Life Times Newsletter

Spring 2005
Vol. 7, No. 2

Improve your blood pressure with DASH eating plan

Research has shown that high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be lowered by following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and reducing the amount of sodium consumed.

The DASH study, supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), showed that blood pressures were reduced with an eating plan that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat, and that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. This eating plan—known as the DASH eating plan—also includes whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts. It is rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber, and it calls for reduced amounts of red meat, sweets and sugar-containing beverages.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume 4 ½ to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, which is about half the food on your plate at each meal. The DASH eating plan is in line with these recommendations.

In the DASH study, the greatest blood pressure reductions were for the DASH eating plan when people consumed 1,500 milligrams or less of sodium per day. Those with hypertension saw the biggest reductions in blood pressure, but those without hypertension also saw large decreases in blood pressure.

Americans get only half the amount of potassium and fiber they need. The majority of Americans don’t get nearly enough vitamin C, vitamin A, or magnesium. Fruits and vegetables are rich in all of these.

Diets rich in potassium can lower blood pressure and help blunt the effect of salt on blood pressure. Less than 10 percent of adult men and 1 percent of adult women get adequate potassium needed for healthy blood pressure. Blood pressure is directly related to the balance of sodium and potassium in the blood. Americans may be consuming more sodium than they think because 75 percent of sodium is consumed from processed and fast foods and only 5 to 10 percent from added salt.One teaspoon of table salt (about 6 grams of sodium chloride) equals 2400 milligrams of sodium, so the amount of sodium we’re talking about at 1,500 milligrams equals about 2/3 teaspoon of table salt. These amounts include all salt consumed—salt that is in food products, used in cooking, and added at the table.

Only small amounts of sodium occur naturally in food. Processed foods account for most of the salt and sodium Americans consume. Be sure to read food labels to choose products lower in sodium.

Here are some tips to reduce salt or sodium in your diet:

  • Use reduced sodium or no-salt-added products.
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned with "no-salt-added" vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed types.
  • Limit cured foods (such as bacon and ham), foods packed in brine (such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut), and condiments (such as MSG, mustard, horseradish, catsup, and barbecue sauce).
  • Use spices instead of salt. In cooking and at the table, flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends. Start by cutting salt in half.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt
  • Cut back on "convenience" foods. Frozen dinners, frozen pizzas, packaged mixes like macaroni and cheese, stuffing mix, scalloped potatoes, pasta meals, canned soups and broths often have a lot of sodium.
  • It’s easy to adopt the DASH eating plan. Here are some ways to get started:

    Change gradually.

  • If you now eat one or two vegetables a day, add a serving at lunch and another at dinner. Use fresh, frozen, or no-salt-added canned vegetables.
  • If you don't eat fruit now or have only juice at breakfast, add a serving to your meals, or have it as a snack.
  • Gradually increase your use of fat-free and low-fat dairy products to three servings a day. Drink milk with lunch or dinner, instead of soda, sugar-sweetened tea, or alcohol.
  • Read food labels on margarines and salad dressings to choose those lowest in saturated fat and trans fat. Some margarines are now trans-fat free.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal, instead of the focus.

  • Limit meat to 6 ounces a day (2 servings)—all that’s needed. Three to four ounces is about the size of a deck of cards.
  • If you now eat large portions of meat, cut them back gradually—by a half or a third at each meal.
  • Include two or more vegetarian-style (meatless) meals each week.
  • Increase servings of vegetables, rice, pasta, and dry beans in meals. Try casseroles and pasta, and stir-fry dishes, which have less meat and more vegetables, grains, and dry beans.
  • Use fruits for desserts and snacks. Fresh fruits require little or no preparation. Dried fruits are handy for snacking at work, school or in the car.
  • Munch on unsalted pretzels or nuts mixed with raisins; graham crackers; lowfat and fat free yogurt and frozen yogurt; popcorn with no salt or butter added; and raw vegetables.
  • Source: The DASH Eating Plan, May 2003, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

    DASH Eating Plan Available from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute:
    Mail: NHLBI Health Information Center - P.O. Box 30105 Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
    301-592-8573 or 240-629-3255 (TTY)


    Mary Schroepfer, MED
    Nutrition & Health Education Specialist

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    University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller