The DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a flexible, balanced and heart-healthy approach to eating. It encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods that can help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Many people with high blood pressure follow the DASH plan as recommended by their healthcare provider, combined with regular physical activity and sometimes medication. Although it specifically benefits people with high-blood pressure, the DASH plan is also a long-term, healthy way of eating the whole family can adopt.
Basics of the DASH Eating Plan
The DASH plan requires no special foods but recommends:
- Eating vegetables, fruits and whole grains
- Including low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, such as fatty meats and processed snack foods
- Limiting sugary beverages and sweets
Additionally, the DASH plan is based around sodium intake. Typically, people on this plan are encouraged to cap their daily sodium intake at 2,300 milligrams (mg). Those on a lower-sodium plan typically cap their intake at 1,500 mg/daily.
There are the basic daily/weekly recommendations of the DASH plan:
- Grains: 6-8 daily servings
- Meats, poultry and fish: 6 one-ounce servings or fewer a day
- Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings
- Fruits: 4-5 daily servings
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy: 2-3 daily servings
- Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings
- Nuts, seeds and legumes: 4-5 weekly servings
- Sweets: 5 or fewer weekly servings
Getting Started with DASH
Before getting started on any eating plan, including DASH, first talk to your healthcare provider about your unique health and dietary needs. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can also help you in this area and provide you with tools and support.
If you are interested in starting the DASH eating plan, consider these tips:
- Assess where you are now. What are your health goals? Do they include weight-loss in addition to lowering blood pressure? Next, look at your current eating habits and see what can be improved.
- Make DASH a part of your lifestyle. It is not a short-term diet, rather a lifelong and sustainable way of eating. You should also incorporate regular physical activity, stress management techniques, and quality sleep.
- Make small changes at a time. Perhaps start with a few meals a week that incorporate the DASH food recommendations. Even gradual changes can lead to significant benefits.
- Be flexible. Some days you may eat more or less than what is recommended in the DASH eating plan. Don’t be hard on yourself.
For more information about the DASH eating plan, including handouts and 1-pagers, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website.