NEWS

Want to Lower Blood Pressure Without Medication? Try the DASH Diet

Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetqables.

 fcafotodigital / Getty Images

Key Takeaways:

  • Researchers are always looking for cost-effective, non-pharmacologic methods to lower blood pressure. 
  • A new study shows that the DASH diet, which is high in potassium but low in sodium, is the most effective way to lower blood pressure without drugs.
  • Other effective methods to lower blood pressure include aerobic exercise, isometric training, low‐sodium high‐potassium salts, breathing control, and meditation.

Changes in diet, exercise habits, and meditation have been recommended to help lower blood pressure levels. In a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers looked at which methods work best to help keep blood pressure under control.

Uncontrolled hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, is a public health concern because it’s a risk factor for developing heart disease and stroke. About 45% of U.S. adults (108 million people) have hypertension. Since it may not have symptoms, high blood pressure often goes undetected, and fewer than half of the people with hypertension know they have this condition. It’s vital to get your blood pressure level checked regularly.

While there are medications to control blood pressure, some are met with resistance due to their cost or side effects. That’s why health care professionals look for non-pharmacologic ways to manage BP.

A well-researched diet that’s recommend for BP control is Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH for short. Studies show that DASH is an effective way to lower BP and help prevent cardiovascular disease.

“The DASH diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium,” says Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, a cardiology dietitian and the owner of Entirely Nourished. “These nutrients are found in low-fat dairy, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.”

How Was This Study Conducted?

For the recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers reviewed over 60,000 articles on non-pharmacological approaches to BP management and found 120 eligible studies to focus on. These included 14,923 participants with a median follow‐up of 12 weeks.

The studies assessed 22 different non-pharmacologic interventions (and combinations of these), including:

  • DASH Diet
  • Salt restriction
  • Low‐sodium and high‐potassium salt
  • Restricting alcohol
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Resistance training
  • Isometric training (such as planks and squats)
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Breathing control
  • Meditation 

What Did The Results Show?

The researchers found that that DASH was the most effective intervention to lower BP, among the 22 non-pharmacologic interventions they studied.

In addition to DASH, the researchers found the following interventions also helped lower BP:

  • Aerobic exercise
  • Isometric training (such as planks and squats)
  • Low‐calorie diet
  • Low‐sodium and high‐potassium salt
  • Salt restriction
  • Breathing control
  • Meditation

Finally, the studies revealed that a combination of dietary changes plus exercise was more effective than exercise alone among people with a combination of hypertension and obesity.

Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN

The DASH diet is rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. These nutrients are found in low fat dairy, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

— Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN

Try The DASH Diet

“The DASH diet limits sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars, since these can increase blood pressure and damage blood vessel health, leading to constriction in the arteries and negative consequences on the heart,” says Routhenstein.

The researchers recommend swapping sodium-based salt for one that’s potassium-based. It still provides a salty flavor but adds potassium to the diet instead of sodium.

Lowering sodium is an important factor in the DASH diet, and cutting back on ultra-processed foods is part of the DASH plan.

“Highly processed foods (crackers, salad dressings, condiments, rice or potato mixes, snack chips, boxed pasta, canned soups) are often very high in sodium, while providing minimal nutrition,” says Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN, a dietitian and blogger at Chew the Facts.

“You’re better off choosing basic ingredients—regular or quick-cooking rice, plain pasta, fresh or frozen potatoes—and building them into delicious, quick-and-easy, from-scratch meals,” says Rust.

Potassium Is Important

In addition to being low in sodium, the DASH diet is also high in potassium and other minerals that help control blood pressure.

“The DASH Diet plan recommends 8–10 servings of fruits or vegetables and 2–3 servings of low-fat dairy daily,” says Rust. These foods are high in potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Routhenstein explains how these minerals help control blood pressure:

  • Potassium reduces tension in the arteries, and helps eliminate excess sodium from the body.
  • Magnesium increases the production of nitric oxide, which helps to open up the arteries to allow for easier blood flow.
  • Calcium helps blood vessels tighten and relax when they need to.

Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

The DASH Diet plan recommends 8–10 servings of fruits or vegetables and 2–3 servings of low-fat dairy daily.

— Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

DASH Can Be Easy

Routhenstein says her clients find the principles of the DASH diet to be easily sustainable, since she amends them to fit their lifestyle.

If you want to try the DASH diet, find a dietitian who can help plan the diet while taking your personal preferences, lifestyle situations, and available food options into account.

Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

Highly processed foods (crackers, salad dressings, condiments, rice or potato mixes, snack chips, boxed pasta, canned soups) are often very high in sodium, while providing minimal nutrition. You’re better off choosing basic ingredients—regular or quick-cooking rice, plain pasta, fresh or frozen potatoes—and building them into delicious, quick-and-easy, from-scratch meals.

— Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, LDN

Start here! Rust offers these simple, DASH-inspired meal ideas:

  • A bowl of plain yogurt with fruit
  • Two-egg veggie omelet with spinach, onions, peppers, or any vegetable you like
  • Green salad or cup of cooked veggies along with a lean protein
  • Stuffed baked potato with leftover chicken, broccoli and a tablespoon of cheese or black beans and salsa.

What This Means For You:

If you have high blood pressure, consider following a DASH eating plan, which is high in vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, beans and whole grains, but is lower in salt and sugar. You can also lower blood pressure with exercise, meditation and deep breathing. 

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4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fu J, Liu Y, Zhang L, et al. Nonpharmacologic interventions for reducing blood pressure in adults with prehypertension to established hypertension. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020;9(19):e016804. doi:10.1161/JAHA.120.016804

  2. Oparil S, Acelajado MC, Bakris GL, et al. Hypertension. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2018;4(1):1-21. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2018.14

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about hypertension. Updated September 8, 2020.

  4. Siervo M, Lara J, Chowdhury S, Ashor A, Oggioni C, Mathers JC. Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2015;113(1):1-15. doi:10.1017/S0007114514003341