What is the DASH Diet and how can it benefit your health?

If you suffer from high blood pressure, or hypertension, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common — and dangerous — health problems in the United States. People with chronic hypertension are at a greater risk for heart disease, kidney failure, and stroke.

Fortunately, you can control risk factors like your diet. To help lower your blood pressure, the American Heart Association recommends the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diet. So, what is the DASH diet, and what can you eat on the DASH diet?

To learn more about managing your blood pressure, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

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What Is the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet is a heart-healthy, flexible plan that includes a wide variety of fresh foods. It specifies a certain number of daily servings from each food group. The number of servings for each food group is based on your individual caloric needs.

The DASH diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute after researchers noticed that vegetarians and vegans tend to have much lower blood pressure than the general public. Because you can eat a wide variety of foods without greatly reducing calories, the DASH diet is easy to stick to for most people.

What Do You Eat on the DASH Diet?

Foods on the DASH diet “yes” list include lots of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains, along with low-fat dairy and lean protein such as chicken and fish. Nuts and vegetable oils are fine in moderation. Potassium has been shown to lower blood pressure, so the DASH diet includes potassium-rich foods such as potatoes, dairy (including plain, low-fat yogurt), and bananas.

On the DASH diet “no” list are processed foods (high in sodium), preservatives, added sugars, fatty red meat, full-fat dairy, and tropical oils (coconut and palm oil).

Because excess sodium intake can lead to hypertension, the DASH diet initially limits sodium to one teaspoon of sodium (2,500 milligrams) per day. Once you get used to eating less salt, you can reduce the amount to ¾-teaspoon (1,500 milligrams) per day.

Health Benefits of the DASH Diet

Because the DASH diet focuses on fresh, healthy food, it’s not only great for lowering blood pressure — it’s also a good way to lose weight, gain energy, and feel better overall. It also can help lower cholesterol and manage or prevent diabetes.

By following DASH guidelines, you’ll also increase your intake of calcium, magnesium, and fiber, which are necessary for good health.

How Do You Integrate the DASH Diet Into Your Lifestyle?

Because the DASH diet is so flexible, it’s one of the easiest healthful eating plans to sustain. In the beginning, make gradual changes to your diet, like eating more vegetables at each meal and cutting back on salty, fatty foods.

Other tips include:

  • Eat fewer processed foods or switch to a more natural version, e.g., canned tomatoes with no added salt.
  • Read food labels carefully. Most of the sodium in your diet comes from processed foods.
  • Substitute chicken or turkey for beef in recipes and avoid cured meats like bacon and ham which are high in sodium.
  • Don’t add salt to staples like pasta and rice.
  • Include several meatless meals each week.
  • Look for alternative ways to flavor foods. There are plenty of salt-free seasoning blends on the market.
  • Flavor salads, marinades, and vegetables with fresh herbs or a spritz of lime or lemon juice.
  • Put the salt shaker away to break the habit of adding salt to meals at the table.
  • Avoid olives, pickles, soy sauce, and anything pickled, brined, cured, or smoked.
  • Speak with a registered dietitian to ensure you are following the plan best suited for you and your caloric needs.

To learn more about managing your blood pressure, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).


About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.