Duke Medicine HealthLine
Published: Aug. 16, 2007
Updated: June 2, 2010
The DASH Eating Plan
If you have high blood pressure, one of the lifestyle modifications your doctor may have asked you to adopt is the DASH eating plan. Developed by scientists sponsored by the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, DASH is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, and low in total and saturated fats. There’s no mysterious trick in this eating plan and no unusual foods or pills. Nevertheless, it’s been proven to lower blood pressure in just two weeks.
Certified blood pressure expert Laura P. Svetkey, MD, co-authored the first major study proving the effectiveness of the DASH eating plan. She answers a few questions for us about this pressure-dropping diet:
Not at all. The DASH studies sought to determine whether combining other micro- and macronutrients, without reducing sodium (salt) intake, could lower blood pressure. In fact, we found that a dietary pattern rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and fiber, at typical American levels of salt intake, lowers blood pressure as much as a single prescription blood pressure medication. In a second study, we showed that combining DASH with reduced salt intake lowers blood pressure even more.
DASH had a bigger effect on blood pressure than reducing salt. And eating the healthy, well-balanced DASH dietary pattern may be easier -- lowering salt intake can be harder than it sounds. About 85 percent of the sodium consumed in a typical American diet is already in the food and not added at the table or in cooking. Instead of focusing on restricting what we eat, DASH focuses on increasing the amount we eat of foods that are good for blood pressure (fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy).
It wasn’t designed for weight loss, but studies show that DASH can help people lose weight in a healthy way. It’s a good thing, too, because weight loss has a tremendous beneficial impact on high blood pressure -- not to mention lowering the risk of developing diabetes and improving cholesterol levels. In people who are overweight or obese, even modest amounts of weight loss -- say, 10 to 15 pounds -- can help control high blood pressure and substantially reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure in the future.
There’s a free, downloadable booklet (PDF) from the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute that details the DASH diet. It includes guidelines, tips, recipes, and menus.