High blood pressure affects more than a billion people worldwide — and that number is rising.

In fact, the number of people with high blood pressure has doubled in the last 40 years — a serious health concern, as high blood pressure is linked to a higher risk of conditions such as heart disease, kidney failure and stroke (, ).

As diet is thought to play a major role in the development of high blood pressure, scientists and policymakers have engineered specific dietary strategies to help reduce it (, ).

This article examines the DASH diet, which was designed to combat high blood pressure and reduce people's risk of heart disease.

Dash Diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, is a diet recommended for people who want to prevent or treat hypertension — also known as high blood pressure — and reduce their risk of heart disease.

The DASH diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats.

The diet was created after researchers noticed that high blood pressure was much less common in people who followed a plant-based diet, such as vegans and vegetarians (, ).

That’s why the DASH diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables while containing some lean protein sources like chicken, fish and beans. The diet is low in red meat, salt, added sugars and fat.

Scientists believe that one of the main reasons people with high blood pressure can benefit from this diet is because it reduces salt intake.

The regular DASH diet program encourages no more than 1 teaspoon (2,300 mg) of sodium per day, which is in line with most national guidelines.

The lower-salt version recommends no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

Summary The DASH diet was designed to reduce high blood pressure. While rich in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, it restricts red meat, salt, added sugars and fat.

Beyond reducing blood pressure, the DASH diet offers a number of potential benefits, including weight loss and reduced cancer risk.

However, you shouldn’t expect DASH to help you shed weight on its own — as it was designed fundamentally to lower blood pressure. Weight loss may simply be an added perk.

The diet impacts your body in several ways.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is a measure of the force put on your blood vessels and organs as your blood passes through them. It's counted in two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats.
  • Diastolic pressure: The pressure in your blood vessels between heartbeats, when your heart is at rest.

Normal blood pressure for adults is a systolic pressure below 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mmHg. This is normally written with the systolic blood pressure above the diastolic pressure, like this: 120/80.

People with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 are considered to have high blood pressure.

Interestingly, the DASH diet demonstrably lowers blood pressure in both healthy people and those with high blood pressure.

In studies, people on the DASH diet still experienced lower blood pressure even if they didn't lose weight or restrict salt intake (, ).

However, when sodium intake was restricted, the DASH diet lowered blood pressure even further. In fact, the greatest reductions in blood pressure were seen in people with the lowest salt consumption ().

These low-salt DASH diet results were most impressive in people who already had high blood pressure, reducing systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg ().

In people with normal blood pressure, it reduced systolic blood pressure by 4 mmHg and diastolic by 2 mmHg ().

This is in line with other studies which reveal that restricting salt intake can reduce blood pressure — especially in those who have high blood pressure ().

Keep in mind that a decrease in blood pressure does not always translate to a decreased risk of heart disease ().

May Aid Weight Loss

You will likely experience lower blood pressure on the DASH diet whether or not you lose weight.

However, if you already have high blood pressure, chances are you have been advised to lose weight.

This is because the more you weigh, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be (, , ).

Additionally, losing weight has been shown to lower blood pressure (, ).

Some studies suggest that people can lose weight on the DASH diet (, , ).

However, those who have lost weight on the DASH diet have been in a controlled calorie deficit — meaning they were told to eat fewer calories than they were expending.

Given that the DASH diet cuts out a lot of high-fat, sugary foods, people may find that they automatically reduce their calorie intake and lose weight. Other people may have to consciously restrict their intake ().

Either way, if you want to lose weight on the DASH diet, you'll still need to go on a calorie-reduced diet.

Other Potential Health Benefits

DASH may also affect other areas of health. The diet:

  • Decreases cancer risk: A recent review indicated that people following the DASH diet had a lower risk of some cancers, including colorectal and breast cancer ().
  • Lowers metabolic syndrome risk: Some studies note that the DASH diet reduces your risk of metabolic syndrome by up to 81% (, ).
  • Lowers diabetes risk: The diet has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Some studies demonstrate that it can improve insulin resistance as well (, ).
  • Decreases heart disease risk: In one recent review in women, following a DASH-like diet was associated with a 20% lower risk of heart disease and a 29% lower risk of stroke ().

Many of these protective effects are attributed to the diet’s high fruit and vegetable content. In general, eating more fruits and vegetables can help reduce risk of disease (, , , ).

Summary DASH lowers blood pressure — particularly if you have elevated levels — and may aid weight loss. It could reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and some cancers.

While studies on the DASH diet determined that the greatest reductions in blood pressure occurred in those with the lowest salt intake, the benefits of salt restriction on health and lifespan are not clear-cut.

For people with high blood pressure, reducing salt intake significantly affects blood pressure. However, in people with normal blood pressure, the effects of reducing salt intake are much smaller (, ).

The theory that some people are salt sensitive — meaning that salt exerts a greater influence on their blood pressure — could partly explain this ().

Summary If your salt intake is high, lowering it can offer major health benefits. Comprehensive salt restriction, as advised on the DASH diet, may only be beneficial for people who are salt sensitive or have high blood pressure.

Eating too little salt has been linked to health problems, such as an increased risk of heart disease, insulin resistance and fluid retention.

The low-salt version of the DASH diet recommends that people eat no more than 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) of sodium per day.

However, it's unclear whether there are any benefits to reducing salt intake this low — even in people with high blood pressure ().

In fact, a recent review found no link between salt intake and risk of death from heart disease, despite the fact that lowering salt intake caused a modest reduction in blood pressure ().

However, because most people eat too much salt, lowering your salt intake from very high amounts of 2–2.5 teaspoons (10–12 grams) a day to 1–1.25 teaspoons (5–6 grams) a day may be beneficial ().

This target can be achieved easily by reducing the amount of highly processed food in your diet and eating mostly whole foods.

Summary Although reducing salt intake from processed foods is beneficial for most people, eating too little salt may also be harmful.

The DASH diet doesn't list specific foods to eat.

Instead, it recommends specific servings of different food groups.

The number of servings you can eat depends on how many calories you consume. Below is an example of food portions based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Whole Grains: 6–8 Servings per Day

Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat or whole-grain breads, whole-grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, bulgur, quinoa and oatmeal.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 slice of whole-grain bread
  • 1 ounce (28 grams) of dry, whole-grain cereal
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) of cooked rice, pasta or cereal

Vegetables: 4–5 Servings per Day

All vegetables are allowed on the DASH diet.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 cup (about 30 grams) of raw, leafy green vegetables like spinach or kale
  • 1/2 cup (about 45 grams) of sliced vegetables — raw or cooked — like broccoli, carrots, squash or tomatoes

Fruits: 4–5 Servings per Day

If you're following the DASH approach, you'll be eating a lot of fruit. Examples of fruits you can eat include apples, pears, peaches, berries and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 medium apple
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) of dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup (30 grams) of fresh, frozen or canned peaches

Dairy Products: 2–3 Servings per Day

Dairy products on the DASH diet should be low in fat. Examples include skim milk and low-fat cheese and yogurt.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 cup (240 ml) of low-fat milk
  • 1 cup (285 grams) of low-fat yogurt
  • 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of low-fat cheese

Lean Chicken, Meat and Fish: 6 or Fewer Servings per Day

Choose lean cuts of meat and try to eat a serving of red meat only occasionally — no more than once or twice a week.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 ounce (28 grams) of cooked meat, chicken or fish
  • 1 egg

Nuts, Seeds and Legumes: 4–5 Servings per Week

These include almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, kidney beans, lentils and split peas.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1/3 cup (50 grams) of nuts
  • 2 tablespoons (40 grams) of nut butter
  • 2 tablespoons (16 grams) of seeds
  • 1/2 cup (40 grams) of cooked legumes

Fats and Oils: 2–3 Servings per Day

The DASH diet recommends vegetable oils over other oils. These include margarines and oils like canola, corn, olive or safflower. It also recommends low-fat mayonnaise and light salad dressing.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of soft margarine
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of salad dressing

Candy and Added Sugars: 5 or Fewer Servings per Week

Added sugars are kept to a minimum on the DASH diet, so limit your intake of candy, soda and table sugar. The DASH diet also restricts unrefined sugars and alternative sugar sources, like agave nectar.

Examples of a serving include:

  • 1 tablespoon (12.5 grams) of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (20 grams) of jelly or jam
  • 1 cup (240 ml) of lemonade
Summary The DASH diet does not list specific foods to eat. Instead, it's a dietary pattern focused on servings of food groups.

Here's an example of a one-week meal plan — based on 2,000 calories per day — for the regular DASH diet:

Monday

  • Breakfast: 1 cup (90 grams) of oatmeal with 1 cup (240 ml) of skim milk, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of blueberries and 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium apple and 1 cup (285 grams) of low-fat yogurt.
  • Lunch: Tuna and mayonnaise sandwich made with 2 slices of whole-grain bread, 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of mayonnaise, 1.5 cups (113 grams) of green salad and 3 ounces (80 grams) of canned tuna.
  • Snack: 1 medium banana.
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of lean chicken breast cooked in 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of vegetable oil with 1/2 cup (75 grams) each of broccoli and carrots. Served with 1 cup (190 grams) of brown rice.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: 2 slices of whole-wheat toast with 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of margarine, 1 tablespoon (20 grams) of jelly or jam, 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice and 1 medium apple.
  • Snack: 1 medium banana.
  • Lunch: 3 ounces (85 grams) of lean chicken breast with 2 cups (150 grams) of green salad, 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of low-fat cheese and 1 cup (190 grams) of brown rice.
  • Snack: 1/2 cup (30 grams) of canned peaches and 1 cup (285 grams) of low-fat yogurt.
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of salmon cooked in 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of vegetable oil with 1 cup (300 grams) of boiled potatoes and 1.5 cups (225 grams) of boiled vegetables.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: 1 cup (90 grams) of oatmeal with 1 cup (240 ml) of skim milk and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of blueberries. 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium orange.
  • Lunch: 2 slices of whole-wheat bread, 3 ounces (85 grams) of lean turkey, 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of low-fat cheese, 1/2 cup (38 grams) of green salad and 1/2 cup (38 grams) of cherry tomatoes.
  • Snack: 4 whole-grain crackers with 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of cottage cheese and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of canned pineapple.
  • Dinner: 6 ounces (170 grams) of cod fillet, 1 cup (200 grams) of mashed potatoes, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of green peas and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of broccoli.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: 1 cup (90 grams) of oatmeal with 1 cup (240 ml) of skim milk and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of raspberries. 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium banana.
  • Lunch: Salad made with 4.5 ounces (130 grams) of grilled tuna, 1 boiled egg, 2 cups (152 grams) of green salad, 1/2 cup (38 grams) of cherry tomatoes and 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of low-fat dressing.
  • Snack: 1/2 cup (30 grams) of canned pears and 1 cup (285 grams) of low-fat yogurt.
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of pork fillet with 1 cup (150 grams) of mixed vegetables and 1 cup (190 grams) of brown rice.

Friday

  • Breakfast: 2 boiled eggs, 2 slices of turkey bacon with 1/2 cup (38 grams) of cherry tomatoes, 1/2 cup (80 grams) of baked beans and 2 slices of whole-wheat toast, plus 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium apple.
  • Lunch: 2 slices of whole-wheat toast, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of low-fat cheese, 1/2 cup (38 grams) of salad greens and 1/2 cup (38 grams) of cherry tomatoes.
  • Snack: 1 cup of fruit salad.
  • Dinner: Spaghetti and meatballs made with 1 cup (190 grams) of spaghetti and 4 ounces (115 grams) of minced turkey. 1/2 cup (75 grams) of green peas on the side.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: 2 slices of whole-wheat toast with 2 tablespoons (40 grams) of peanut butter, 1 medium banana, 2 tablespoons (16 grams) of mixed seeds and 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium apple.
  • Lunch: 3 ounces (85 grams) of grilled chicken, 1 cup (150 grams) of roasted vegetables and 1 cup (190 grams) couscous.
  • Snack: 1/2 cup (30 grams) of mixed berries and 1 cup (285 grams) of low-fat yogurt.
  • Dinner: 3 ounces (85 grams) of pork steak and 1 cup (150 grams) of ratatouille with 1 cup (190 grams) of brown rice, 1/2 cup (40 grams) of lentils and 1.5 ounces (45 grams) of low-fat cheese.
  • Dessert: Low-fat chocolate pudding.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: 1 cup (90 grams) of oatmeal with 1 cup (240 ml) of skim milk, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of blueberries and 1/2 cup (120 ml) of fresh orange juice.
  • Snack: 1 medium pear.
  • Lunch: Chicken salad made with 3 ounces (85 grams) of lean chicken breast, 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, 2 cups (150 grams) of green salad, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of cherry tomatoes, 1/2 tablespoon (4 grams) of seeds and 4 whole-grain crackers.
  • Snack: 1 banana and 1/2 cup (70 grams) of almonds.
  • Dinner: 3 ounces of roast beef with 1 cup (150 grams) of boiled potatoes, 1/2 cup (75 grams) of broccoli and 1/2 cup (75 grams) of green peas.
Summary On the DASH diet, you can eat a variety of scrumptious, healthy meals that pack plenty of vegetables alongside various fruits and good protein sources.

Because there are no set foods on the DASH diet, you can adapt your current diet to the DASH guidelines by doing the following:

  • Eat more vegetables and fruits.
  • Swap refined grains for whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
  • Choose lean protein sources like fish, poultry and beans.
  • Cook with vegetable oils.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in added sugars, like soda and candy.
  • Limit your intake of foods high in saturated fats like fatty meats, full-fat dairy and oils like coconut and palm oil.

Outside of measured fresh fruit juice portions, this diet recommends you stick to low-calorie drinks like water, tea and coffee.

Summary It's possible to align your current diet with the DASH diet. Simply eat more fruits and vegetables, choose low-fat products as well as lean proteins and limit your intake of processed, high-fat and sugary foods.

If you're thinking about trying DASH to lower your blood pressure, you might have a few questions about other aspects of your lifestyle.

The most commonly asked questions are addressed below.

Can I Drink Coffee on the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet doesn't prescribe specific guidelines for coffee. However, some people worry that caffeinated beverages like coffee may increase their blood pressure.

It's well known that caffeine can cause a short-term increase in blood pressure ().

Furthermore, this rise is greater in people with high blood pressure (, ).

However, a recent review claimed that this popular beverage doesn’t increase the long-term risk of high blood pressure or heart disease — even though it caused a short-term (1–3 hours) increase in blood pressure ().

For most healthy people with normal blood pressure, 3–4 regular cups of coffee per day are considered safe ().

Keep in mind that the slight rise in blood pressure (5–10 mm Hg) caused by caffeine means that people who already have high blood pressure probably need to be more careful with their coffee consumption.

Do I Need to Exercise on the DASH Diet?

The DASH diet is even more effective at lowering blood pressure when paired with physical activity ().

Given the independent benefits of exercise on health, this is not surprising.

It's recommended to do 30 minutes of moderate activity most days, and it's important to choose something you enjoy — this way, you will be more likely to keep it up.

Examples of moderate activity include:

  • Brisk walking (15 minutes per mile or 9 minutes per kilometer)
  • Running (10 minutes per mile or 6 minutes per kilometer)
  • Cycling (6 minutes per mile or 4 minutes per kilometer)
  • Swimming laps (20 minutes)
  • Housework (60 minutes)

Can I Drink Alcohol on the DASH Diet?

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure ().

In fact, regularly drinking more than 3 drinks per day has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease ().

On the DASH diet, you should drink alcohol sparingly and not exceed official guidelines — 2 or fewer drinks per day for men and 1 or fewer for women.

Summary You can drink coffee and alcohol in moderation on the DASH diet. Combining the DASH diet with exercise may make it even more effective.

The DASH diet may be an easy and effective way to reduce blood pressure.

However, keep in mind that cutting daily salt intake to 3/4 teaspoon (1,500 mg) or less has not been linked to any hard health benefits — such as a reduced risk of heart disease — despite the fact that it can lower blood pressure.

Moreover, the DASH diet is very similar to the standard low-fat diet, which large controlled trials have not shown to reduce the risk of death by heart disease (, ).

Healthy individuals may have little reason to follow this diet. Nevertheless, if you have high blood pressure or think you may be sensitive to salt, DASH may be a good choice for you.