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June 7, 2011

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH):
Smart Eating to Help Lower Your Blood Pressure

If you’re concerned about high blood pressure or stroke, you can take heart from some recently updated health guidelines. Both the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the revised American Heart Association/American Stroke Association guidelines agree that improving your eating habits can make a significant difference in your health. 

"DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension," says Anna Whiting Sorrell, Director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. "Since the first DASH research studies were released in 1997, this eating plan has been the gold standard for reducing blood pressure by eating better. More recent research has shown that DASH, in combination with increased activity, may also help you lower cholesterol levels, maintain a healthy weight, and improve brain function."

The DASH eating plan is simple, practical, and effective. These are among the reasons that the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans included DASH as one of several eating 'templates' for optimal health. DASH also meets the requirements of a "low-fat diet high in fruits and vegetables" recommended for lowering the risk of first stroke by the 2011 American Heart Association/American Stroke Association revised guidelines. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, DASH may reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease as well.

"DASH is not a restrictive fad diet," explains Dr. Helgerson, state medical officer. "It is a flexible plan based on nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups. The good news is that everything you need to know about DASH is available for free on easy-to-access websites. There’s no need to buy a book, go to meetings, or purchase expensive foods."

Here are some ways that DASH might differ from your usual eating habits:

More fruits and vegetables: DASH includes 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day – far more than the amounts currently consumed by most Montanans. Produce can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, so long as it does not have added sodium or sugar.

More fat-free or low-fat dairy foods: Two to three servings of milk, yogurt, or cheese are a key part of the DASH daily plan. Any dairy foods – so long as they are fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) – can be enjoyed on DASH.

Less sodium: To achieve optimal reductions in blood pressure, DASH recommends lower intakes of sodium. This can be done gradually in a variety of ways, such as eating fewer processed and packaged foods and choosing lower sodium versions of your favorite foods.

Switch to whole grains: Choose cereal, breads, rolls, and crackers that have a whole grain as the first item on the ingredient list.

Getting Started with a DASH Eating Plan:
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure with DASH is a free, easy-to-use, comprehensive DASH resource. You can download it at www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf. In this guide, DASH experts recommend a gradual approach rather than a total diet makeover. Gradual improvements in eating habits are often longer lasting than extreme diets.

Here are five easy ways to add delicious DASH into your daily eating pattern:

  1. Add fruit or 100% juice to breakfast. Popular choices include 1/2 grapefruit, 6-oz. orange juice, a banana, or a handful of craisins (dried cranberries) on your cereal.
  2. Choose an extra veggie or two at lunch. Easy options are a side salad or cup of vegetable soup with a sandwich. Add a bag of baby carrots to your brown bag lunch.
  3. Include more veggies at dinner. Go for at least two tasty items, such as green beans, snap peas, beets, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, squash, or a baked sweet potato.
  4. Get into a fruit-for-dessert habit. For snacks or after-dinner treats, enjoy fresh fruit in season (berries, melon, peaches, etc.) or frozen berries on top of vanilla yogurt.
  5. Aim for three daily servings of dairy. Go fat-free and low-fat with 1% milk on cereal, low-fat mozzarella cheese on a sandwich, and a glass of skim milk at dinner.

NOTE: If you take any medication to control your blood pressure, continue taking it as instructed. Talk with your health care provider about the DASH eating plan and discuss how it might affect your medication treatment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION and DASH RECIPES:
The best news about DASH is that the eating plan is good for your whole family. And, there are lots of delicious recipes and helpful hints available online. Here are a few websites to get you started on a whole new way of eating – and better health!

Keep the Beat Recipes: Deliciously Healthy Family Meals
http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/healthyeating
This new family cookbook from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute features more than 40 kid-tested recipes including a variety of healthy entrees, side dishes, and snacks that parents and children can enjoy together. The free cookbook also offers time-saving tips and helpful resources for busy families – all consistent with the DASH plan.

DASH Resources – from Oregon Dairy Council
www.dashdietoregon.org/
In addition to recipes and tips, this site has many unique downloads, including weekly DASH meal planners and daily trackers for different calories levels, as well as a shopping list and behavior change worksheet.

More DASH Recipes – from the Mayo Clinic
www.mayoclinic.com/health/dash-diet-recipes/RE00089

Page last updated: 07/30/2013