DASH Diet Guidelines for Lowering Hypertension: Portions and More

Balancing portions based on your calorie needs

By Roberta H. Anding, MS, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet has been scientifically proven to be an effective method for lowering blood pressure. Professor Anding explains what foods are typically included in this diet and how to ensure you are meeting the guidelines.

Close up of someone chopping green onions
The key focus of the DASH diet is to significantly increase the number of servings of whole fruits and vegetables—a serving is half a cup, about the size of your palm. Photo By H_Ko / Shutterstock

Balancing Minerals and Fatty Acids

Balancing sodium and potassium makes a major difference when it comes to keeping your blood pressure in check and by extension lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease. Specifically, the DASH diet guidelines recommend lowering your sodium portions while increasing your potassium intake, which means eating less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, the guidelines recommend healthy fats while limiting saturated fat, which can aid in the management of high blood pressure. Saturated fat helps you to deposit plaque in arterial walls because it triggers the synthesis of cholesterol. If high blood pressure is cardiac output times peripheral resistance, then more plaque in your arteries means the more resistant to that blood flow your body becomes. 

Increasing omega-3 fatty acids (found in nuts, fish, and fatty acids like flaxseeds) may also help to control your blood pressure. In our American diet, we tend to eat too much omega-6s (found in soybeans, corn, and sunflower oil) and not enough omega-3s, but our bodies crave balance.

DASH Diet Portion Recommendations

The DASH diet is based on calorie levels and you need to match your calories because the portion sizes that are recommended are almost always going to be linked with calorie balance. If you’re more physically active, you should boost your portion sizes or the number of items to maintain your weight.

If you’re looking to lose weight, you might have to adjust your calories. Although these guidelines are based on calorie balance, the general recommendation is that you should not consume less than the minimum number of servings in terms of portions for the DASH diet.

Depending on your calorie needs, it’s going to vary, but the key focus is a significant increase in whole fruits and vegetables. In general, the diet includes eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which will drive your potassium intake up.

This may seem like a lot, but a serving is half a cup—about the size of your palm. If you have a big bowl of grapes, that would probably make two servings. 

Dairy and Calcium

The diet also includes six to eight servings of whole grains per day along with two to three servings of dairy. The dairy servings are generally skim or low-fat milk and skim or low-fat yogurt. Technically speaking, cheese is considered a dairy portion, but because of the high saturated fat content, the DASH diet typically doesn’t include it.

For milk, a serving size is an eight-ounce glass. If you’re not sure how many ounces you have in a standard glass in your own home, measure it.

Now, some recent studies suggest that increasing calcium intake may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke in older women. This may sound counterintuitive since dairy products are a major source of calcium. 

However, this particular study involved those with emerging kidney failure, which is almost always in individuals who are taking calcium supplements—not getting calcium from food. It’s really difficult to get too much calcium from food. 

For this reason, the American Dietetic Association stresses a whole food approach rather than a supplement approach. With a supplement, you can easily consume a calcium intake above what you can realistically consume in your diet, which can affect blood pressure.

Protein and Fat Requirements

The DASH diet also includes somewhere in the range of six ounces of lean protein—typically chicken and fish. Any meat that has the word “loin” in the name is considered a lean protein.

Three ounces of meat is about the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. You could easily get six ounces of lean protein in a meal. Again, when we talk about servings, they are standard servings. It’s not necessarily what you’re serving yourself on your plate. 

You should eat somewhere in the range of two to three servings of oil or other fats—specifically monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. Also aim for four to five servings of beans, nuts, or seeds per week—not per day.

The DASH guidelines are not difficult to integrate into your regular diet. With the exception of strict sodium restriction guidelines, the diet fits most public health guidelines in that it includes an abundance of fruits and vegetables and healthy fats and proteins while cutting back on saturated fat. 

“We’re tweaking this to take the science of what we know about these individual minerals, and what we’re now trying to do is combine that into an eating plan that you can enjoy,” Professor Anding said.

Tomorrow’s article will answer frequently asked questions regarding the DASH diet.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.

Professor Roberta H. Anding is a registered dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition and a clinical dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. She also teaches and lectures in the Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine and Sports Medicine, and in the Department of Kinesiology at Rice University.