High Blood Pressure and the DASH Diet (2024)

What Is the DASH Diet?

If you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension, one of the steps your doctor may recommend is to start using the DASH diet.

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension(high blood pressure). The diet is simple:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
  • Cut back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fats .
  • Eat more whole-grain foods, fish, poultry, and nuts.
  • Limit sodium, sweets, sugary drinks, and red meats.

In research studies, people who were on the DASH diet lowered their blood pressure within 2 weeks.

Another diet -- DASH-Sodium -- calls for cutting back sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day (about 2/3 teaspoon of salt). Studies showed that people on the DASH-Sodium plan lowered their blood pressure as well.

DASH diet vs. Mediterranean diet

Both the DASH diet and theMediterranean diet have the same goal -- to lower your blood pressure -- and recommend similar foods. But there are differences. For example, the Mediterranean diet is more of a healthy eating plan than a diet, and it’s based on the foods that are staples of many people in the Mediterranean area. The DASH diet recommends only low-fat or no-fat dairy products, while the Mediterranean diet suggests dairy consumption in moderation without specifying fat content. It’s the same with other foods and drinks, including red meat, sweets, and alcohol. The Mediterranean diet says you can enjoy them in moderation, while the DASH diet discourages them.

DASH-Sodium diet

This includes the DASH diet plus limiting the amount of sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams a day (about 2/3 teaspoon of salt). Studies have shown that people on the DASH-Sodium plan reported lower blood pressure.

DASH Diet Food List

It can be tough to remember what foods are in a recommended diet, but the DASH diet is one that doesn’t take much thought once you’ve got the basics down. Here are some of the most common foods in a DASH diet:


  • Spinach
  • Summer squash
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery


  • Raisins
  • Bananas
  • Peaches
  • Melons
  • Grapes
  • Mandarin oranges


  • Whole wheat breads, pastas, etc.
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal

Dried beans orlegumes and nuts

  • Peanut butter or dry-roasted peanuts
  • Cashews
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Green peas


  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Cod
  • Herring
  • Tuna (canned)

Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

Does the DASH Diet Work?

Studies over the past few decades have shown that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure levels for many people.

DASH diet for hypertension

The DASH diet for hypertension was developed in the late 1990s. Researchers believed that rather than cutting out or adding one particular food or food group to lower blood pressure, it would be more effective if people ate a diet that combined blood pressure-lowering foods.

To see if they were right, the researchers compared the DASH diet with two other diets, the "typical" diet in the U.S. and a control diet. They found that people with high blood pressure who followed the Dash diet had better blood pressure control than those who followed the other two diets. There have been many more studies since the DASH diet was introduced and the findings are mostly the same.

DASH diet for weight loss

The DASH diet wasn’t designed for weight loss, but the increase in healthy foods and decrease in sugary or high-fat foods can lead to weight loss, especially among people who are overweight or obese.

Starting the DASH Diet

The DASH diet calls for a certain number of servings daily from various food groups. The number of servings you require may vary, depending on how many calories you need per day.

Start gradually

It can be challenging to change your diet drastically -- all at once. You don’t have to do this with the DASH diet. You can make gradual changes by introducing more vegetables in your meals, reducing the number of high-fat or processed foods, and cutting back on sweetened foods and drinks as well as alcohol. Continue slowly increasing the healthier foods and cutting out the ones that aren’t recommended. It will soon become second nature.

If you’re used to adding a lot of salt to your foods, you can decrease this gradually. For instance, start by limiting yourself to 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day (about 1 teaspoon of salt). Then, once your body has adjusted to the diet, cut back to 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day (about 2/3 teaspoon of salt). These amounts include all sodium eaten, including sodium in food products and what you add while cooking or at the table.

What to eat more of

The DASH diet encourages you to eat more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, legumes and nuts, and lean meat and fish.

What to cut back on

When following the DASH diet, it’s best to eliminate or cut down on processed foods, as well as those that are high in fat, salt, or sugar. Avoid fatty meats, and don’t forget to cut back on alcohol consumption.

What to eat only occasionally

The DASH diet isn’t a typical weight-loss diet that forbids any particular foods. There is room for treats and moderating your diet when you want or need to, as long as you stick to the diet overall. This means it’s ok to have a meal with red meat, a sweetened drink, or anything else that you’d like to enjoy once in a while, as long as it’s not more than once a week or so.

If your diet is too strict, you might be tempted to eat the so-called forbidden foods. There is no forbidden food in the DASH diet although the diet suggests that you avoid certain ones, such as those with high salt content.

DASH diet tips

  • Add a serving of vegetables at lunch and dinner.
  • Add a serving of fruit to your meals or as a snack. Canned and dried fruits are easy to use, but check that they don't have added sugar.
  • Use only half your typical serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing, and use low-fat or fat-free condiments.
  • Drink low-fat or skim dairy products any time you would normally use full-fat or cream.
  • Limit meat to 6 ounces a day. Make some meals vegetarian.
  • Add more vegetables and dry beans to your diet.
  • Instead of snacking on chips or sweets, eat unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat and fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted plain popcorn with no butter, and raw vegetables.
  • Read food labels to choose low-sodium products.

Staying on the DASH Diet

The DASH diet suggests getting:

  • Grains: 7-8 daily servings
  • Vegetables: 4-5 daily servings
  • Fruits: 4-5 daily servings
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products: 2-3 daily servings
  • Meat, poultry, and fish: 6 servings or less daily (1 serving equals 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish, or one egg)
  • Nuts, seeds, and dry beans: 4-5 servings per week
  • Fats and oils: 2-3 daily servings
  • Sweets: Try to limit to less than 5 servings per week

How Much Is a Serving?

When you're trying to follow a healthy eating plan, it helps to know how much of a certain kind of food is considered a "serving." One serving is:

  • 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 cup raw vegetables or fruit
  • 1/2 cup cooked veggies or fruit
  • 8 ounces of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil (or any other oil)
  • 1 ounce of cooked meat
  • 3 ounces tofu


The DASH diet is not a strict diet that forbids you from eating certain foods. Instead, it encourages you to eat healthier options, allowing room for some of the less healthy foods once in a while. The DASH diet has been proven to help lower blood pressure levels in many people and may also help in weight loss.


Can you lose weight on a DASH diet?

Many people do lose some weight when they switch to the DASH diet. This is likely due to the smaller portions and lower amounts of sugar, fats, and salt in the recommended foods.

How does a dash diet effectively reduce blood sodium levels and blood pressure?

The DASH diet reduces blood sodium levels and blood pressure because it involves eating a combination of foods that are heart-healthy rather than just adding or eliminating a few foods. The hearty-healthy foods increase minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium while lowering how much fat, sugar, and salt you take in. This leads to the lowering of blood pressure levels in many people.

High Blood Pressure and the DASH Diet (2024)
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