DASH diet: Eating healthy to lower your blood pressure

Find out how DASH can help you lower your blood pressure and improve your health.

By Mayo Clinic staff

DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

The DASH diet is a healthy eating plan designed to help prevent or treat high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. It may also help lower cholesterol associated with heart disease, called low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL).

High blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol levels are two major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

Foods in the DASH foods are rich in the minerals potassium, calcium and magnesium. The DASH diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. It includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans and nuts.

The diet limits foods that are high in salt, also known as sodium. It also limits added sugars and saturated fat, such as in fatty meats and full-fat dairy products.

DASH diet and sodium

The standard DASH diet limits salt to 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. That amount is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That’s about the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of table salt.

A lower sodium version of DASH limits sodium to 1500 mg per day. You can choose the version of the diet that meets your health needs. If you’re not sure what sodium level is right for you, talk to your health care provider.

DASH diet: what to eat

The DASH diet is a balanced eating plan that gives choices about what to eat. The diet helps create a heart-healthy eating style for life. No special food or drink is necessary. Diet foods are available in supermarkets and most restaurants.

When tracking DASHis it important to choose foods that:

  • Rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber and protein.
  • Low in saturated fat.
  • Low in salt.

DASH Diet: Suggested Servings

The DASH diet provides daily and weekly nutritional goals. The number of servings depends on the daily calorie requirement.

Here’s a breakdown of the recommended servings of each food group for 2,000 calories per day DASH eating pattern:

  • Cereals: 6 to 8 servings per day. A serving might be 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta, 1 slice of bread or 1 ounce of dry cereal.
  • Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings per day. A serving is 1 cup raw green leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup chopped raw or cooked vegetables or 1/2 cup vegetable juice.
  • Fruit: 4 to 5 servings per day. A serving is a medium fruit, 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, or 1/2 cup of 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 meats, poultry, and fish: Six 1-ounce servings or less per day. A serving is 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry or fish, or 1 egg.
  • Nuts, seeds or dry beans and peas: 4 to 5 servings per week. A serving is 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 2 tablespoons of seeds or 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans or peas, also known as legumes.
  • Fats and oils: 2 to 3 servings per day. One serving is 1 teaspoon of soft margarine, 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons of salad dressing.
  • Sweets and added sugars: 5 servings or less per week. A serving is 1 tablespoon of sugar, jelly or jam, 1/2 cup of sorbet or 1 cup of lemonade.

DASH diet: alcohol and caffeine

Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that men limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day and women to one or less.

The DASH diet doesn’t talk about caffeine. How caffeine affects blood pressure is not clear. But caffeine can cause blood pressure to rise at least briefly.

If you have high blood pressure or think caffeine is affecting your blood pressure, consider cutting back. You can talk to your health care provider about caffeine.

Aim for salt

The food in the center of the DASH diet are low in salt. So following the DASH diet is likely to lower salt intake.

To further reduce salt:

  • Read food labels and choose low- or no-salt options.
  • Use salt-free spices or flavorings instead of salt.
  • Do not add salt when cooking rice, pasta or hot cereals.
  • Choose regular fresh or frozen vegetables.
  • Choose fresh skinless poultry, fish and lean cuts of meat.
  • Eat fewer restaurant meals. When eating at restaurants, ask about dishes with less salt and ask not to add salt to your order.

As you eat less processed, salty foods, you may notice that food tastes different. It may take a while for your taste buds to adjust. But once they do, you may prefer the DASH way of eating. And it makes you healthier.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date with research results, health tips and current health topics, such as COVID-19, plus health expertise. Click here for an email example.

In order to provide you with the most relevant and useful information and to understand what information is useful, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this may include protected health information. If we combine this information with your Protected Health Information, we will treat all that information as Protected Health Information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our Notice of Privacy Practices. You may unsubscribe from email communications at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the email.