DASH Diet: Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension


Key Points

  • The DASH diet is a way of eating that can help lower your blood pressure.
  • Most people can benefit from the DASH diet but people with kidney disease need to be cautious with it.
  • The DASH diet is meant to be a longterm lifestyle change, not a short term program.

The word “diet” draws images of scales, restrictions, and misery for many of us. But that’s not the intention of the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension and its main goal is to help you reduce your blood pressure and improve your health. Read on to find out if the DASH diet is right for you.

What is the DASH diet?

DASH stands for Diet Approved to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a new way of eating versus a weight-loss program. That’s not to say you won’t lose weight when you adopt this eating style, it’s just not the main goal of DASH.

The DASH diet was originally created to find an alternative to the popular low salt diet that many patients with high blood pressure are advised to follow. The DASH diet favors foods such as fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. While it is not a vegetarian diet, it does favor reducing animal protein as well as sweets and sugary drinks.

The DASH diet emphasizes foods that are higher in fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium, and calcium and lower in saturated fats. Your shopping list will look something like this:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Vegetables (not canned though)
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Eggs
  • Nuts (not salted)
  • Olive oil
  • Spices (cumin, curry, coriander, oregano, basil, etc.)

When you’re shopping watch out for sodium nitrate and trans fats (bacon, deli meat, fried and baked goods) . Both of these should be avoided or limited in your new approach to eating.

Is the DASH diet good for everyone?

Most people can benefit from making the changes highlighted in the DASH diet. There are some people who will need to modify the DASH diet base on existing health conditions. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s a good fit for you.

The DASH diet emphasizes protein, potassium, and phosphorous. People with chronic kidney disease may need to limit these nutrients. If you have chronic kidney disease be sure to work with your healthcare provider or nutritionist before making diet changes.

People who have type 2 II diabetes can benefit from the DASH diet. Choosing fruits that have less effect on blood sugar is important. Some good fruit options for people with diabetes include:

  • Berries
  • Cherries
  • Grapefruit
  • Plums

People with liver disease should check with their healthcare provider before making dietary changes.

Is the DASH diet the only diet that lowers blood pressure?

There are a lot of different eating plans that can help lower your blood pressure. Some have been shown to be better than the DASH diet at lowering blood pressure and some have been shown to be similar. The best one for you to chose is the one that you’re going to be able to adopt and work into your daily life.

How to get started with the DASH diet?

The fist step to getting started is mentally accepting the change. Think of this as a new way of living. Not something you’re going to do for a few months and then you’re done. This is your chance to make some changes to improve your health.

To get started, you need a plan. The first weeks will be a the learning phase. You’ll be learning how to do DASH*.* Things will take a little extra time than usual. **As you’re learning, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s fine. Your goal should be progress not perfection.

For the first two weeks, pick one meal a day that you’re going to change. Take some time to find some foods on the DASH diet that you know you like already. Plan your meal around that food. Once you find a meal you like, write that down. Many of us eat the same things every day for most meals of the day already. These first two weeks are about finding your new normal. For instance, breakfast may now be:

  • Yogurt
  • Hard-boiled egg (with or without the yolk, your choice)
  • Whole wheat toast with preserves (jelly has more sugar)

Do some internet searches for new recipes you like but also take a look at what you’re currently eating. See if you can make your current recipes a bit more DASH friendly. That may be just adding more vegetables or maybe you change from a beef burger to a turkey burger. Instead of snacking on chips, have a 1/4 cup of raw almonds. If you’re used to eating processed foods it will take some time to find pleasure in your new eating style. Give it some time. It will come. You will eventually begin to actually taste the food you are eating and not just the salt that makes you crave processed foods.

After your first two weeks, add a second meal and a snack. And after two more weeks, add the third. Making a gradual change will make this whole process easier and more successful.

Also, give yourself a “cheat” meal. Plan it ahead of time. For instance, Thursday’s dinner. That way you can look forward to it and plan for it.

What you need to know

The DASH diet is a lifestyle that has been proven to lower blood pressure. It takes time to create new habits. Start with small changes and add more changes gradually. The DASH diet is helpful to many people but may not be the right plan for you. Check with your healthcare provider to find out if it’s right for you.


American Diabetes Association. (2022). Eating well: fruit.

American Heart Association. (2022). Trans fats.

Appel, L.J., et. al. (2005). Effects of protein, monounsaturated fat, and carbohydrate intake on blood pressure and serum lipids: results of the OmniHeart randomized trial. Journal of American Medical Association.

de Souza, R.J., et. al. (2008). Alternatives for macronutrient intake and chronic disease: a comparison of the OmniHeart diets with popular diets and with dietary recommendations.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2021). DASH eating plan.

Science Direct. (2020). Sodium nitrate.

Tyson, C.C. et. al. (2012). The dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) eating pattern in special populations. Current Hypertension Reports.

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