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Published on June 9th, 2011 | by Rachel Fox, RD

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Easy DASH Diet Summary





table saltThe DASH diet was created to help maintain normal blood pressure levels. Even though the DASH diet was created a few years ago, it is good to review methods that work!

DASH History and Meaning

DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” The main focus of the diet is to reduce overall sodium intake. This diet was created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (which is part of the National Institutes of Health.) A study was conducted to test the effects of a low sodium diet on hypertension. Results proved lower sodium intake is beneficial to improving hypertension. The DASH diet has two daily sodium level options: 2300mg and 1500mg. Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140mmHg and/or diastolic pressure of 90mmHg.

DASH Diet Nutrient Goals

The following nutrient goals were determined for a 2100kcal diet during the DASH studies.

  • Total fat – 27% of calories
  • Saturated fat – 6% of calories
  • Protein  – 18% of calories
  • Carbohydrates – 55% of calories
  • Cholesterol – 150mg or lower
  • Sodium – 2300mg (or 1500mg depending on diet choice)
  • Potassium – 4700mg
  • Calcium – 1250mg
  • Magnesium – 500mg
  • Fiber – 30g

These nutrient recommendations promote overall heart health. Saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to poor heart health, while calcium, potassium and magnesium promote good heart health.

DASH Diet Food Group Recommendations

Since it may be difficult to determine what percent of your diet is fat, carbohydrate, etc. Try these food group guidelines to follow the DASH diet.

  • Grains – 6-8 servings
  • Vegetables – 4-5 servings
  • Fruits – 4-5 servings
  • Low fat dairy – 2-3 servings
  • Lean meats – 6 or less oz
  • Nuts, seeds, legumes – 4-5 per week
  • Fats and oils – 2-3 servings
  • Sweets – 5 or less per week

Overall the DASH eating plan encourages whole grains, lean meats and dairy sources, high intake of fruits and vegetables, and replacement of saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

Why does the DASH Diet Work for High Blood Pressure?

Plant foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium. High sodium intake increases blood pressure because it causes the body to retain water, which increases blood volume. Higher blood volume creates more work for the heart and increased blood pressure. Low potassium intake (resulting from low intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc.) also causes water retention. The kidneys work hard to maintain regular potassium levels and low intake causes the body to hang on to as much potassium as it can (since it’s required for regular heart function.) Retention of potassium causes retention of water, increasing blood pressure again. The DASH diet promotes low sodium and high potassium based on these normal body functions.

For more information please consult the DASH diet handbook distributed by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Image credit to creative commons user zen

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About the Author

Rachel is a Registered Dietitian and food and nutrition enthusiast from southeast Michigan. She has her Bachelor's in Dietetics from Central Michigan University and completed her dietetic internship at Michigan State University. Rachel aspires to get a Master's of Public Health in the near future. Her passions include cooking, baking, and even grocery shopping. She supports local food, slow food, and good food! Rachel's spare time is devoted to attending local concerts and festivals, reading and playing tennis.



  • http://nutritionscienceanalyst.blogspot.com/ David Brown

    I would like to see a comparison study of the DASH diet and a modified DASH diet, an eating plan identical to the DASH approach except for increased fat (especially saturated fat) intake. Specifically, the diet would require all dairy be full fat with butter instead of margarine. Why? Here’s a comment published on The American Society for Nutrition Web Site:

    “According to a cohort study of 12,829 US children aged 9 to 14 years, weight gain is associated with excess calorie intake and consumption of low fat or skim milk, but is not associated with drinking whole milk products. This finding although surprising is consistent with some animal findings. Pigs fed reduced-fat milk gain weight easily while pigs fed whole milk stay lean. Male rats fed whole milk had significantly lower concentrations of plasma triglycerides, very low-density lipoproteins and apolipoprotein B than rats fed low fat milk. The effects of whole milk on lipid profile and body composition are not well understood, but the process of removing fat from milk may in part be responsible for some of the observed effects.”
    http://www.nutrition.org/asn-blog/2009/08/the-milk-debate/

    • http://importantmedia.org/members/beckyanne/ Becky Striepe

      What about something like olive or coconut oil, instead of animal fats?

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