The DASH diet has been shown to help lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol, as well as reduce the risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and congestive heart failure.
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” This ground-breaking randomized controlled study, first published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1997, demonstrated an undeniable blood pressure-lowering effect from following the DASH eating plan.
Participants with mild hypertension lowered their blood pressure by staying on the DASH diet, and the reduction was similar to what is typically achieved with drug treatment. Blood pressure reductions occurred within two weeks of starting the diet plan, even without weight loss. However, if you are overweight, losing as little as 5 to 10% of your body weight can also help lower your blood pressure.
In more recent studies, the DASH diet has also been shown to help lower blood cholesterol, as well as reduce the risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and congestive heart failure. Major risk factors for congestive heart failure include high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and obesity.
Sound too good to be true? Here’s what you should know about the DASH eating plan. It:
- Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Is rich in whole grains, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), fish, poultry, seeds, and nuts
- Is low in refined carbohydrates
- Contains fewer sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, as well as red meats, than the typical American diet
In essence, the DASH diet emphasizes foods that provide calcium, magnesium and potassium—minerals important for the regulation of blood pressure. You may get an even better blood pressure-lowering effect on the DASH diet if you also keep your sodium intake under 2,300 mg per day.
Furthermore, blood pressure of some groups tends to be relatively more responsive to sodium; therefore, the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020” advise people in the following groups to aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day:
- People who already have high blood pressure
- People who have diabetes or chronic kidney disease
- African Americans
- Middle-aged and older adults
If you’re considering the DASH eating plan, the food groups and recommended daily servings can be found on page 8 of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
For Healthy Dining Sodium Savvy options, try the following:
- Broiled Ahi Tuna Steak, 12 oz from Palm Restaurant
- Drag It Through The Garden Pizza (2 Slices of a Medium) from Extreme Pizza
Anjali Patel, MPH, RD
Manager of Research