Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a heart-healthy eating plan. It has been shown to help lower or manage high blood pressure. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. It emphasizes fruits, veggies, lean meat, and healthy fats.
How do you know if you need to follow the DASH diet? According to the American Heart Association, your blood pressure is too high if it is 130/80 mmHg or higher. Having high blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, hardening of the arteries, heart failure, kidney disease, or even blindness. The risks increase as blood pressure gets higher.
Following a DASH diet may keep you from needing blood pressure meds. It may also keep you off them for longer. If you’re already taking blood pressure meds, it may help you cut back on the amount you take.
You don’t need to have high blood pressure to eat according to the DASH eating plan. A DASH diet is a healthy eating style for anyone to follow.
Why This Diet Works
The DASH diet focuses on nutrients that help to reduce blood pressure. Those nutrients include calcium, potassium, magnesium, protein, and fiber.
The DASH diet also limits saturated fat, total fat, added sugar and sodium. In many people, sodium can increase blood pressure. The DASH diet recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends moving towards no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
Most of the sodium in our diets comes from processed and restaurant foods. We also add sodium to our meals in the form of table salt. One teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
The DASH diet includes:
Plenty of non-starchy veggies like spinach, chard, bok choy, kale, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and brussels sprouts
Lean meat, poultry, or fish — focus on fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and mackerel
Fruits such as a small apple or orange, melons, and berries — fresh or frozen are both good choices
Dairy products such as high-protein Greek yogurt (low in sugar), kefir, cottage cheese, or hard cheeses like cheddar and Swiss
Healthy fats and oils like olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and nut butter
Whole grains such as oats, quinoa, and brown rice
Stick with low- or no-sugar drinks like water, tea, coffee, and seltzer
Food to limit in the DASH diet include:
Highly processed carbs like pretzels, chips, and crackers
Sweets like ice cream, candy, and baked goods
For People Who Also Have Diabetes:
If you have diabetes, you’ll want to watch your servings of fruits and whole grains. Although these foods are nutritious, they can cause blood sugar to rise.
Paired checking can help you understand how these foods affect you. Paired checking is checking before and 2 hours after eating to see how high your blood sugar rises. Above 180 mg/dL 2 hours after a meal? That’s a sign to cut down on portion sizes or adjust food choices.
The DASH diet is not designed for weight loss. However, it can help you reach a healthy weight. The foods the plan focuses on tend to be low in calories and high in volume. This means they will naturally fill you up. That may help you eat less. To take it a step further, cut back on the number and size of the servings you eat.
If you’re interested in learning more about the DASH diet to lower your blood pressure, it’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian (R.D.) for support and guidance. You can schedule a session with a Livongo expert coach at coach.livongo.com.
To get the most out of any diet, it’s important to also make time for daily activity. Aim to get your heart pumping for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. This includes moderate-intensity activities like gardening, playing tennis (doubles), and taking a brisk walk.