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What Is the DASH Eating Plan?

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a flexible and balanced eating plan. DASH was one of three eating plans that were compared in research studies sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The goal of this research was to study the effects of diet on high blood pressure. The results showed that the DASH eating plan lowers blood pressure. The plan:

  • Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
  • Focuses on fruits, vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Is rich in whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts
  • Contains fewer sweets, added sugars and sugary beverages, and red meats than the typical American diet

The DASH eating plan also is lower in sodium (salt) than the typical American diet. The DASH research showed that an eating plan containing 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day lowered blood pressure. An eating plan containing only 1,500 mg of sodium per day even further lowered blood pressure.

The "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" advise people in the following groups to aim for no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day:

  • People who already have high blood pressure
  • People who have diabetes or chronic kidney disease
  • African Americans
  • Middle-aged and older adults

The DASH eating plan also includes foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables. In general, potassium should come from food sources only, not supplements. To find information on the potassium content of selected foods, search the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/.

Reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes likely contain potassium chloride as a main ingredient. This substance may harm people who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease. Check with your doctor before trying reduced-sodium products and salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride.

You can limit salt intake without using salt substitutes. For example, use herbs and spices to add flavor to foods. For examples of how to season foods without using salt, visit the NHLBI's Flavor That Food Web page.

Below is a table that shows the daily nutrient goals, including potassium, used in the DASH studies.

Daily Nutrient Goals Used in the DASH Studies (for a 2,000-Calorie Eating Plan)

Total fat27% of calories
Saturated fat6% of calories
Protein18% of calories
Carbohydrate55% of calories
Cholesterol150 mg
Sodium2,300 mg*
Potassium4,700 mg
Calcium1,250 mg
Magnesium500 mg
Fiber30 g

* 1,500 mg of sodium was a lower goal tested and found to be even better for lowering blood pressure. It worked very well for people who already had high blood pressure, African Americans, and middle-aged and older adults.

g = grams; mg = milligrams

For more detailed information about the DASH eating plan, go to the NHLBI's "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH."

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Your doctor may recommend the DASH eating plan if you have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps out blood. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day.

If blood pressure rises and stays high over time (high blood pressure), it can damage the body in many ways. High blood pressure also is called hypertension (HI-per-TEN-shun).

Blood pressure includes systolic (sis-TOL-ik) and diastolic (di-ah-STOL-ik) pressures. "Systolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. "Diastolic" refers to blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

You'll most often see blood pressure numbers written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg. (The mmHg is millimeters of mercury—the units used to measure blood pressure.)

Blood pressure is considered high if it stays at or above 140/90 mmHg over time. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 mmHg or higher. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is based on an average of two or more properly measured, seated blood pressure readings done during two or more office visits.

High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes your heart work too hard. The condition can damage your blood vessels and organs, such as your heart, kidneys, brain, and eyes.

High blood pressure is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death among Americans. High blood pressure also can put you at risk for other medical conditions, such as heart failure, kidney disease, and blindness.

For more information about high blood pressure, go to the Health Topics High Blood Pressure article.

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Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans.

 
July 02, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.

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