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Hypertension Library: Reference

The DASH Diet

(Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

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What is the DASH diet?

How do I make the DASH?

Get those nutrients

Following the DASH diet

Research has shown that diet affects the development of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Recently, a study found that a particular eating plan can lower elevated blood pressure.

The DASH eating plan is meant for those with elevated blood pressure. It also is a heart-healthy plan that you can share with your family.

What Is the DASH Diet?

Even slight elevations of blood pressure above the optimal level of less than 120/80 mm Hg are unhealthy. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the health risk.

In the past, researchers had tested various single nutrients, such as calcium and magnesium, to find clues about what affects blood pressure. These studies were done mostly with dietary supplements and their findings were not conclusive.

Then, scientists supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) tested nutrients as they occur together in food. The results were dramatic. The clinical study, called "DASH" for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, found that elevated blood pressures can be reduced with an eating plan low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods. The plan is rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber.

DASH involved 459 adults with systolic blood pressures of less than 160 mm Hg and diastolic pressures of 80-95 mm Hg. About half of the participants were women and 60 percent were African Americans.

DASH compared three eating plans:

  • A plan similar in nutrients to what many Americans consume
  • A plan similar to what Americans consume but higher in fruits and vegetables
  • A "combination" plan (the DASH diet) lower in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy foods

All three plans used about 3,000 milligrams of sodium daily — about 20 percent below the U.S. average for adults. The plans were not vegetarian and did not use specialty foods.

Results showed that both the fruit/vegetable and combination plans reduced blood pressure, but the combination plan had the greatest effect. The DASH eating plan reduced blood pressure by an average of about 6 mm Hg for systolic and 3 mm Hg for diastolic. It worked even better for those with high blood pressure — the systolic dropped on average about 11 mm Hg and the diastolic about 6 mm Hg. Further, the reductions came fast — within two weeks of starting the eating plan.

How Do I Make The DASH?

The number of servings you need may vary, depending on your caloric need. You should be aware that the DASH plan has more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains than you may be used to eating. This makes it high in fiber, which can cause bloating and diarrhea. To get used to the new eating plan, gradually increase your servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains.

Get those nutrients

The DASH eating plan is rich in various nutrients believed to benefit blood pressure and in other factors involved in good health. The amounts of the nutrients vary by how much you eat. If you eat about 2,000 calories a day on the plan, the nutrients you get will include:

  • 4,700 milligrams of potassium
  • 500 milligrams of magnesium
  • 1,240 milligrams of calcium

Those totals are about two to three times the amounts most Americans get.

The menus and recipes also have slightly less salt and sodium than were in the DASH study's meals. These average about 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day, compared with about 3,000 milligrams in the DASH study meals. Twenty-four-hundred milligrams of sodium equals about 6 grams, or 1 teaspoon, of table salt (sodium chloride). This amount follows the current recommendation of both the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the NHLBI's National High Blood Pressure Education Program. The DASH eating plan makes it easier to consume less salt and sodium because it is rich in fruits and vegetables, which are lower in sodium than many other foods. You can also keep salt and sodium down by using fewer already prepared foods and less salt at the table and in cooking. The next phase of the study — called DASH2 — is examining the relationship between blood pressure, eating patterns and a reduced sodium intake. It should yield important findings about how much sodium and salt is advisable to prevent or control high blood pressure when using the DASH eating plan.

How can you get started on DASH? It's easy. The DASH plan requires no special foods and has no hard-to-follow recipes. One way to begin is by seeing how DASH compares with your current food habits. Record your diet for one to two days and see how it compares with the DASH plan. This will help you see what you need to change.

Remember that some days you may eat more than what's recommended from one food group and less of another. But don't worry. Just be sure that the average of several days or a week comes close to what's recommended.

Use the week of menus(LINK TO MENUS BELOW)— or make up your own — and you're all set.

One note: It's important that, if you have high blood pressure and take a medication, you should not stop your therapy. Use the DASH diet and talk about your drug treatment with your doctor.

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