures for those on the typical American diet.
  • The biggest benefits were seen in people on the DASH eating plan who also lowered their sodium intake.

How the DASH works
Experts believe the DASH works for these reasons:

  • By choosing fruits and vegetables, you're more likely to cut out high-sodium, processed foods.
  • The DASH diet is rich in calcium, potassium, fiber and magnesium. A lack of these nutrients is linked to high blood pressure.
  • DASH is low in saturated and trans fats, which are known to raise blood pressure.
  • Instead of supplements, the DASH focuses on combinations of healthy foods, which work together in your body to help lower blood pressure.

So what exactly IS the DASH eating plan? Specifically, it includes the following:

Daily servings:

  • Seven to eight servings of grains, from mostly whole grains
  • Four to five servings of vegetables
  • Four to five servings of fruit
  • Two to three servings of low-fat dairy foods
  • No more than two servings of lean meat, poultry and fish
  • Two to three servings of fats and oils

Weekly servings:

  • Four to five servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans
  • No more than five servings of sweets

Fitting the DASH into your lifestyle
You can work these DASH nutrient-foods into your meal plan in these ways:

Up your vegetable intake

  • Add a variety of veggies to lunch or dinnertime salads and soups.
  • Have cut-up veggies such as carrots, colored peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and celery for snacks, with a low-fat yogurt dip.
  • Increase vegetable portions of casseroles and stir-fries while decreasing meat portions.
  • Add beans/legumes to salads, soups and casseroles.

Go whole-grain

  • Choose whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas.
  • Instead of white rice or potatoes, experiment with brown rice, quinoa, barley and bulgur.

Go nutty

  • Sprinkle nuts into whole-grain cereal, yogurt or salads.
  • Add natural peanut or almond butter to whole-grain bread with sliced banana.
  • Snack on small amounts of nuts and dried fruit.

Do it with dairy

  • Use skim or low-fat milk in smoothies with fresh fruit and 100 percent juice.
  • Add skim or low-fat milk to coffee for lattes.
  • Choose low-fat yogurt for breakfast or snacks.
  • Use low-fat cheese on whole-grain bread, sprinkled on salads, or topped on a baked potato with broccoli.

DASH isn't just for people with high blood pressure. It's an overall healthy, wholesome, high-fiber eating plan than can also help reduce cholesterol levels and aid in weight loss.