Your Guide to the DASH Diet

Medically Reviewed By Grant Tinsley, PhD

The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It is a balanced way of eating that supports heart health and may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The DASH diet focuses on lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while limiting processed foods, sugar, and saturated fats. The DASH diet provides a framework of recommended foods to eat daily for a healthy lifestyle. People with high blood pressure or heart problems may find the DASH diet helpful in meeting their goals.

The DASH diet may help someone eat nutritious foods, such as more vegetables, while lowering their intake of foods that can be detrimental to heart health, like highly processed foods.

This article will explain what the DASH diet is, what foods someone following a DASH diet should eat, what foods to avoid, the potential benefits of the DASH diet, and examples of meals you can eat while on the DASH diet. 

What is the DASH diet?

Unseen person arranging raw fruits and vegetables on table outdoors
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The National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI) developed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, also known as the DASH diet, in 1997.

Since then, it has consistently ranked as one of the best dietary approaches for heart health. 

Read more about heart health.

What is the main purpose of the DASH diet? 

The main purpose of following the DASH diet is to support heart health by lowering high blood pressure levels. 

The DASH diet can also help lower LDL cholesterol levels. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” cholesterol. 

Read more about high cholesterol levels and how to lower them.

What foods are in the DASH diet? 

In general, the DASH diet focuses on heart-healthy foods. The DASH diet recommends that you base your meals on the following foods:

  • vegetables
  • fruits
  • whole grains
  • low fat or fat-free dairy
  • fish
  • poultry
  • beans
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • vegetable oils 

What foods should you avoid on the DASH diet? 

The DASH diet framework recommends avoiding the following foods:

  • high fat meats
  • full fat dairy
  • sugar
  • sweetened drinks
  • sweet snacks
  • high sodium foods, including anything processed

Ideally, you will want to ensure your sodium levels are within certain guidelines when you are following the DASH diet. 

For the maximum impact to lower high blood pressure, keep your sodium levels to less than 1,500 milligrams per day. To help lower blood pressure, aim for less than 2,300 milligrams per day. 

Read more about high blood pressure.

What are the benefits of the DASH diet? 

The DASH diet can effectively help lower blood pressure. People who have high blood pressure can lower both their systolic and diastolic pressures.

In fact, the DASH diet can help lower your blood pressure in as little as one week. Over time, the DASH diet has been proven to lower blood pressure by as much as 14 points.

The other possible benefits of following the DASH diet are numerous. It may:

  • reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death by 13% over 10 years
  • aid weight loss
  • decrease inflammation
  • help stabilize lipids or fats
  • help prevent colon and rectal cancer
  • ease the symptoms of kidney stones
  • help manage gout and kidney disease 

Lowering blood pressure with the DASH diet

The reason lowering your blood pressure with the DASH diet can be so helpful is that high blood pressure — also known as hypertension — is a big risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

When you have high blood pressure, it means your heart is working harder than it should to pump blood through your blood vessels.

Over time, this can lead to Trusted Source American Heart Association Highly respected national organization Go to source :

The cause behind high blood pressure can also play a role in your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. For instance, eating a lot of salt, sugar, or saturated fats can narrow your blood vessels, which forces your blood pressure to increase to pump blood through them. 

If you can change the foods you eat through the DASH diet, it can help open up your blood vessels more and allow blood to flow more freely, reducing the heart’s workload. 

Visit our high blood pressure hub.

How effective is the DASH diet? 

The DASH diet is considered very effective and is backed by many years of research. The DASH diet has been proven to help reduce the risk of:

Additionally, the DASH diet can successfully decrease high blood pressure levels in as little as one week. 

Keep in mind that the DASH diet is a dietary guideline and everyone is different. You may need to adjust your personal sodium levels, for instance, or taper them down slowly over time. 

Some foods may also be high in fat but provide other nutritional benefits. Avocados, for example, are technically not included in the DASH diet but you can add them into an overall healthy eating plan.

The DASH eating plan provides daily recommended servings for several food groups. For example, someone following a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet should consume:

Food groupServings per day
Whole grains6–8
Lean meats, poultry, and fish6 or less
Vegetables4–5
Fruit4–5
Fat-free or low fat dairy2–3
Daily sodium limits2,300 mg

In addition to the daily recommended servings, the DASH diet provides a weekly recommendation of:

  • 4–5 servings of nuts per week
  • 5 or fewer sweets per week

Example menu for a day on the DASH diet 

The DASH diet does not account for daily calories, so if you are following a DASH eating plan, you may want to choose foods that also fit into your recommended daily allotment of calories for your weight and activity levels.

As an example, the NHLBL provides this menu of what a day of DASH eating could look like:

MealFoods
Breakfast1/2 cup oatmeal, 1 mini whole wheat bagel,
1 banana,
1 tbsp. peanut butter,
1 glass low fat milk
Lunchchicken salad sandwich with 3 oz. cooked chicken breast, lettuce, 1 tbsp. reduced fat mayo, 1 slice of reduced fat cheese, 2 pieces of whole wheat bread;
1 cup cantaloupe, 1 glass apple juice
Dinner1 cup spaghetti with no-meat sauce; salad with low sugar vinegarette dressing; corn and pears

Recommended snacks include:

  • a handful of almonds
  • dried fruit
  • low sugar, low fat yogurt

Eating like this for one day would give you around 1,900 calories and 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

Frequently asked questions 

Here are some frequently asked questions about the DASH diet:

Can you drink alcohol on the DASH diet?

The DASH diet does not include any recommendations for consuming alcohol. However, research in 2019 Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests that following the DASH diet and reducing alcohol consumption was most effective for reducing high blood pressure. 

Do you have to exercise on the DASH diet?

The DASH diet is a dietary guideline, so it does not include any physical activity requirements. However, the official DASH diet eating plan does recommend regular exercise as a way to make the DASH diet more effective.

Aim for at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week or at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

Is the DASH diet beneficial for everyone?

Anyone can benefit from a diet rich in vegetables and low in saturated fats, but the DASH diet may be especially helpful for anyone with a current or family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke.

Summary 

The DASH diet is an eating plan that focuses on lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and low saturated fats to support heart health. The primary goal of the DASH diet is to help people lower high blood pressure levels. High blood pressure is linked to heart disease and stroke

In addition, the DASH diet can provide other health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of some cancers, and helping manage kidney disease and insulin resistance.

People following the DASH diet should keep their sodium levels under 2,300 milligrams per day and choose foods from the recommended food groups every day. The diet also recommends limiting sugars, processed foods, and saturated fats.

If you have a current or family history of high blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke, the DASH eating plan may help you lower your risk of serious complications. Talk with your doctor to see if the DASH eating plan may be right for you.

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Medical Reviewer: Grant Tinsley, PhD
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.