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Healthy Eating: Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH1

Valerie Weyenberg, Karla P. Shelnutt, and Linda B. Bobroff2

About one-fourth of men and one-fifth of women between the ages of 35 and 44 have high blood pressure (CDC, 2016). A recent report (Cifu, 2017) places even more adults into the category of “elevated” blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness. Being physically active, taking medications as directed, and eating a healthy diet all help to control blood pressure (AHA, 2016). One eating plan that has been shown to prevent and reduce high blood pressure is DASH. Read on to learn how the DASH eating plan can help you lower your blood pressure.

What is the DASH eating plan and why is it important?

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH eating plan is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, making it high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These three minerals can help lower blood pressure. DASH is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat. The eating plan is more effective when you also reduce your sodium intake (NHLBI, 2015).

Several studies have shown that the DASH diet lowers blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. It also helps maintain normal blood pressure. Eating the DASH way can help you lose weight if you are overweight. Losing excess body weight can help lower your blood pressure (NHLBI, 2015).

Figure 1. 

Following the DASH diet can help with weight management.


Credit:

Brand X Pictures


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

How much and what types of foods should I eat?

The DASH eating plan includes lots of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. You also eat poultry, lean meats, fish, legumes, eggs, and nuts (NHLBI, 2015).

Table 1. 

DASH food pattern for a 2,000-calorie meal plan.

Food Group

Servings per Day

Grains (most of your servings should be whole grain)

6–8

Vegetables

4–5

Fruits

4–5

Low-fat or fat-free dairy

2–3

Lean meats, poultry, and fish

6 or fewer

Nuts, seeds, or legumes

4–5 per week

Fats and oils

2–3

Sodium

2,300 mg*

Sweets

5 or fewer per week

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2015.

*Limiting intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day decreases blood pressure even further.

Food group recommendations in the DASH eating plan also are available for 1,200-, 1,400-, 1,600-, 1,800-, 2,000-, 2,600-, and 3,100-calorie diets. See http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/followdash.html.

Most older adults need fewer calories than younger adults. If you need more than 2,000 calories each day, you can add more servings.

What is a serving?

Here are some examples of one serving from each of the food groups. These can help in meal planning, but how much you eat at a meal or snack will depend on your calorie needs and your level of hunger.

Grains

1 slice of bread

1 oz ready-to-eat cereal (1/2 cup to 1–1/4 cup—check Nutrition Facts label)

1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal

Figure 2. 

The DASH diet is rich in whole grains and limits refined grain foods that do not provide dietary fiber.


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iStockphoto


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Vegetables

1 cup raw, leafy vegetables

1/2 cup cooked or cut-up raw vegetables

1/2 cup vegetable juice (choose lower sodium)

Figure 3. 

Brightly colored vegetables provide a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals needed for good health. They are naturally low in fat and sodium.


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iStockphoto


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Fruits

1 medium fresh fruit

1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit

1/2 cup 100% fruit juice

1/4 cup dried fruit

Figure 4. 

Bananas are one of many sources of potassium, a mineral that contributes to blood pressure control.


Credit:

iStockphoto


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Low-Fat Dairy*

1 cup milk or yogurt

1-1/2 oz natural cheese

*Use fat-free for fewer calories and fat

Lean Meats, Poultry, and Fish

1 oz cooked meat, poultry, or fish*

1 egg

*Less than 3 g fat per oz

Figure 5. 

Lean fish is a great source of protein and other critical nutrients.


Credit:

alan64/gettyimages.com


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes

1/3 cup or 1-1/2 oz nuts

2 tbsp peanut butter

2 tbsp or 1/2 oz seeds

1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas

1/4 cup (about 2 oz) of tofu

2 tbsp hummus

Fats and Oils

1 tsp soft margarine or vegetable oil

1 tbsp mayonnaise (low-fat)

2 tbsp light salad dressing

2 tbsp avocado

Sweets

1 tbsp sugar, jelly, or jam

1 cup lemonade

Sources: NHLBI (2015); USDA (2017)

If switching to the DASH diet sounds overwhelming, don’t despair! Gradually add in the recommended foods such as fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Remember, doing something is better than doing nothing!

For more information about high blood pressure, see EDIS document FY684, Healthy Living: High Blood Pressure, at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy684.

For information on how to make better dietary choices using the food label, see EDIS document FY1127, Healthy Eating: Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label, at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1127.

References

American Heart Association. (2016). Health threats from high blood pressure. Accessed on July 18, 2017. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Why-Blood-Pressure-Matters_UCM_002051_Article.jsp

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). 5 surprising facts about high blood pressure. Accessed on July 18, 2017. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HighBloodPressure/

Cifu, A. S. & Davis, A. M. (2017). JAMA Clinical Guidelines Synopsis. Prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults. JAMA. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2017.18706. Accessed on November 27, 2017.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2015). Description of the DASH eating plan. Accessed on July 18, 2017. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/

USDA. (2017). ChooseMyPlate.gov. Accessed on November 29, 2017. http://ChooseMyPlate.gov

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8884, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 2009. Revised December 2017. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Valerie Weyenberg, MS, RD, former dietetic intern, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, associate professor; and Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RDN, professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.