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High Blood Pressure? Have a DASH of Spark

There's More to it than Your Sodium Intake

For years, battling high blood pressure meant throwing out the salt shaker and throwing on the sweatpants. We now know that there’s more to the picture.

Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight have always been powerful tools for managing high blood pressure. But recent studies are showing that a number of food choices – not just salt – play a large role in your blood pressure levels. In fact, following a particular eating plan called the "DASH" diet, along with decreasing your sodium intake, can lower your blood pressure.

So if you’re specifically targeting high blood pressure, you can easily follow DASH diet principles and use them right along with your SparkDiet plan. You can even use the same tracking and planning tools. Simply keep these principles and strategies in mind when planning your meals and groceries.

What is the DASH diet?
Whether you are trying to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure or want to bring an existing condition under control, the DASH principles and SparkDiet plan can work together to help. Designed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan can help protect against osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. The healthy rewards are great with the SparkDiet and DASH combination.

The DASH plan:
  • Emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products
  • Encourages fish, poultry and legumes
  • Allows red meats, sweets and fats, but in limited amounts
  • Is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
  • Is high in fiber and nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and calcium.
  • Encourages a reduction in sodium intake
Doing the DASH 
The DASH strategies outline how many servings are needed each day from various food groups, based on calorie levels. The standard DASH plan is based on 2,000 calories a day. If you are trying to lose weight and want to eat fewer calories, the 1600-calorie version might be a better place to start (adjust as you can to account for your specific SparkDiet calorie goals). The following chart lists the food groups and daily servings recommended by the DASH diet, as well as portion sizes and tips to incorporate them into your meals: 

Food Group
Daily Servings, 1600 Calories
Daily Servings, 2000 Calories
Serving Sizes
Grains 6 7-8 1 slice bread; 1 oz dry cereal; ½ Cup cooked rice/ pasta/ cereal; ½ bun/bagel -Choose whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat bread/pasta, oats) rather than refined grains
Vegetables 3-4 4-5 ½ Cup cooked vegetable; ½ Cup cut-up raw vegetable; 1 Cup raw leafy vegetable; ¾ Cup vegetable juice -Choose fresh, frozen, or reduced sodium canned vegetables
-Add vegetables to stir-fry, soups, stews, and casseroles
-Snack on veggies and dip
Fruits 4 4-5 ½ Cup fresh/ canned/ frozen fruit; 1 Medium piece of fruit; ¼ Cup dried fruit; ¾ Cup fruit juice -Have a glass of juice for breakfast and a piece of fruit at lunch
-Add fruit to cereal, salads, yogurt, pudding, cake
-Snack on fresh fruit and dip
Low-fat and Fat-free Dairy 2-3 2-3 1 Cup low-fat/fat-free milk/yogurt; 1.5 oz low fat natural cheese; 1 oz low fat processed cheese -Top soups, casseroles, salads with grated cheese
-Enjoy a fruit yogurt smoothie
-Have a slice of cheese on a sandwich
Meats, Poultry, Fish 6 oz. or less 6 oz. or less 2-3 oz lean meat/ poultry/ fish; 1 egg = 1 oz. -Trim away skin and fat before cooking
-Use low-fat cooking methods (broil, grill, roast, poach)
Nuts, Seeds, Dried Beans 3/week 4-5/week 1.5 oz of nuts; ½ oz seeds; ½ Cup cooked beans -Peanuts, nuts, and seeds are high in fat, but it is a healthy type of fat; add small amounts to your stir-fry, salad, trail mix, and oatmeal
-Soybean products such as tofu and tempeh are great meat alternatives
Fats and Oils 1-2 2-3 1 tsp soft margarine; 1 Tbsp low-fat mayo; 2 Tbsp light salad dressing; 1 tsp vegetable oil Choose healthy fats like olive, canola, soybean, and peanut oil
-Limit fat from meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, and cream
Sweets 0-1 tsp/day, OR 2 Tbsp/week 1-2 tsp/day, OR 5 Tbsp/week 1 Tbsp = ½ oz jelly beans, 8 oz lemonade, 1 T jelly/jam Enjoy an occasional sweet treat in moderation
-Use artificial sweeteners to help satisfy your sweet tooth while sparing the sugar

Tips to Reduce Salt 
For best results, follow the DASH principles outlined above and lower your salt intake with these tips:
  • Use reduced sodium or "no salt added" products
  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned with "no salt added" vegetables
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed types
  • Limit cured and pickled foods, such as bacon, ham, pickles, olives, and sauerkraut
  • Limit high salt condiments, such as mustard, horseradish, catsup, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and barbecue sauce
  • Season foods with your favorite spices, herbs, lemon, lime, vinegar, and salt-free seasoning blends
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt
  • Choose lower sodium frozen dinners, mixed dishes, canned soups, and broths

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Member Comments

  • It did not work for me I found out yesterday at my heart health tests I had done. My bad fat is O.K. My good fats level is too low from all the no fat/low fat products,advised to add more cheese, walnuts, salmon and olive,canola oil,which I use and I use the no trans fat margarine, made with a combination of olive/canola oil. It is the only healthy type on the market. I have to add lots of salt and salty foods to raise my blood pressure too 120/80 A.S.A.P. the normal range. Mine is 80/60 and up to 100/65 with salt. I now have to add more salt,more fat and less gym exercise because of a problem with my arteries in my legs causing blood clots in my lungs. When I exercise the bottom number on the blood pressure goes up,the top number does not. This means my heart is trying to pump harder and not getting anywhere. If I continue i will get a heart attack or stroke at the gym as my blood pressure is to low when I am at home doing nothing and started new exercise program 3 months a go and now more weaker,tired every day. So today I change my diet to 50% carbohydrates,32% fat,of course the healthy fats,18% protein.I will add lots of salt and my blood pressure is checked 3 times a week at the gym. Now I will watch my blood pressure and change my diet and exercise immediately. It does not work for everyone, for me it was too much of a good thing.
  • I am extremely lactose intolerant. What can I use in place of the dairy servings? I've discovered the coconut milk yogurts, but it's not technically a dairy. I also drink almond milk. Do these satisfy my calcium intake?
  • My DS has been diagnosed with High Blood Pressure. This will make an excellent plan for all of us to follow! Great article.

    Thanks SparkPeople!!
    "DASH"a really wonderful article on DASH diet. Thanks. Hope this will help you and your other readers.
  • MOONSTAR6036
    I really liked this article and seems like very smart choices on food i already love. I am going to give this a try.
  • Reading this now and thinking I would like to give this plan a try...sounds like it might help with my life style & help me lose a few lbs.
    Thanks for posting it...
  • I would prefer to see vegetarian protein sources stand out more instead of including with nuts & seeds and dried beans detail. They should at least be given equal billing with meat based protein sources.
  • Please come join our DASH SparkTeam!

  • It would have been nice to see what a typical day's meal(breakfast, lunch, dinner & snack) could look like using the foods listed above; otherwise great article.
  • Good article. I have been reading up on the Dash diet and was starting to plan and track using their guidelines, but this month have been exploring the Sparkpeople site and trackers. I think both plans have similar concepts, since they are based on well rounded nutrition and finding the right balance of nutrients (as opposed to focusing on carbs or fat or protein).

    I find planning and tracking meals can be quite time consuming. Does it get easier? Is it best to concentrate on the DASH diet, SparkPeople or to use both?

    I guess the easiest way would be to just follow a meal plan from one or the other, but I like to change things around from their menus. Many great sounding meals on these plans though!

  • I have read several books on the DASH diet...I have even followed it for a couple of days and found that even my blood sugars stabilized. My doctor was very happy about that. I would recommend this to all who suffer from high BP and diabetes.
    Thanks for this article. How do I save this? I usually e- mail articles to my son's e- mail so I can print the article and read it over again but there's not even an option to do that.
  • This is a great article! Thanks for all the pointers for lowering hypertension,
    I would never have known some of these things without this information.
    Thanks Becky for posting this!
  • Wow! Such a great and informative article! Just what I was looking for. Sparkpeople you never disappoint!
  • MINNIEKS6101
    Great article! Thank you for this information! Several people I can pass it along too!

About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

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