DASH diet con help control blood pressure

May 09, 2000

May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month and a good time to learn about how your diet can help control your blood pressure.

In the past, a great deal of emphasis was placed on reducing dietary sodium of salt intake to help control blood pressure. Today we know that our diet's connection to high blood pressure is more broad. It includes total calories, as well as individual nutrients.

For people who are overweight, losing weight is the most important thing to prevent or control high blood pressure.

Too much sodium still is a factor in high blood pressure, but so is too much alcohol and too little potassium, magnesium and calcium.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial is one of the most practical studies to be released in recent years. It compared three eating patterns for their effect on blood pressure:


* A high-fat, high-sodium plan similar to what many Americans eat.

* The same plan, but with more fruits and vegetables.

* The DASH plan, a diet low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol and high in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods.

All of the foods in the study were commonly available.

Both the fruit-and-vegetable plan and the DASH plan reduced blood pressure. The DASH plan, however, had the greatest effect. It reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 11mm and diastolic by 6mm among subjects with high blood pressure.

More fruits, vegetables

The DASH diet looks similar to a low-fat version of the Food Guide Pyramid, which recommends low-fat or fat-free dairy products and lean meats. The main difference is that the DASH plan increases fruit and vegetable servings to eight to 10 servings daily over the five to eight in the Food Guide Pyramid.

In addition, four to five servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans are recommended weekly as rich sources of magnesium, potassium and fiber.

Although the DASH diet is specifically recommended for people with high or near high blood pressure, it is a healthy diet for all adult Americans. One important note, though: If you have high blood pressure and take medication, do not stop your therapy. Rather, use the DASH diet and talk to your doctor about your high blood pressure treatment plan.

For information on the DASH diet, write to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's Information Center, P.O. Box 30105, Bethesda, Md., 20824-0105. Ask for fact sheet 4082, or visit the DASH Web site at

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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