The DASH Diet: A Proven Method for Lowering Your Blood Pressure

Reduce your risk of heart disease with this whole food approach

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

Many dietary strategies can be implemented to control high blood pressure. Professor Anding describes the DASH diet, which has results on par with medications that lower blood pressure.

Colorful gradient of fruits and vegetables
Eating whole foods while on the the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet contributes to lowered blood pressure. Photo By denizya / Shutterstock

What Is the DASH Diet?

A total dietary approach for managing food—not necessarily supplements—is one of the best methods for lowering or maintaining blood pressure. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is one example of the whole food approach that’s been endorsed by the American Dietetic Association.

In general, the DASH diet focuses on a high content of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and a low-fat composition. More important than consuming low fat foods, though, is emphasizing the right fats, which tend to be the essential fatty acids—omega-6 and omega-3.

Alcohol intake must be considered in the DASH diet. While drinking a moderate amount of alcohol can prevent cardiovascular disease, excess alcohol can have the reverse effect, increasing blood pressure. 

Moderate means one glass of wine for women and two glasses for men. A portion is about a five-ounce glass of wine. 

You must consider the size of your wine glass at home. If you’re not sure, measure it. If your wine glass is eight ounces, that’s more than one glass of wine—according to the science on standardized portions.

Results from Sodium Restriction

The original DASH diet did not stress sodium restriction or even body fat management, and the results were equivocal. Some studies showed that the DASH diet was effective and others demonstrated that it was not. 

With the addition of sodium restriction and weight management, studies reveal strong evidence that the DASH diet effectively lowers blood pressure. Although the diet is often not as effective for individuals who have resistant high blood pressure or for individuals of ethnicities prone to high blood pressure, such as African Americans, it’s been demonstrated to work for many people.

The DASH diet can lower blood pressure to the same extent as drug therapy does. It can also lower blood pressure more often than other lifestyle changes, and more than one singular intervention alone.

Further research has shown that the standard DASH diet combined with 1,500 milligrams of sodium or less can lead to even more significant reductions in blood pressure. However, reducing sodium to this degree is a difficult challenge for most Americans. 

If reducing the amount of sodium gets to the point where you cannot tolerate the way your food tastes, adding a little bit more would be okay. There are several others tools available in your toolbox for controlling high blood pressure.

A Combined Approach

The bottom line is that combining all these strategies—weight loss, sodium restriction, and a diet of whole foods—is more effective than just picking one strategy. After being on the DASH diet for two months, individuals have seen a reduction of systolic pressure (the force of the blood when the heart beats) by an average of 11.4 millimeters of mercury and a diastolic (the force in between heart beats) decrease by 5.5 millimeters of mercury. 

For every two millimeters of mercury reduction in systolic pressure, it reduces your risk of heart disease by 5% and your risk of stroke by 8%. “I’m not a gambling woman, but I will tell you, I will take those odds any day,” Professor Anding said.

Other benefits of lowering your blood pressure can include reducing the risk of progression of dementia and other cognitive impairments. These disorders are more common in individuals who have high blood pressure. 

Keeping your blood pressure in check also requires monitoring your sodium and potassium intake. Tomorrow’s article will explore how to effectively maintain a balance between these two minerals.

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.