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Publication #FCS8884

Healthy Eating: Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH1

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

About one-third of American adults have high blood pressure (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). 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 (American Heart Association, 2012). 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.

Figure 1. 
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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. It 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 (Sacks et al., 2001).

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 (Sacks et al., 2001).

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 (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2012).

For a 1,600-calorie meal plan, the DASH diet includes the following amounts of food from each food group:

Table 1. 

Food Group

Servings/day

Grains

(most of your servings should be whole grain)

6

Vegetables

3–4

Fruits

4

Low-fat dairy

2–3

Lean meats, poultry, and fish

3–4 or less

Nuts, seeds, or legumes

3–4 per week

Fats and oils

2

Sweets

3 or less per week

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2012.

Food group recommendations in the DASH eating plan also are available for 2,000, 2,600, and 3,100 calorie diets and can be found at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/followdash.html.

In general, older adults need fewer calories than younger adults. If you need more than 1,600 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:

Grains

1 slice of bread

1/2 cup dry cereal

1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta

Figure 2. 
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Vegetables

1 cup raw, leafy vegetables

1/2 cup cooked or cut-up raw vegetables

1/2 cup vegetable juice

Figure 3. 
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Fruits

1 medium fruit

1/4 cup dried fruit

1/2 cup frozen, canned, or cut-up fresh fruit

Figure 4. 
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Low-Fat Dairy*

1 cup milk or yogurt

1.5 oz cheese

*Use fat-free for fewer calories and fat

Lean Meats, Poultry, and Fish

1 oz cooked meat, poultry, or fish

1 egg or 2 egg whites

Figure 5. 
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Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes

1/3 cup or 1.5 oz nuts

2 Tbsp peanut butter

2 Tbsp or 1/2 ounce seeds

1/2 cup cooked dry beans or peas

Fats and Oils

1 tsp margarine or vegetable oil

1 Tbsp mayonnaise

2 Tbsp salad dressing

Sweets

1 Tbsp sugar, jelly, or jam

1 cup lemonade

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013.

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 Healthy Living: High Blood Pressure (FCS8599) on the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy684.

For information on how to make better dietary choices using the food label, read Healthy Eating: Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label (FCS8883) at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1127.

References

American Heart Association. (2012). Why blood pressure matters. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/WhyBloodPressureMatters/Why-Blood-Pressure-Matters_UCM_002051_Article.jsp

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). When it comes to high blood pressure, make control your goal. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HighBloodPressure/

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2012). What is the DASH eating plan?. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2013). Food exchange lists. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/fd_exch.htm

Sacks, F. M., Svetkey, L. P., Vollmer, W. M., Appel, L. J., Bray, G. A., Harsha, D., Obarzanek, E., Conlin, P., Miller, E., Simmons-Morton, D., Karanja, N., Lin, P., Aickin, M., Most-Windhauser, M., Moore, T., Proschan, M., & Cutler, J. A. (2001). Effects on blood pressure of reduced dietary sodium and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. New England Journal of Medicine, 344(1), 3–10.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8884, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: October 2009. Latest revision: July 2013. 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, assistant professor, and Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RD, LDN, 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.