Purpose: To provide more in-depth information about how what we eat affects blood pressure.
Time to read: 6 minutes
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Have you ever heard of the DASH diet? DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This is a diet that was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and tested in clinical trials starting in the 1990’s. Studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing high blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular health.
The DASH diet is not a quick-fix weight loss plan or a restrictive eating regimen. Instead, it’s a balanced, sustainable way of eating that emphasizes whole foods and nutrients known to support heart health and lower blood pressure.
The DASH diet includes:
The DASH diet recommends a certain number of daily servings from various food categories. Here’s a brief overview of the servings and what constitutes one serving:
What is a serving?
1 serving equals 1 slice of whole-grain bread.
1 serving equals 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice, whole grain pasta, or cereal.
Lean meat, poultry, and fish
1 serving equals 3 ounces of cooked meat, poultry, or fish (about the size of a deck of cards).
1 serving equals 1 cup of raw leafy greens or 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables.
1 serving typically equals 1 medium-sized piece of fruit (e.g., an apple or banana) or 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.
Low-fat or fat-free dairy
1 serving equals 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese.
Fats and Oils
1 serving includes 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil or 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise.
Nuts, seeds, dried beans and peas
1 serving equals 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds, or 1/2 cup of cooked beans or peas.
5 or less
1 serving of sweets equals 1 tablespoon of sugar, a small piece of cake, or one small cookie.
Remember that these serving recommendations can vary depending on your calorie needs and activity level.
DASH trials compared 3 different daily sodium intake levels (1,500mg, 2,400mg and 3,000 mg levels) and found that diets lowest in sodium (those less than 1,500 mg a day) lowered blood pressure the most.
Ways to lower sodium in your daily diet:
Part of the DASH diet is an emphasis on eating several servings of fruits and vegetables daily. One way this can help lower blood pressure is that fruits and vegetables contain high levels of potassium.
Potassium and sodium work together in our blood to regulate our blood pressure. When your diet is higher in sodium than in potassium, it can create an imbalance in your blood that can increase our blood pressure.
Increasing the fruits and vegetables in your diet will help increase the amount of potassium you eat, which can be helpful for lowering blood pressure and replacing potassium that is naturally lost when taking blood pressure medications.
Good sources of potassium include:
The goal of the DASH diet is to replace simple sugars and starches with more complex, high-fiber carbohydrates such as: beans or legumes, whole wheat bread, brown rice, high fiber cereals, and other whole grains.
Dairy products can be a good source of dietary calcium. Many of our favorites such as cheese, sour cream, butter, and full-fat milk also contain a lot of saturated fat which can increase our cholesterol and risk of developing cardiovascular disease. When you choose dairy products look for low-fat versions (1% or fat-free).
High amounts of fat in the diet has been linked to weight gain and cardiovascular disease. When choosing fats limit the amount and aim for heart healthy choices. Heart healthy fats include: Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna), olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Need a refresher on healthy fats and their sources? You can go back to last week’s module, Nutrition 101, by tapping the back arrow in the upper left and selecting Week 5.
Karanja, N; et al. THe DASH diet for high blood pressure: from clinical trial to dinner table. Cleveland Clinic Journal. 2004 71:745-753.
as of September 2023. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Masters degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University.
Always be sure to reach out to your healthcare team when making changes to your diet or lifestyle. There are certain conditions and medications that need to be considered.