What Is the Dash Diet? A Guide to the Scientific Plan For Lowering Blood Pressure


DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan used to treat or prevent high blood pressure (hypertension). The DASH diet includes foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help control blood pressure. The diet limits foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars.

Studies have shown that the DASH diet can lower blood pressure in just two weeks. The diet can also lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol in the blood. High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

For this reason, the DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables while including some lean protein sources such as chicken, fish, and beans. The diet is low in red meat, salt, added sugar, and fat. Scientists believe that one of the main reasons people with high blood pressure may benefit from this diet is that it reduces salt intake.

The regular DASH diet program recommends no more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg) of sodium per day, which meets most national guidelines. The low-salt version recommends no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

The Dash Diet and Sodium

The DASH diet contains less sodium than a typical American diet, which can contain a whopping 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium or more per day.

The standard DASH diet limits sodium to 2,300 mg per day. Meets Dietary Guidelines recommendation for Americans to limit daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. That’s roughly the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of table salt.

A low-sodium version of DASH limits sodium to 1,500 mg per day. You can choose the version of the diet that suits your health needs. If you’re not sure what sodium level is right for you, talk to your doctor.

How It Works

DASH is based on the following foods: fruits, vegetables, low-fat milk, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It recommends reducing sodium, foods, and drinks with added sugar, and red meat. The diet is heart-healthy because it limits saturated and trans fats while increasing your intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fibre — nutrients thought to help control blood pressure.

Eat fewer carbohydrates, but more protein or unsaturated fats can also be beneficial to the heart. The Omni Heart clinical study (Optimal Macronutrient Intake to Prevent Heart Disease Prevention Trial) found that replacing about 10% of calories from carbohydrates with protein (especially plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts, and seeds) or monounsaturated fats (olive oil, Canola oil, nuts, and seeds) lowered blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in adults with early-stage or stage 1 hypertension.

Replacing carbohydrates specifically with unsaturated fats also helped lower “good” HDL cholesterol to increase. The benefit didn’t come from simply eating more fat and protein, but from swapping out an equal number of calories so that the total calorie count stayed roughly the same. At 2,000 calories per day, that means eating about 4-5 servings of whole grains, 5 servings of vegetables, 2-3 fruits, 2 low-fat dairy products, a 3-ounce serving of fish, poultry, or meat, 2-3 servings of

Unsaturated fats and Eat 7-8 servings of beans, nuts, or seeds weekly. To follow the plan, you must establish your calorie content and then spread out the suggested servings from each food group throughout the day. This requires planning meals in advance. The NHLBI guide has many tips on DASH food intake and reducing sodium intake. A sample menu one day after the 2,300 mg sodium restriction and the 1,500 mg sodium restriction; and a week full of recipes.

Dash Diet Tips

  • Include a serving of veggies at lunch and dinner.
  • Add a serving of fruit to your meals or as a snack. Canned and dried fruit are easy to use, but make sure they don’t contain sugar.
  • Use only half your typical serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing, and use low-fat or non-fat condiments.
  • Consume low-fat or non-fat dairy anytime you would normally use whole milk or cream.-Limit meat to 6 ounces a day. Prepare some vegetarian meals.
  • Add more vegetables and dried beans to your diet.
  • Instead of snacking on chips or candy, eat unsalted pretzels or nuts, raisins, low-fat or fat-free yogurt, frozen yogurt, unsalted and unbuttered popcorn, and raw vegetables.
  • Read food labels to choose products that are low in sodium.

Potential Benefits

In addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH diet has a number of potential benefits, including weight loss and a reduced risk of cancer.

However, you shouldn’t expect DASH to help you lose weight on its own, as it’s primarily designed to lower blood pressure. Weight loss can simply be an added benefit. The diet affects your body in a number of ways.

Can Help You Lose Weight

You are likely to experience lower blood pressure while on the DASH diet, whether you lose weight or not. However, if you already have high blood pressure, you may have been advised to lose weight.

Because the more you weigh, the higher your blood pressure will be. Additionally, losing weight has been shown to lower blood pressure. Some studies suggest that people on the DASH diet can lose weight. However, those who lost weight on the DASH diet were in a controlled calorie deficit, which means they were told to consume fewer calories than they expended. Because the DASH diet cuts out many sugary, high-fat foods, people may find that they automatically reduce their calorie intake and lose weight. Other people may need to consciously limit their intake.

However, if you want to lose weight with the DASH diet, you still need to follow a low-calorie diet.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force exerted on blood vessels and organs when blood flows through them. It is counted in two numbers:

1) Systolic Pressure: The pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is beating.

2) Diastolic pressure: The pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats when the heart is at rest. Normal adult blood pressure is a systolic pressure below 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mmHg. This is usually written with the systolic blood pressure over the diastolic pressure, like this: 120/80.  People with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 are considered hypertensive.  Interestingly, the DASH diet has been shown to lower blood pressure in both healthy and hypertensive individuals.

In studies, people who followed the DASH diet had lower blood pressure even if they didn’t lose weight or restricted salt intake. However, when sodium intake was restricted, the DASH diet lowered blood pressure even more. In fact, the greatest blood pressure reductions were seen in people with the lowest salt intake.

These results of the low-salt DASH diet were most impressive in people who already had high blood pressure, reducing systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg. In people with normal blood pressure, it lowered systolic blood pressure by 4 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 2 mmHg.

This is consistent with other studies showing that restricting salt intake can lower blood pressure, particularly in people with high blood pressure. Keep in mind that a drop in blood pressure doesn’t always mean a lower risk of heart disease.

Other Potential Health Benefits

DASH may affect other areas of health as well. The Diet:

Lowers Cancer Risk: A recent review found that people who followed the DASH diet had a lower risk of some types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer.

  • Reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome: Some studies indicate that the DASH diet reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome by up to 81%.
  • Reduces risk of diabetes: Diet has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Some studies show it may also improve insulin resistance.- Reduces the risk of heart disease: In a recent study of women, following a DASH-like diet was associated with a 20% reduced risk of heart disease and a 29% reduced risk of stroke.

Many of these protective effects are attributed to the high proportion of fruits and vegetables in the diet. In general, eating more fruits and vegetables can help reduce your risk of disease.

Does It Work for Everyone?

Although studies on the DASH diet found that the greatest reductions in blood pressure occurred in those with the lowest salt intake, the health and life expectancy benefits of salt restriction are not well defined. In people with high blood pressure, reducing salt intake has a significant impact on blood pressure. However, in people with normal blood pressure, the effects of reducing salt intake are much smaller.

The theory that some people are salt sensitive, meaning that salt has a greater impact on their blood pressure, may partially explain this.

Dash Diet: Recommended Servings

The DASH Diet provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. The number of servings you should consume depends on your daily calorie needs. Here’s a look at the recommended servings from each food group for a 2,000-calorie-per-day DASH diet:

  • Grains: 6 to 8 servings per day. A serving is one slice of bread, 1 ounce of dry granola, or 1/2 cup of cooked granola, rice, or pasta.
  • Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings per day. A serving is 1 cup raw green leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup raw or cooked diced vegetables, or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
  • Fruits: 4 to 5 servings per day. A serving is one medium fruit, 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, or 1/2 cup fruit juice.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: 2 to 3 servings per day. A serving is 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese.-Lean meat, poultry, and fish: six servings of 1 ounce or less per day. A serving is 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry, or fish or 1 egg.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings per week. A serving is 1/3 cup nuts, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 2 tablespoons seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked legumes (dried beans or peas).
  • Fats and Oils: 2 to 3 servings per day. A serving is 1 teaspoon soft margarine, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, or 2 tablespoons salad dressing.
  • Sweets and Added Sugar: 5 servings or less per week. A serving is 1 tablespoon of sugar, jelly, jam, 1/2 cup of sherbet, or 1 cup of soda.

Target Sodium

The foods at the heart of the DASH diet are naturally low in sodium. Hence if you’re just following the DASH diet, you’ll likely be reducing your sodium intake. You can further reduce sodium by:

  • Use non-sodium spices or flavourings instead of salt
  • Do not add salt when cooking rice, pasta, or hot cereal
  • Choosing fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables
  • choosing fresh or frozen foods, fish and lean meats
  • Read food labels and choose low-sodium or salt-free options
  • As you reduce your intake of processed foods high in sodium, you may find that foods taste different. It may take some time for your taste buds to get used to it. Once you do, you might prefer the DASH way of eating.

Limiting Too Much Salt Isn’t Good for You

Eating too little salt has been linked to health problems such as: B. an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance, and fluid retention. The low-salt version of the DASH diet recommends that people consume no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

However, it is unclear whether there is any benefit in reducing salt intake that far, even in people with hypertension. In fact, a recent review found no link between salt intake and the risk of dying from heart disease, although reducing salt intake resulted in a modest reduction in blood pressure.

However, since most people eat too much salt, reducing their salt intake from very high amounts from 2 to 2.5 teaspoons (10 to 12 grams) per day to 1 to 1.25 teaspoons (5 to 6 grams) per day may be beneficial. This goal can be easily achieved by reducing the amount of highly processed foods in your diet and eating mostly whole foods.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.