The DASH Diet
Helps Your Heart and Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) are very common, but many adults don’t even know they have it. High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and sexual dysfunction, even when there are no obvious symptoms. As a preventive cardiologist I continually encourage my patients to modify their lifestyles in order to reduce their risk factors for heart disease. One main thing I recommend is to follow the “DASH diet” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
Benefits of the DASH diet
The DASH diet is a heart-healthy diet that was created in 1996 to help people lower their blood pressure, while still being delicious and nutritious. It is a flexible and balanced eating style that uses foods commonly found at the grocery store and doesn’t require any special foods. The foods it emphasizes have healthy amounts of nutrients that can help reduce high blood pressure: potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber.
Several studies have looked at the health benefits of the DASH diet. The results show that it can reduce blood pressure and lower LDL cholesterol in the blood. In fact, the diet can reduce blood pressure to a similar extent as people who take medication to help with stage 1 high blood pressure.
In 2021, the DASH diet was ranked #1 by U.S. News for both the heart-health and healthy eating categories. This ranking was decided by a panel of health and nutrition experts out of a total of 39 different diets.
What to Eat on the DASH Diet
The DASH diet emphasizes eating more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, skinless poultry and fish, nuts, legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils.
For example, if you’re an adult who needs 2,000 calories per day, the goal of the DASH diet is to eat:
- 6-8 servings of grains per day
- Up to 6 servings of meat, poultry, and fish per day
- 4-5 servings of fruit per day
- 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
- 2-3 servings of low-fat dairy per day
- 2-3 servings of fats and oils per day
- Up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day (ideally, no more than 1,500 mg)
- 4-5 servings of nuts, seeds, beans, and peas per week
- Up to 5 servings of sweets per week
One of my favorite fruits is the passion fruit, and eating it may help to normalize blood pressure. Passion fruit is loaded with heart-healthy potassium and is also low in sodium. When eaten with the seeds, it also contains a lot of fiber, which can help to remove excess cholesterol from the inside of blood vessels and can reduce your risk of heart disease. Diets low in sodium and rich in potassium help to decrease blood pressure.
When it comes to the DASH diet, there are a few things to eat less of to normalize high blood pressure and improve your heart health. Choose lower amounts of: sodium (found in salt), saturated and trans fats, red meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
How to Get Started With the DASH Diet
Any changes to a healthier lifestyle can be made gradually—you don’t need to change everything tomorrow! Try starting by:
- adding one serving of fruits or vegetables to your regular meals
- swapping one of your sweet or salty snacks for a fruit, vegetable, or unsalted nuts
- buying lower-fat dairy products when you get groceries
- trying one or two vegetarian dinners per week
- instead of a sugar-sweetened drink, try water or low-fat milk.
The DASH diet is a flexible and nutritious way of eating that can lower your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol without any special foods. Several studies confirm its health benefits, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 39 diets for being hearty-healthy and helping people achieve healthy eating. The DASH diet emphasizes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, poultry and fish, and low-fat dairy.
Feed your body the right food. Start taking action today!
Alvarez, N. 2019. Heels vs. Ties: Living with your #1 threat. RI-AL Consulting.
American Heart Association. (2016, October 31). Managing high blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/managing-blood-pressure-with-a-heart-healthy-diet
American Heart Association. (2019, November 18). High blood pressure, unhealthy diets in women of childbearing age. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/11/18/high-blood-pressure-unhealthy-diets-in-women-of-childbearing-age
Harvard T.C. Chan School of Public Health. (n.d.). Diet review: DASH. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/dash-diet/
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). DASH eating plan. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2019, April). Making the move to DASH. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/making-move-dash
U.S. News. (n.d.). Best diets 2021. https://health.usnews.com/best-diet