- The DASH diet has been found to help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.
- It emphasizes foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, protein, and fiber — such as leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, nuts, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and lean meats.
- The eating plan recommends limiting foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and whole-milk dairy, as well as sugary foods and sweetened beverages.
- The DASH diet can help with weight loss, and dietitians say it is one of the healthiest ways to eat.
- This article was reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, a nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension and was developed in the early 1990s when the National Institutes of Health was researching ways to lower blood pressure.
Since then, studies have found that the DASH diet can help lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease in people over time.
Here’s what you need to know about the DASH diet.
How to follow the DASH diet
The DASH diet focuses on nutrient-rich foods that are low in sodium, like many fruits and vegetables.
“For too long we focused just on cutting down on sodium,” said Lisa Sasson, a registered dietitian and clinical professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. “We now know that including more of the other minerals that are in plant-based foods is very helpful and beneficial.”
The NIH offers a helpful guide for following the DASH eating plan, with recommended serving sizes based on your daily calories and examples of the best foods to eat. It mainly recommends:
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy
- Lean meats
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes
- Limited sweets, fats, and oils
So if you’re following a diet of 2,000 daily calories, a day on DASH might look like this:
- Breakfast: Three-quarters of a cup of bran-flakes cereal, with one medium banana and one cup of low-fat milk, paired with a slice of whole-wheat bread and, if you like, one teaspoon of margarine. Wash it all down with a cup of orange juice.
- Snack: One-third of a cup of unsalted almonds.
- Lunch: Three-quarters of a cup of chicken salad, with two slices of whole-wheat bread and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard.
- Snack: A quarter cup of raisins.
- Dinner: Three ounces of roast beef topped with two tablespoons of fat-free gravy with a side of one cup of sauteed green beans and a small baked potato topped with a teaspoon of margarine. If you’re not satisfied, add a small apple and one cup of low-fat milk.
- Snack: Half a cup of fat-free fruit yogurt.
- For more meal ideas, the NIH has a week’s worth of daily meal plans.
Specifically, you’ll want to eat foods that are high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber. Some examples of DASH-approved foods are oatmeal, leafy greens, potatoes, apples, bananas, oranges, fish, and mixed nuts.
Research on the DASH diet’s effect on blood pressure
A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined 412 participants with pre-hypertension or stage-one hypertension. The study found that the participants who followed the DASH diet and reduced their sodium intake to 1,150 milligrams per day for 30 days straight saw a greater reduction in their systolic blood pressure than participants who ate a standard American diet.
Moreover, the higher a person’s systolic blood pressure was at the start of the study, the greater the improvement they saw from following a low-sodium DASH diet. For example, people whose original systolic blood pressure was greater than 150 mm Hg saw a decrease of as much as 15.54 mm Hg, whereas people whose original systolic blood pressure was less than 130 mm Hg saw a drop of as much as 2.07 mm Hg.
A 2014 review in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Disease found that the DASH diet was also associated with lower diastolic blood pressure as well as systolic blood pressure.
And while these two studies didn’t examine the diet’s effect on blood pressure in the long term, a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension found that a 16-week structured DASH diet was associated with lower systolic blood pressure for the next eight months.
Moreover, a 2018 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition of 1,409 participants over 24 to 28 years found that living by a DASH diet might also improve a person’s cardiovascular health, as it was associated with higher levels of HDL cholesterol and lower pulse wave velocity, a measure of a person’s arterial health. Cardiovascular health was even better for people who paired the DASH diet with regular exercise, the study found.
However, the benefits of this diet may extend beyond hypertension and heart health.
“Although the original research was about the benefits of the DASH diet on hypertension, it would be a diet I recommend for everyone,” Sasson said.
She said it’s a diet that’s easy to follow, since it isn’t very specific and there aren’t many restrictions, aside from cutting out excessive sweets — the NIH recommends five servings of sweets a week at most.
“The diet is very safe and sustainable for anybody who’s looking to eat healthier,” Sasson said. “It’s exactly how we would advise all people to eat.”
While the main focus of this diet is not weight loss, Sasson said many people do end up losing some weight on the diet, since many of them are eating healthier, less processed foods, and cutting back on snacking. A 2016 study found that the DASH diet was more effective for weight loss than other low-energy diets, especially for participants who were overweight or obese.
According to Sasson, the DASH diet is also a good way to educate people on what healthy meals look like, especially when so many of us eat on the go and opt for processed foods.
“We should look at it as one of the healthiest ways to eat,” she said.