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The link between diet and blood pressure is undeniable. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you better control your blood pressure. And following a low-sodium diet may be particularly important if you have, or are at risk of developing, hypertension. To learn more about foods that lower blood pressure, you should start with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan.
The DASH diet was developed through research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. The goal was to identify foods good for the heart and the entire cardiovascular system, but with the specific goal of preventing high blood pressure.
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Foods That Lower Blood Pressure: DASH Diet Basics
One of the most appealing aspects of the DASH eating strategy is that it doesn’t require special foods or complicated menus. Instead, there are guidelines that spell out what kinds of foods should be consumed and how much should be eaten per day.
For example, for a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, the DASH eating plan suggests a daily intake of:
- 6 to 8 servings of grains. Serving-size examples: 1 slice bread; 1 cup ready-to-eat-cereal, with serving sizes between 1/2 cup and 1 1/4 cup; 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.
- 6 or fewer servings of meat, fish or poultry. Serving-size examples: 3 ounces cooked lean mean, skinless poultry, or fish.
- 4 to 5 servings of vegetables. Serving-size examples: 1 cup raw leafy vegetable; 1/2 cup cooked vegetable; 6 ounces vegetable juice.
- 4 to 5 servings of fruit. Serving-size examples: 1 medium fruit; 1/4 cup dried fruit; 1/2 cup fresh, frozen, or canned fruit; 6 ounces vegetable juice.
- 2 to 3 servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Serving-size examples: 8 ounces milk; 1 cup yogurt; 1 1/2 ounces cheese.
- 2 to 3 servings of fats and oils (preferably healthy options, such as olive oil). Serving-size examples: 1 teaspoon soft margarine; 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise; 2 tablespoons light salad dressing; 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.
In addition, a DASH eating plan also suggests eating 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds, dry beans, and peas each week, but no more than 5 servings of sweets per week.
While the DASH eating plan isn’t designed to promote weight loss, it is rich in low-calorie foods. The National Institutes of Health advises, “You can make it lower in calories by replacing high-calorie foods with more fruits and vegetables—and that also will make it easier for you to reach your DASH eating plan goals.” Here, the NIH offers examples:
To increase fruits:
- Eat a medium apple instead of four shortbread cookies. You’ll save 80 calories.
- Eat 1/4 cup of dried apricots instead of a 2-ounce bag of pork rinds. You’ll save 230 calories.
To increase vegetables:
- Have a hamburger that’s 3 ounces instead of 6 ounces. Add a 1/2 cup serving of carrots and a 1/2 cup serving of spinach. You’ll save more than 200 calories.
- Instead of 5 ounces of chicken, have a stir fry with 2 ounces of chicken and 1 1/2 cups of raw vegetables. Use a small amount of vegetable oil. You’ll save 50 calories.
- Have a 1/2 cup serving of lowfat frozen yogurt instead of a 1 1/2-ounce milk chocolate bar. You’ll save about 110 calories.
To increase lowfat or fat free dairy products:
Does DASH Lower “Bad” Cholesterol?
Along with including foods that lower blood pressure, the DASH diet may also be effective at lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and helping you lose weight if you’re overweight or obese. Research shows that losing just 10 or 15 pounds can lead to a noticeable reduction in your blood pressure.
The guidelines also list the types of foods that should be avoided. These include foods high in saturated fats, such as red meat, whole milk, and other full-fat dairy, and tropical oils, such as coconut and palm kernel oils.
The DASH diet also emphasizes a reduction in sodium (salt). The original eating plan recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day. Even greater benefits may be achieved by lowering your daily intake to no more than 1,500 mg.
Sodium increases blood pressure by causing the body to hold on to more fluid. When fluid levels build up in the body, the result is a greater volume of blood. Blood pressure is simply the force of blood flow against the interior walls of the arteries. More blood volume means greater force and higher blood pressure.
Foods Good for the Heart
Other foods that lower blood pressure may include those rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Several studies have found that diets high in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease. These foods include salmon, tuna, and other cold-water fish.
In addition to fatty fish, the following foods are also associated with lower blood pressure: blueberries, oatmeal and other high-fiber cereals, potatoes (which are high in magnesium and potassium), dark chocolate, and beet juice.
If you have questions about how to include more foods that lower blood pressure into your regular diet, talk with your doctor. Your physician may recommend the services of a dietitian who works with cardiologists and is an expert in foods good for the heart.
Just know that if you cut down on your sodium intake, eat smaller portions, and make fruits and vegetables the main staples of your diet, you’ll be off to a good start in eating right for your heart and your blood pressure.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.