DASH Diet: Is It A Healthy Diet For Lowering Blood Pressure 2023?

Alexandra Gregg

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

dash diet

The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan specific for treating and preventing high blood pressure. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.  

Foods included in the DASH diet are extremely rich in particular nutrients that help to control blood pressure, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It also encourages limited to no foods high in added sugar, salt, and saturated fat.  

The DASH diet is very effective[1] and can decrease a person’s blood pressure in just two weeks. Furthermore, it can reduce[2] one’s low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels which is essential if you are worried about heart disease and stroke, as high LDL cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for these.

What Is A DASH Diet?

The DASH diet is more of a lifestyle change than a diet. It focuses on flexibility and balance and thus helps to create heart-healthy habits that are sustainable in the long term. In addition, it uses foods that can be found in every grocery store and is easy to follow.

The National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute helped develop the DASH diet. They created the diet after researchers found that vegans and vegetarians had significantly lower blood pressure than their carnivore peers. Therefore, they formed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes low-fat dairy foods, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans. Intake of other foods such as salt, added sugars, full-fat dairy, and red meat is discouraged.  

The main driving force behind the benefit of this diet for people with hypertension is thought to be lowering sodium intake[3]. This diet does not allow more than one teaspoon of salt daily. One teaspoon is equal to approximately 2300 mg of sodium. These recommendations[4] mimic the Dietary Guidelines for Americans put out by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

Benefits Of DASH Diet

Along with helping those who suffer from hypertension, the DASH diet can provide numerous health benefits, including decreasing your risk of cancer and even helping with weight loss.   

The DASH diet can benefit your health in the following ways:

Lower Blood Pressure

An individual’s blood pressure[5] is the pressure exerted by blood against the walls of their arteries. Blood pressure is measured with two different numbers[6]

  • The first number (systolic blood pressure): The pressure (in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg) exerted against the walls of your arteries from the force of a heartbeat
  • The second number (diastolic blood pressure): The force remaining against the walls of your arteries in between heartbeats; a measure of peripheral vascular resistance

When documenting blood pressure readings, the systolic number is placed above the diastolic pressure number. Normal blood pressure is described as one less than 120/80 mmHg (119/79 or lower). Fascinatingly, the DASH diet has shown[7] lowered blood pressure in not only people with high blood pressure but also in people with healthy blood pressure levels.  

On average, research has proven that using the DASH diet as the only intervention for reducing blood pressure can lower systolic blood pressure by 6 to 11 mm Hg. Furthermore, the DASH diet has been shown[8] to not only can decrease blood pressure but also lower the risk of heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.

Weight Loss

You can shed a few pounds as an added perk of following the DASH diet. Losing weight is a bonus toward normalizing blood pressure, and most people with hypertension are encouraged to lose weight for this very reason. Generally, your blood pressure tends to be higher if you weigh more.  

Many studies have shown that along with exercise[9], the DASH diet can help you lose weight. Of note, the study participants also followed a calorie restriction, meaning they ate fewer calories than they burned throughout the day.  

Given this information, there is evidence that more than adapting the DASH diet is needed to promote weight loss. Thus, the DASH diet combined with exercise and calorie reduction is a great way to lose weight. 

Cancer Prevention

Another benefit of following the DASH diet is the fact that it may have anti-cancer properties. For example, a study[10] published in July 2020 showed that women who adhered to the DASH diet had a lower likelihood of developing breast cancer. In addition, a meta-analysis study[11] performed in 2020 showed that adherence to the DASH diet was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer. 

Healthier Gut Microbiome

We are only now learning the positive impact on health that comes from a healthy gut[12] and a favorable balance of good intestinal bacteria, from the aforementioned weight loss, cancer prevention, and heart health to discouraging the onset of insulin resistance and diabetes.

Potential Downsides

The DASH diet, while beneficial for some people, can also have its potential downsides, such as

Meal Planning

The DASH diet plan involves a lot of planning and forethought because of the promotion of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. This is quite a lifestyle change if you are not used to following or preparing meal plans and cooking most of your meals. In that case, the DASH diet will require you to consider your food choices and possibly obtain guidance from a registered dietitian or another medical professional.  

Questionable Foods

Some foods allowed on the DASH diet are unhealthy and may not be appropriate to ward off heart disease and other adverse health effects. 

For example, pretzels are an approved food choice and come from the grain group even though they contain hardly any fiber or nutrition. (Salted pretzels, well, you can imagine.) Frozen yogurt is another questionable food because while it is deemed acceptable, it is typically loaded with sugar. Lastly, cereals are a generally allowed food even though multiple kinds of cereal are incredibly high in sugar and low in fiber and other nutrients.    

Gastrointestinal Distress

The DASH diet tends to be very high in fiber due to the high fruit and vegetable consumption. Therefore, some people not used to high fiber may find the sudden increase gives them an upset stomach through bloating and gas. You can help fight off these negative impacts by slowly adding high-fiber foods over several weeks rather than all at once. 

DASH Diet Food List

Specific foods aren’t listed in the DASH diet. Instead, it gives the serving sizes you should have for each food group. Your calorie levels determine the number of servings allowed in each group.  

Below is an example of a dash diet menu list with servings allowed in a 2,000-calorie diet[13]

Grains (Mostly From Whole Grains), 6 To 8 Servings Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one ounce of dry cereal, half a cup of cooked pasta or cooked rice, or one slice of bread.

Examples of grains include

  • Oatmeal
  • Grits
  • Museli 
  • Tortilla shells
  • Pretzels
  • Popcorn
  • Cereal
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pita bread
  • Pasta

Vegetables, 4-5 Servings Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one cup of leafy green vegetables or a half cup of cooked vegetables or dry beans.

Examples of vegetables include

  • Arugula
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers
  • Butter lettuce
  • Kale
  • Potatoes, including white and sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Zucchini

Fruits, 4 To 5 Servings Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one medium whole fruit, one-fourth cup of dried fruit (unsweetened), or half a cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit. 

Examples of fruits include

  • Strawberries
  • Pineapples
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Mangoes
  • Dates
  • Peaches
  • Apricots
  • Raisins
  • Apples

Dairy, 2 To 3 Servings Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one cup of yogurt, one cup of milk, or 1.5 ounces of cheese.

Examples of dairy include

  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products: Cow’s milk, cheese, frozen yogurt
  • Fortified soy beverages
  • Lactose-free products

Lean Meats, Fish, Poultry, And Eggs, Six Servings Or Less Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one ounce of cooked fish, poultry, fish, or one egg.

Examples of lean meat, fish, and poultry:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Pork

Fats And Oils, 2 To 3 Servings Daily

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one teaspoon of vegetable oil, margarine, or two tablespoons of salad dressing.

Examples of fats and oils include

  • Margarine
  • Canola oil 
  • Corn oil
  • Olive oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Salad dressing

Nuts, Seeds, And Legumes, 4-5 Servings Weekly

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to two tablespoons of seeds, 1.5 ounces of unsalted nuts, half a cup of cooked legumes, or two tablespoons of nut butter.

Examples of nuts, seeds, and legumes:

  • Almonds
  • Almond butter
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Hazelnuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Lentils

Added Sugars And Sweets, Less Than Five Servings Weekly

dash diet

One serving is equivalent to one tablespoon of table sugar, half a cup of sherbet, or one cup of sugar-sweetened beverages

Examples of added sugars and sweets:

  • Jam
  • Jelly
  • Honey
  • Sorbet 
  • Sherbet
  • Table sugar

DASH Diet Sample Meal Plan

This sample DASH diet menu is based on the 2000 calories per day diet. This meal plan also stays below the recommended sodium intake of 2300 milligrams. 

Breakfast

dash diet
  • 1 half-cup oatmeal 
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast topped with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 medium banana 
  • 1 cup of low-fat milk 
  • Unsweetened coffee 

Lunch

dash diet
  • 2 slices (3 ounces) chicken breast, skinless 
  • 2 pieces whole wheat bread 
  • Reduced-fat cheddar cheese 
  • 2 large leaves of romaine lettuce 
  • 2 slices tomato 
  • 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise 
  • 1 cup cantaloupe pieces 
  • 1 cup fresh pineapple 

Dinner

dash diet
  • 1 cup cooked whole wheat spaghetti noodles 
  • Three-fourths cup low-salt spaghetti sauce 
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese 
  • 2-3 ounces lean ground turkey 
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves 
  • One-fourth cup fresh carrots
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar and oil dressing 

Snacks

dash diet
  • One-third cup almonds (unsalted)
  • One-fourth cup dried apricots
  • 1 cup fat-free yogurt

Conclusion

Research has shown that the dash eating plan is effective to reduce blood pressure.  In addition, this diet can also help to lower your risk of cancer and help you lose a few pounds along the way.  Therefore, if you are struggling to lower your blood pressure or have a salt sensitivity, this may be the diet for you.


+ 13 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Filippou, C.D., Tsioufis, C.P., Thomopoulos, C.G., Mihas, C.C., Dimitriadis, K.S., Sotiropoulou, L.I., Chrysochoou, C.A., Nihoyannopoulos, P.I. and Tousoulis, D.M. (2020). Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet and Blood Pressure Reduction in Adults with and without Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Advances in Nutrition, [online] 11(5), pp.1150–1160. doi:10.1093/advances/nmaa041.
  2. Lari, A., Sohouli, M.H., Fatahi, S., Cerqueira, H.S., Santos, H.O., Pourrajab, B., Rezaei, M., Saneie, S. and Rahideh, S.T. (2021). The effects of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on metabolic risk factors in patients with chronic disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, [online] 31(10), pp.2766–2778. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2021.05.030.
  3. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2013). Salt Sensitivity, a Determinant of Blood Pressure, Cardiovascular Disease and Survival. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2006.10719574
  4. USDA (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 -2025 Make Every Bite Count With the Dietary Guidelines. [online] Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.
  5. CDC (2021). High Blood Pressure Symptoms and Causes. [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm
  6. www.heart.org. (2018). Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings
  7. Soltani, S., Shirani, F., Chitsazi, M.J. and Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2016). The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) diet on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Obesity Reviews, [online] 17(5), pp.442–454. doi:10.1111/obr.12391.
  8. Challa, H.J., Muhammad Atif Ameer and Uppaluri, K.R. (2022). DASH Diet To Stop Hypertension. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482514/
  9. Blumenthal, J.A. (2010). Effects of the DASH Diet Alone and in Combination With Exercise and Weight Loss on Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Biomarkers in Men and Women With High Blood Pressure. Archives of Internal Medicine, [online] 170(2), p.126. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.470.
  10. Heidari, Z., Mohammadi, E., Aghamohammadi, V., Jalali, S., Rezazadeh, A., Sedaghat, F., Assadi, M. and Rashidkhani, B. (2020). Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets and breast cancer among women: a case control study. BMC Cancer, [online] 20(1). doi:10.1186/s12885-020-07209-1.
  11. Nutrition and Cancer. (2020). The Association of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet with the Risk of Colorectal Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01635581.2019.1651880
  12. Hills, R., Pontefract, B., Mishcon, H., Black, C., Sutton, S. and Theberge, C. (2019). Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients, [online] 11(7), p.1613. doi:10.3390/nu11071613.‌
  13. NIH. What’s on Your Plate? 1,800—2,000 calories a day. [online] Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/WhatsOnYourPlate-1800-2000cal.pdf
Alexandra Gregg

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Alexandra Gregg is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Kansas City, Missouri. After studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Northwest Missouri State she completed her Dietetic Internship at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Following her dietetic internship, Allie worked at Mayo Clinic in a variety of areas including nutrition support, geriatrics, neonatology, and pediatrics. In addition, she was a regular presenter at Mayo Clinic conferences and an educator for dietetic interns.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Harvard Health Publishing

Database from Health Information and Medical Information

Harvard Medical School
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source

WHO

Database from World Health Organization

Go to source

Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology Journals

American Academy of Neurology
Go to source

MDPI

United Nations Global Compact
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database from U.S. National Library of Medicine

U.S. Federal Government
Go to source

Trusted Source

Database From Department of Health and Human Services

Governmental Authority
Go to source

PubMed Central

Database From National Institute Of Health

U.S National Library of Medicine
Go to source