The D.A.S.H. Diet—Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension was developed for a US government–sponsored, controlled study that investigated the effect of a healthy diet on blood pressure.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is anything over 120/80 mmHg.

Focus on what you can eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains per day (choose whole grains when you can)
  • 4 to 5 servings of fruits and 4 to 5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy per day
  • 6 ounces of meat, poultry, or fish per day
  • Limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day

Best bets: Limit animal fats, and eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts, and non- or low-fat dairy products. Talk to a registered dietitian or other trained healthcare professional for more information about following this diet, but here are some good guidelines.

Why Do People Follow This Diet?

The DASH diet lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, and improves insulin sensitivity. For these reasons, many doctors recommend it to people at risk for heart disease or diabetes. Because it is a well-balanced diet low in animal fats and high in nutrient-rich foods and fiber, it has also been recommended as an eating guide for all people. Since most people will eat fewer calories, following the DASH diet could also be used for weight-loss and weight-maintenance.

What Do the Advocates Say?

The DASH diet is a heart-healthy diet designed to increase intake of nutrients (such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium) that should help lower blood pressure. Controlled studies have found that decreases in high blood pressure may begin within two weeks of starting the diet. In addition, blood levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol may begin to lower within two months.

Consuming less salt when following the DASH diet is even more effective for lowering blood pressure, and a salt-controlled DASH diet further improves heart disease and diabetes risk factors such as unstable blood sugar, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol levels in people who have the insulin-resistance (metabolic) syndrome. This diet has also been shown to improve indicators of osteoporosis risk.

What Do the Critics Say?

There is no known criticism of the DASH diet. In some people, the DASH diet may lower HDL (“good”) as well as LDL (“bad”) and cholesterol, but the overall effect remains a heart-healthy one.

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